life jacket expired

Is Your Life Jacket Expired? What To Know About Maintaining and Replacing Life Jackets

life jacket expiredDid you know that there are thousands of boaters in the United States alone that have expired or otherwise unusable life jackets on board?

Do you know if your life jacket expired, or what the expiration date is?

If you’re like most boaters, chances are you have no idea when your safety gear will expire. That can put you at serious risk if you have an incident on the water. There’s nothing worse than needing to use your life jacket, only to find it doesn’t work!

Inflation Canister Expiration Dates

Perhaps the most common cause of like jacket problems when using otherwise certified and guaranteed vests, is the expiration of the inflation canister.

All automatic inflatable life jackets use some form of pressurized canister, usually a CO2 compression, to inflate.

Unfortunately, these canisters lose their pressure over time, and will always be marked with a clear expiration date. Sometimes, this expiration date is as short as a year, while with others it might be several years.

The canisters are inexpensive to rearm or replace; the question is simply: do you know when you have to do it?

Fabric Issues and Light Exposure

Another common cause of life jacket malfunction is due to fabric issues. Over time, many life jacket fabrics, especially those fabrics used in the less expensive models, are subject to decay.

Most often, you can prevent this by properly storing your life jacket and not exposing it to unnecessary light (which will wear the fabric out faster), but you still need to be vigilant about keeping your equipment up to date.

How To Find Fix Expired Life Jackets

The best way to find and fix expired life jackets is simply to know what issues are likely to arise, and when you need to think about replacing parts of your equipment.

It is good boating practice to do a complete survey of your boat, including all life vests and other flotation devices on board, at least once a year.

During this survey, be sure to inspect the quality and condition of your life jackets, and note when and if any parts of them are expired.

Many times, higher end life jackets are manufacturer guaranteed, and its easy to replace expiring parts for little or no costs.

life jacket expiration

Do Life Jackets Expire? What To Know About Life Jacket Expiration Dates

life jacket expirationHave an old life jacket lying around you’re not sure still works? Do life jackets expire after a year or a decade, and what can you do about it?

In this post I’ll go through what you need to know about life jacket expiration dates, and how to tell if it’s time to upgrade to a new vest.

Click here to see a list of top long-lasting life jackets.

Do Life Jackets Expire?

It depends.

There are so many different types of life jackets that it’s hard to answer this question directly.

Yes, some life jackets can expire.

The more accurate answer is a little complicated. The most common type of expiration date for life jackets doesn’t have to do with the vest itself, but with certain components of the vest.

For example, inflatable vests use carbon dioxide canisters to inflate. These canisters have relatively short life spans (often 1-3 years) compared to the vest as a whole, but replacing them is an easy and inexpensive task.

Foam vests, on the other hand, don’t “expire” but they age. The buoyant material doesn’t lose its buoyancy, but the vest can become less effective with time due to wear and tear.

A Simple Thought Experiment

To better visualize the difference, imagine that you have just found a box with 2 life jackets in it: one standard foam vest and one automatic inflatable vest. Neither vest has ever been worn and both are 10 years old.

Which vest will work? Will both fail a swim test or will both pass?

Assuming there’s no other wear on the vest, the standard foam vest should be as buoyant as it was the day it was produced.

The inflatable vest, too, should be perfectly fine, but the canister used to automatically inflate it is probably expired. That means that you’ll just have to replace the canister, and the vest is good to go.

Always Check Life Jacket Expiration Dates

The examples above are common-case scenarios. Whatever vest you’re using, it’s always important to know what the specific requirements are, and whether one of the specifications mentions an expiration date.

More commonly, you’ll see guarantee, or warranty dates on the vest. These don’t mean that the vests are no longer valid beyond that warranty, but only that you’re not eligible for any manufacturer maintenance.

Think of it like a car: just because your new Prius has a 1 year warranty, doesn’t mean you have to stop driving it after a year!

If you’re ever in doubt about the validity of a life jacket, perform a manual, in water test of the vest in confined water or calm conditions. You can read more about water-testing a life vest in this post.

In general, high quality vests are built to last, so you can keep using the same vest for years, or even decades.

You can click here for a list of recommended life jackets that are built to withstand the test of time.


Proper Life Jacket Storage Guidelines You Can Start Using TODAY

life_jacket_storagePracticing proper life jacket storage is an important boating safety habit.

Proper storage can help maintain the durability of the vest and ensure that all parts of the vest continue to function as designed, lowering the risk for tears or mechanical failure.

In this post I’ll go over a few tips for stowing your PFDs.

Life Jacket Storage Tips

When you’re at dock, it’s good practice to develop a life jacket storage routine to properly prepare the vest for the next time you’re ready to go out.

There are a few simple guidelines to follow.

  1. Rinse the jacket with fresh water. If the PFD was splashed with or submerged in salt water, you should always rinse the vest with fresh water before stowing. Over time, even small amounts of salt can begin to corrode away the material, so rinsing the vest helps keep it durable and long-lasting.
  2. Don’t stow the vest in direct sunlight. When it’s time to put the vest away, you want to make sure the vest doesn’t come into direct sunlight. This means it’s usually best stowed below deck or in one of the holds. Over time, continuous exposure to sun will not only fade the vest, but weaken the material, risking tears or mechanical malfunctions.
  3. Designate a specific location for storage, and use it! Finally, it’s important that you stow your life vests in a specific, designated place. Simply “throwing them down below” doesn’t cut it. You need to know they’re tucked into the pocket on the port side of the V-berth, or in the starboard aft hold near emergency raft. Keeping a consistent location makes the vests easier to access the next time you go out.

The Best Life Jacket Location When Under Way

Even if you’re just taking a short trip through calm waters, when you’re under way your life jacket should never be stowed!

The best life jacket location when under way is on you!

However, if you decide not to wear your life jacket, at a minimum you should have the vest easily accessible.

This means out of the hold and out of it’s bag. Ideally, you’ll have at least one life jacket per passenger within arm’s reach of the cockpit.

That could mean resting on the seat (foam vests make great backrests!) or clipped onto the life lines. The key is simply to have it out, available, and ready to go in case you need it.

Click here to read more about choosing a good life vest, or click here to see top life jacket recommendations.


Find The Best Adult Life Vest in 3 Easy Steps

best_adult_life_vestBuying a new life jacket is a task every boater should take seriously, but finding an adult life vest that’s right for you isn’t always easy.

In this post I’ll show you how to choose a life vest in 3 easy steps. You can also click here for my list of top adult life vests.

How To Find The Best Adult Life Vest

Know What You Need

Finding the best adult life vest is largely a matter of determining what your needs are for the vest. The most important consideration you need to make is what level of USCG approval you need for your boating activities.

USCG Type I vests aren’t usually necessary for recreational boaters, and are intended for extended offshore use.

USCG Type II and Type III vests are the most common recreational options. These vests are designed for inland and near coastal waters, and are meant to accommodate the overwhelming majority of boater needs.

Read more about USCG life jacket types.

When you’re figuring out exactly what you’ll be using the vest for, remember to keep in mind that life vests last for years, so even if you’re just cruising around the bay now, if you’re planning an offshore trip in the next few years you may want to gear up accordingly.

Know Your Preferred Style

Once you know what USCG Type you’re looking for, the next step is to understand what you’re looking for out of your vest.

Do you do a lot of maneuvering on the boat and need a vest that keeps out of your way? Do you want a life jacket that you can wear loosely or do you prefer a tighter, snug fit? In the event you fall into the water, do you need the vest to be ready to go instantly or are you comfortable inflating it manually?

These are a few of the questions you should ask yourself when picking a vest style. Some of the most popular styles are:

  • Inflatable vests: great for comfort and staying out of the way so you can maneuver easily.
  • Neoprene vests: snug fit that will hug your chest tightly. Often used for athletic movement.
  • Soft foam vests: a modern approach to the “traditional” foam life vest.

Read more about these styles of life jackets.

Set Your Budget

The last step you need to find the best adult life vest for you is to set your budget.

When it comes to life jackets, prices are all over the map. From bare bones $10-20 foam vests to premium $200 options, you can find something on any budget.

I usually recommend you opt for a mid or high end vest over a standard budget option. The durability and comfort of more advanced PFDs will far exceed that of the cheaper vests. Since this is a purchase you’ll be using for years and since comfort is an important factor in how often you’ll actually wear your vest, this is a good area to splurge for the right model.

Browse budget life jackets (under $50)

Browse mid-range life jackets ($50-100)

Browse premium life jackets ($100+)


What Do Life Jacket Buoyancy Ratings Actually Mean?

life_jacket_buoyancyWhen you’re purchasing a life jacket, you’ll probably notice that every life vest will state a minimum life jacket buoyancy rating, usually expressed in a weight using pounds.

If you’ve never worked with buoyancy before these numbers may seem a little confusing. Why is a 15-20lb buoyant life jacket safe for an adult? Wouldn’t a typical adult need 150-200 lbs of buoyancy (or more) to stay afloat?

In this post I’ll answer these questions and more by explaining a little about how buoyancy works.

What Life Jacket Buoyancy Ratings Actually Mean

A buoyancy rating is an indication of how much weight a flotation device can safely keep above water. The weight calculated for buoyancy is based on a calculation of dead weight, which is the equivalent of placing an extremely dense, “heavy” material on top of it, such as rocks or metals.

Standard USCG Types and Buoyancy Ratings

Why 15 lbs of Buoyancy is Sufficient

If the buoyancy rating is the amount of weight the device can hold, why do we only need 15-20 lbs of buoyancy to remain safely afloat in the water?

Let me answer with a subsequent question: Have you ever noticed you feel lighter when swimming than on land?

This is because the overwhelming majority of the human body is not dead weight, and the heaviness of a person’s body on land is not the same as the weight of one’s body underwater.

We are surprisngly “not dense.” In fact, roughly 90% of our body weight is lighter than or equal to the density of water.

Depending on your individual body size and makeup, you are comprised of roughly 65-75% water (which has no ‘weight’ in water), and an additional 10-20% fat, which is actually less dense and hence lighter than water.

This means that in addition to only needing to account for 10-15% of our weight when calculating buoyancy, we already have a high level of buoyancy built into our bodies to start with!

How Much Life Jacket Buoyancy Do You Need?

For the overwhelming majority of people, the USCG approval ratings are more than enough to sustain your body weight.

A person needs at most 10% of his way supplemented with life jacket buoyancy, and this figure is even a little high, and would be for someone who has no capacity to maneuver in the water.

The result is that, along as the vest is USCG approved, you don’t really need to worry too much about buoyancy. Click here for more information on choosing a life vest.



Finding the Best Adult Life Vest

Buying a life vest can feel like a difficult decision, but it doesn’t have to be. There are a number of excellent options when you’re choosing a life jacket, and all it takes is a little guidance to find the vest that’s right for you.

In this post I’ll recommend what I see as the best adult life vest in 4 categories: inflatable, fitted, offshore, and budget.

mustang_survival_hit_life_vest_redThe Best Inflatable Adult Life Vest

Mustang Survival HIT Inflatable Life Jacket

The Mustang Survival HIT vest is the cream of the crop when it comes to buying a premium adult life vest.

The HIT model uses state of the art hydrostatic inflation technology, which allows for the use of lightweight fabric that keeps the vest comfortable even when wet and protects against accidental inflation, requiring submersion in 4 inches of water before it will inflate. Read the full review here.

oneill_assault_life_vest_manThe Best Fitted Adult Life Vest

O’Neill Assault Lumbar Support Life Vest

The O’Neill Assault Lumbar Support vest is an excellent fitted option. The vest features a neoprene design, which creates a snug fit sized for either men or women. The vest also includes a soft countour design that provides added support for the lumbar spine, making this a great option for anyone who need a little extra back support.

Priced under $100, the O’Neill Assault vest is a great value for anyone looking for a fitted life vest. Read the full review.

delta_offshore_life_jacket_with_harnessThe Best Offshore Adult Life Vest

Delta Offshore Life Jacket

When it comes to finding an offshore adult life vest, nothing beats the Delta Offshore model. This vest is USCG Type I approved and features excellent buoyancy along with a working harness and easy to access rescue ring.

This vest is perfect for any rough weather or offshore needs, and is a comfortable option for this category of vest. Read the full review.

oneill_superlite_uscg_vestThe Best Budget Adult Life Vest

O’Neill SuperLite USCG Vest

The O’Neill superlite is, in my opinion, the best budget adult life vest.

With a simple foam design and with options starting as low as $20, the price tag is one of the best in the industry from a trusted brand, making this vest is an excellent value for any budget-conscious boater. Read the full review.

If none of these vests feels right for you, you can browse more adult life jackets here.


Is Life Jacket Testing Required for New Life Vests?

life_jacket_testingIf you’re purchasing a new life vest it’s important to understand stand what level of life jacket testing you’ll need to go through with your vest before  you take it out on the water.

Many people hesitate to test their new life vests and while the chances of getting a new vest that doesn’t work is fairly low, when it comes to your safety on the water no precaution should be left out, especially because testing a new vest is very simple to do.

Since you should be in the habit of inspecting your life jacket regularly, it makes sense that your first test can function as a first inspection as well.

How to Test a Life Jacket

There are two basic types of life jacket tests. Dry tests and in water tests.

Dry Life Jacket Testing

To dry test your life jacket, first perform a thorough inspection of the exterior, ensuring there are no flaws in the fabric, especially in the foam or inflation panels, which are essential to maintain proper buoyancy.

For inflatable vests, manually inflate the vest and check to make sure the vest remains inflated. Keeping the vest inflated overnight is a good test of its durability.

Water Testing Your Life Jacket

Taking that new vest into the water for the first time is also an important step, and is one task that many individuals neglect to do.

Water testing your life jacket is as important to measure life jacket fit as it is for the inflation testing purposes, since you need to know how your vest will feel when wearing it in the water. Water testing the vest can help to give you the familiarity you need.

If you have an automatic inflatable vest, don’t let the cost of rearming the vest deter you from performing an in-water test. You can manually inflate the vest before you enter the water and disable the CO2 canister temporarily. Be sure to properly repack the vest after use and ensure the indicator light is green, which signals that it’s armed and ready for the next use.

Properly testing a life jacket in the water is fairly straightforward: put the vest on and go for a swim! Always test the vest in calm, shallow water first, and remain in the water for a minimum of 5-10 minutes to ensure that the vest maintains its inflation and buoyancy for the entire duration of the test.



Life Jacket Servicing for Inflatable Life Jackets

life_jacket_servicingIf you own an inflatable life jacket, it is your responsibility to ensure that the life jacket is properly maintained and serviced throughout the life of the vest. Life jacket servicing is a subtle task, so if you are not familiar with the process it’s best to look to an expert.

Generally it is recommended that you perform a full life jacket inspection every 2-3 months. In the event that you notice any errors with the jacket, such as torn fabric or a malfunctioning CO2 cannister, you should submit the vest to the manufacturer.

Life Jacket Servicing

Inflatable life jacket servicing is harder than it looks. If you are unfamiliar with the design and structure of your vest, it is best to send the vest in to the manufacturer or other specialist for repair.

When to Send it In

  • If there are any major tears or holes in the vest
  • If there are small tears in the inflatable panels
  • If the vest does not maintain it’s inflation
  • If the vest cannot be repacked properly
  • If rearming the canister does not solve any automatic inflation problems

When To Do It Yourself

  • If the repair is cosmetic, such as a flaw on the outer edge of the vest fabric
  • If the repair is to a stitch or small tear that is not intertwined with the inflatable panels
  • If the canister simply needs to be rearmed

Submitting Your Life Jacket for Servicing

Your best option for servicing your life jacket is to submit it directly to the manufacturer. Many brands provide guarantees or warranties upon purchase and are happy to address any issues that come up during that time. Follow the instructions in your owner’s manual for details on where to send the vest.

Remember: if there is any noticeable flaw in your inflatable lie vest, DO NOT WEAR IT. Find a temporary replacement immediately while you submit the inflatable life jacket for servicing. Even small tears and flaws in the inflatable panels can be indications that the vest will not properly inflate or maintain it’s buoyancy in the water.

Read more about the basics of inflatable life vests or browse my recommendations for inflatable life jackets for adults.



Life Jacket Inspection Tips for Proper Life Jacket Maintenance

life_jacket_inspectionBeing a responsible boater doesn’t stop when you purchase new PFDs for your vessel. It’s also important that you regularly monitor the condition of any flotation device on board.

In this post I’ll provide instructions on how to ensure proper life jacket maintenance by performing a regular life jacket inspection. These instructions are focused on inflatable life jackets, both manual and automatic.

How to Perform a Life Jacket Inspection

If you own an inflatable life jacket, you should perform a thorough life jacket inspection every 2-3 months, especially after extended periods of use. To inspect your life jacket, take the following steps:

  1. Check for any scratches, tears, or rips in the fabric, as well as any broken buckles, fasteners or zippers.
  2. Inspect the CO2 cartridge to ensure it is armed and active. If it has been discharged you will need to replace the cartridge.
  3. Orally inflate the jacket. All inflatable vests, whether automatic or manual, have an oral tube you can use to inflate the vest without triggering the CO2 cannister.
  4. Leave the vest inflated for 24 hours. For a proper inspection, you need to ensure not only that the vest inflates, but that there is no sign of air leakage. Leaving the vest inflated for up to 24 hours can confirm that it has no issues.
  5. Repack and stow properly. After ensuring there are no holes in the jacket, repack the inflated section into its original form and properly stow the vest until the next time you go out on the water.

For further information, you may also wish to watch this video, courtesy of Boat U.S.


Further Tips for Proper Life Jacket Maintenance

  • Frequent Fast Inspection. In addition to the regular full life jacket inspection, you can do a quick check up of your personal safety equipment every time you go out on the water. For most inflatable vests, you can look to the indicator panel, which will display green if properly armed and ready, or red if further inspection and maintenance is necessary.
  • Keep the Jacket Properly Stowed. When you are not using your life jacket, keeping the device properly stowed in a secure, dry area will help preserve the vest and ensure its durability in the future.
  • Complete Repairs Quickly. If you do come across any tears or rips during your life jacket inspection, make sure to send the jacket in for repairs quickly, and do not use the jacket if there are any flaws. Even slight rips may be indications of further damage to the vest, which may prevent its proper inflation. Read more about servicing your life jacket.

If you’re considering purchasing an inflatable life jacket, I suggest you read this post on the pros and cons of inflatable life jackets, the post on different types of life jackets, or click here to browse adult life jackets.




Which Type of PFD Will Turn Most Unconscious People Face Up In Water?

type_of_pfd_turn_unconscious_people_face_up_waterIf you’re not familiar with the US Coast Guard rating system, the different types of life jackets and ratings can be confusing.

For many, choosing an adult life jacket can be primarily about finding a PFD that will right an unconscious person.

So, the question becomes: which type of PFD will turn most unconscious people face up in water?

For that there are several answers:

3 Types of PFDs to Turn Unconscious Person Face Up

Type I, Type II, and Type III vests are all excellent choices when looking to turn an unconscious person face up, but a Type 1 is the only vest that is specifically designed for such a feature.

  • Type 1 life jackets are the most heavy duty life vests designed for normal recreational and commercial use. These are offshore vests, intended for rough water, ocean conditions and for an individual spending a long time in the water before rescue. These are almost always designed to turn most unconscious people face up in water, since they are designed for rougher, higher risk boating conditions. These vests typically provide 22lbs of buoyancy, more than enough to keep individuals afloat.
  • Type 2 life jackets are also an excellent choice for turning an unconscious person face up. These vests are designed for inland or calmer, near shore ocean conditions and provide 15.5 lbs of buoyancy. Individuals should check with individual brands for righting capabilities before purchase.
  • Type 3 life jackets also provide 15.5 lbs of buoyancy and are intended for calmer inland waters, but they are less likely than Type II or Type I vests to right an unconscious individual. Instead, Type III vests should be evaluated on a case by case basis to determine whether or not they are suitable for this purpose.

If your priority is the ability to have the life jacket turn an unconscious person face up in the water, then your best bet is going to be a type 1, or possibly a type 2 vest.

Regardless of which life vest you choose, you should always check with the manufacturer statements about approved conditions for the vest. This information is readily available, and will depend on the specific brand in question. You can browse adult life jackets here.

Also keep in mind that life jackets only work when worn! Even the best vest can’t turn an unconscious person face up if the vest remains on the boat while the person is in the water!

The United States Coast Guard recommends individuals wear a life jacket at all times when on the water.