Regular maintenance checks are essential to ensure the proper functioning of all PFDs/life jackets and especially inflatable life jackets which have additional manufacturer maintenance requirements. In many cases, life jackets are handled roughly and exposed to less-than-ideal conditions, including improper storage and extensive exposure to ultraviolet radiation. As a result of such conditions, PFDs may have a shorter service life. Therefore, boat operators should distinguish between life jackets available for use and those that must be replaced. In addition, it is crucial to maintain PFDs and life jackets according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
The following are some strategies for caring for life jackets and Personal Flotation Devices:
- Check your life jackets at the beginning of each boating season.
- Check that all hardware and straps are in good shape, are firmly attached, and are in working order.
- Check for leaks, mildew, lumpy or hardened buoyancy material, & oil saturation in the fabric.
- Make sure that there are no rips or tears in the fabric.
- Make sure that the label stating USCG approval is attached, and that it is readable.
- Discard and replace life jackets that show signs of deterioration – tears, mildew stains, punctures, etc.
- Don’t use a life vest or throwable flotation cushion as a kneeling pad or boat fender.
- Don’t use harsh detergents or gasoline to clean it.
- Don’t remove any labels, straps or buckles.
- Store in an area with good ventilation and away from direct sunlight
- If wet, allow it to dry thoroughly in open air before storing
- Drying it in a dryer, in front of a radiator, or other source of direct heat will destroy its buoyancy.
The condition of a life jacket or PFD should be checked before it is worn to ensure that there are no rips, tears, missing parts, broken pieces, or mildew present. If a jacket exhibits any signs of wear, it should be immediately replaced, as it will not function properly in the water.
Life jackets are often subjected to rough handling, damaging ultraviolet sunlight, and improper storage. These conditions reduce the ability of the PFD/life jacket to perform its intended function. The operator should be able to distinguish serviceable PFDs/life jackets and identify the key conditions that necessitate replacing the PFD/life jacket.
According to the Code of Federal Regulations, a PFD is considered to be in serviceable condition if the following conditions are met:
- (a) No PFD may exhibit deterioration that could diminish the performance of the PFD, including –
- (1) Metal or plastic hardware used to secure the PFD on the wearer that is broken, deformed, or weakened by corrosion;
- (2) Webbings or straps used to secure the PFD on the wearer that are ripped, torn, or which have become separated from an attachment point on the PFD; or
- (3) Any other rotted or deteriorated structural component that fails when tugged.
- (b) In addition to meeting the requirements of paragraph (a) of this section, no inherently buoyant PFD, including the inherently buoyant components of a hybrid inflatable PFD, may exhibit –
- (1) Rips, tears, or open seams in fabric or coatings, that are large enough to allow the loss of buoyant material;
- (2) Buoyant material that has become hardened, non-resilient, permanently compressed, waterlogged, oil-soaked, or which shows evidence of fungus or mildew; or
- (3) Loss of buoyant material or buoyant material that is not securely held in position.
- (c) In addition to meeting the requirements of paragraph (a) of this section, an inflatable PFD, including the inflatable components of a hybrid inflatable PFD, must be equipped with –
- (1) Except as provided in paragraph (d) of this section, a properly armed inflation mechanism, complete with a full inflation medium cartridge and all status indicators showing that the inflation mechanism is properly armed;
- (2) Inflatable chambers that are all capable of holding air;
- (3) Oral inflation tubes that are not blocked, detached, or broke
- (4) A manual inflation lanyard or lever that is not inaccessible, broken, or missing; and
- (5) Inflator status indicators that are not broken or otherwise non-functional.
- (d) The inflation system of an inflatable PFD need not be armed when the PFD is worn inflated and otherwise meets the requirements of paragraphs (a) and (c) of this section.
Foam filled life jackets should be tested for wear and buoyancy at least once a year. Waterlogged, faded, or otherwise damaged life jackets should be discarded. Replace any life jacket which is not in serviceable condition.