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.
Do Life Jackets Expire?
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 These don’t mean that the vests are no longer valid beyond that warranty, but only that you’re not eligible for any manufacturer maintenance.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.