Skip to main content

Inspect your Lifejackets

When you inspect your inflatable lifejackets, hope you don’t find any surprises. They say you should never take anything for granted in life, and I reckon that applies to lifejackets too. While exhuming my inflatable lifejackets— one manually actuated, one auto-inflating—from their basement crypt last spring, it struck me that I had never once inspected them or serviced them since they were new—and that, I realized guiltily, was many years ago.

When you inspect your inflatable lifejackets, hope you don’t find any surprises.

They say you should never take anything for granted in life, and I reckon that applies to lifejackets too. While exhuming my inflatable lifejackets— one manually actuated, one auto-inflating—from their basement crypt last spring, it struck me that I had never once inspected them or serviced them since they were new—and that, I realized guiltily, was many years ago.

It was obviously past time. It’s easy enough to inspect a lifejacket; you basically just open it up, blow it up using the inflator tube on the left-hand chamber, and check it over for obvious signs of damage—chafed seams, punctures, cuts. If it’s dirty or salty, sponge it down with warm soapy water, rinse it and let it dry overnight, still fully inflated. If it leaks, throw it away and buy a new one.

You also need to check out the inflation mechanism. On a manually activated lifejacket, a yank on the pull tab attached to the trigger pierces a CO2 canister and releases its contents into the air chambers. On an auto-inflating jacket, a water-activated bobbin releases a spring to puncture the canister. Depending on the maker—most inflatables will have Halkey-Roberts, Hammar or Secumar inflators—this bobbin will be either a plastic-encased substance or smooth-surfaced “pill” that dissolves in contact with water.

If the jacket is kept or worn in humid or damp environments, these bobbins should be inspected regularly for signs of deterioration—Halkey-Roberts suggests replacing bobbins at least every three years. This schedule is the subject of some debate, given any thrifty sailor’s natural reluctance to replace something that appears to be in perfect condition.

Because my 2007 auto-inflating jacket had been kept dry belowdecks and only worn occasionally, the bobbin looked just fine, so I decided to leave it alone. You can buy re-arming kits for older SOSpender/West Marine jackets like mine for between $15 (manual) and $30 (auto) depending on where you shop. They include a new gas cylinder, a small green retaining pin and, if it’s an auto kit, a bobbin. If you just want to replace the bobbin, expect to pay around $10 each.

The design of inflating mechanisms has changed over the years so make sure you look at the serial number before ordering online. I had assumed my two SOSpenders lifejackets would accept the same CO2 canisters, only to find that the auto-inflator took a 3/8in thread and the manual jacket a 1/2in thread. Annoying, but good to know before you order spares.

The latest word in lifejacket tech is Hammar’s hydrostatic inflator, which relies on water pressure to trigger inflation. If you’ve ever had your lifejacket inflate in a heavy rain or in a damp locker, you’ll know this is a good idea. On the other hand, re-arming kits for these run around $70—yet another reason not to fall overboard. Speaking of which, when I unfolded my manual lifejacket for inspection I discovered an empty space where the CO2 canister was meant to be—this on the lifejacket I wear most frequently, being no fan of auto-inflating jackets. Then I recalled that years ago an overzealous TSA agent confiscated said cylinder at Logan Airport; I had forgotten to replace it and, since the jacket was weighed down with strobe lights and flashlights, had not noticed it was lighter than it should be. I’d been wearing it for years without realizing. Now there’s another reason for frequent inspections.

<p>RESOURCES</p>

DEFENDER, defender.com

HELLY HANSEN, hellyhansen.com

INFLATABLEPDF, inflatablepfd.com

JAMESTOWN DISTRIBUTORS, jamestowndistributors.com

LANDFALL NAVAGATION, landfallnavigations.com

MUSTANG SURVIVAL, mustangsurvival.com

STEARNS, stearnsflotation.com

WEST MARINE, westmarine.com

Related

00-LEAD-210918_11HR_AZIMUT48HRS_AMO_00411

11th Hour Racing Team's Green Mission

“I’ll admit, it’s still hard to watch the boat leave the dock sometimes,” says former Volvo Ocean Race sailor Mark Towill. Since meeting during a Transpac campaign over 15 years ago, he and his teammate Charlie Enright have sailed thousands of miles together aboard two Volvo ...read more

D61_JKELAGOPIAN-3

Boat Review: Dufour 61

Dufour, long one of France’s most well-respected builders, has been producing sailboats in La Rochelle since the dawn of fiberglass boatbuilding. Having recently merged with another La Rochelle-based builder, Fountaine Pajot, Dufour has now joined other European mass-production ...read more

m138123_14_00_210609_TORE02_SE_2152_2504-2048x

The Ocean Race to be “Climate Positive”

The 2023 Ocean Race intends to be one of the world’s first climate positive sporting events, offsetting more greenhouse gasses than are produced. The two-fold effort means cutting emissions by 75 percent and investing in ocean projects that sequester carbon and restore ocean ...read more

01-LEAD-Ancients-3-2048x

Cruising Lake Superior

Almost anywhere a sailor drops the hook someone else has been there before. We are hardly ever the first. That remote Maine harbor without a soul in sight: there’s a lobster trap. The south coast of Newfoundland: the crumbling remains of a fisherman’s cabin lie hidden among the ...read more

01-LEAD-Tablet-Holder-4

Fabricating a Tablet Holder

During the pandemic, I was stuck aboard Guiding Light, a Lagoon 410, in St. Lucia for over a month. During that time, as I worked on the boat, I started by doing a spring cleaning in my spares locker and finding some parts and material that I forgot I had. As soon as I saw them, ...read more

00-LEAD-AdobeStock_486335954

A Catamaran for a New Era

Anacortes, Washington, is an unassuming sea-salty town near the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound, and the Betts Boats yard is easy for a passerby to miss. But within Betts’ facilities, the dawn of an era in Pacific Northwest production boatbuilding could be breaking with the ...read more

X5_plus_slide-01

Boat Review: Xquisite X5 Plus

The Xquisite X5 Plus is a major update of the boat that SAIL awarded Best Large Multihull and Best Systems titles in 2017. The changes were not just cosmetic, but genuine improvements to an already fine boat, making it lighter, faster and less dependent on fuel. The builder’s ...read more

01-LEAD-AdobeStock_40632434

Cruising: Offshore Prep Talk

When I began preparing Minx, my 1987 Pearson 39-2, for extended Caribbean cruising, I had to balance my champagne wish list against my beer budget. Every buck spent on the boat before leaving would be one less frosty can of Carib down in the islands. On the other hand, I had to ...read more