Inflatable Life Jackets

When inflatable life jackets fail, the results can be deadly. Unknown bladder leaks, fabric degradation or an improperly installed carbon dioxide cylinder can render inflatable life jackets ineffective by preventing inflation or their ability to stay inflated.

Properly inspect and maintain your inflatable life jackets to ensure that all parts remain in good working order. Follow the maintenance instructions for your brand as instructions vary by manufacturer.

The following basic inspection guidelines should not replace or supersede manufacturer recommendations or instructions.

Before getting underway

  • Inspect the service indicator, if any, to ensure it’s green. If it’s red, the mechanism has been fired or fitted incorrectly.
  • Check for visible signs of wear or damage. Make sure that there are no rips, tears, or holes; the seams are securely sewn; and the fabric, straps, and hardware remain strong.
  • Ensure that auto-inflating components are armed and not expired. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, reveal and inspect the inflation system and oral inflation tube. Check that the CO2 cylinder is firmly secured and free from rust or corrosion. If you remove the cylinder for inspection, replace it carefully and don’t over-tighten.
  • Repack the lifejacket following the manufacturer’s instructions. Ensure that the pull-tab lanyard is accessible and unlikely to be inadvertently snagged when worn.

Periodically or when in doubt

  • Inflate the bladder using the oral tube. Leave it inflated overnight in a room with a steady temperature. If the bladder loses pressure, take the life jacket to an authorized service center for further tests. Don’t attempt to repair a life jacket yourself. If pressure remains steady, deflate the life jacket by turning the inflation tube cap upside down and pressing it into the inflation tube. Gently squeeze the inflatable life jacket until you’ve expelled all air. Do not wring or twist the life jacket.
  • Repack the life jacket following the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure the pull-tab lanyard is accessible and won’t be snagged when worn.
  • Store your life jacket in a dry, well-ventilated location out of direct sunlight. Rinse your life jacket with freshwater after saltwater exposure and dry it thoroughly prior to storage. If your life jacket is set for auto-inflation, remove the auto-inflation cartridge prior to rinsing. The life jacket manufacturer may have specific requirements, so read the instructions on the jacket.

–U.S. Coast Guard

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