Take Care of That Life Jacket! - Sail Magazine

Take Care of That Life Jacket!

Inflatable life jackets are effective, reliable and comfortable. However, unlike traditional foam-filled life jackets, they must be properly maintained if they are to function correctly. This goes double for a life jacket with an integral safety harness and/or automatic inflation. Inflatable life jackets include a number of parts that must all work properly if the life jacket is to function at
Author:
Publish date:

Inflatable life jackets are effective, reliable and comfortable. However, unlike traditional foam-filled life jackets, they must be properly maintained if they are to function correctly. This goes double for a life jacket with an integral safety harness and/or automatic inflation. Inflatable life jackets include a number of parts that must all work properly if the life jacket is to function at all.


Routine Maintenance

Basic maintenance of an automatic life jacket with an integral harness, like my offshore inflatable life vest from West Marine, includes a regular inspection and a good washing from time to time. Check for any holes or rips in the fabric or bladder. Also check to see that the oral inflation tube and any reflective tape is still in good shape.

Make sure the harness is still securely sewn together and that none of the stitching is worn. The same goes for the D-ring attachments used to secure a tether. Get into the habit of regularly checking the “service indicator” visible in the clear plastic window of the jacket to ensure your CO2 cylinder is still capable of doing its job. Green means it’s armed and ready. Red means the life jacket is not armed and the bladder can only be inflated manually.

life1
life2


To wash an automatically inflating life jacket, first remove the CO2 cylinder and the sensor bobbin. Removing the bobbin is crucial, because it dissolves when wet, thus triggering the mechanism that punctures the CO2 cylinder to fill the bladder. Other life jackets may function somewhat differently. Be sure to refer to your owner’s manual to ensure you are servicing your life jacket correctly.

With the bobbin and cylinder removed, wash the life jacket with soapy water, rinse with warm water, then hang it up to dry someplace that is well ventilated and protected from direct sunlight. Once it is thoroughly dry, re-arm the life jacket with the CO2 cylinder and bobbin (making sure neither has passed its expiration date) and re-pack according to the manufacturer’s instructions.


Closer Inspection

Checking that your life jacket will inflate and retain pressure requires a proper inspection. This should be done at least once a year, at the start of the sailing season up north. West Marine recommends performing an inspection every three months if you wear your life jacket often. Same goes if you sail where it’s hot and humid, as the inflation mechanism is prone to corrosion.

life3
life4


Once again, you need to first remove the CO2 cylinder and bobbin. While doing so, check the date on the bobbin. If it is more than three years old replace it immediately, even if it looks sound. Also inspect the CO2 cylinder and the sensor ring or any other integral parts that might be a part of your life jacket’s inflation mechanism. If the cylinder has been pierced or is in any way damaged it needs to be replaced.

Bobbins and CO2 cylinders are available in “rearming kits” specifically configured to work with different styles of jackets from different manufacturers. Cylinders, for example, come in a variety of different weights and with different thread dimensions. Other systems require “pills” or pins to operate correctly. Never use a replacement kit specified for another life jacket. Your life jacket should have an inner label that specifies the model number of the rearming kit it needs.

life5
life6


With the bobbin and CO2 cylinder removed, inflate the bladder in your life jacket using the oral inflation tube, until the bladder is firm. Then dunk the valve and look for any bubbles indicating a leak. If there is a leak, replace the life jacket. Otherwise, let the inflated bladder stand overnight. If it is softer the next morning, you need a new jacket.


Back Together Again

If all is still well, deflate the bladder and rearm the inflating mechanism according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In the case of my offshore inflatable life vest, it is important that the bobbin is oriented correctly (white side up) and the CO2 cylinder is installed correctly with a clockwise 1/8 turn to a full stop. Anything less and the green indicator won’t switch on, and the life jacket won’t work.

After that, repack the bladder according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t just cram the thing back inside the outer protective shell and leave it at that.

life7
life8


On my life jacket, the outer edge of the bladder panels on either side are first folded inward and then both edges are folded outward on top of each other. The outer shell is then snapped shut. Make sure the service indicator is visible through the clear plastic window and the manual pull tab is readily accessible.

If there is any doubt that things are not working properly, don’t hesitate to consult a professional.

Related

Thoreau

The Thoreau Approach

I know someone who spent two years, two months and two days staring at the water, living in a space 150ft square, and paying keen attention to the weather. This sounds like a happy circumnavigation, and in a sense, it was, because the person I’m referring to is Henry David ...read more

shutterstock_1886572

Cruising: Won Over by Lake Michigan

Like many, I often spend my sailing holidays far away from home, assuming that real adventure requires some kind of international flight. More and more, though, I’m learning that some of the best sailing vacations can be found right in my own backyard.In this spirit, I skipped my ...read more

00WindGenerator700x

How-to: Installing a Wind Generator

Solar panels or wind generator? There’s little doubt that for Stateside cruising, especially down South where the amount of sunshine outstrips the strength of the wind for much of the year, solar is top of the list for liveaboard and long-term cruisers. Having seen what even a ...read more

01-Ursus-Maritimus-31081

The Figawi Race: A New England Classic

When I was 15, some of my sailing classmates kicked off the summer by sailing the Figawi, New England’s legendary season-opening race held every Memorial Day weekend. A winding course between Hyannis and Nantucket, it was a seemingly epic voyage to a bunch of kids who had never ...read more

03-Panama-Posse-honduras

Panama Posse Enters Its Second Year

The Panama Posse is back this month after a successful inaugural rally in 2017-2018. This year it includes visits to seven Central American countries—Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama.Over the course of the rally, organizers provide ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comLetting go the sheetTaking a loaded-up sheet off a winch when the boat tacks can be a just cause for nervousness. On a boat up to 40ft or so, the safest way is to first ease off a few inches, keeping the ...read more

USCGReadyForRescue_Identifier_FullColor

USCG Ready for Rescue Challenge

The U.S. Coast Guard is now collaborating with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on something it calls the “Ready for Rescue,” a $255,000 prize competition that is looking for ways that will make it easier to locate people, MOB victims in particular, in the water.The ...read more

04-CLR1718md1085-jpg

A Historic Win for Wendy Tuck

This past summer Australian sailor, Wendy Tuck (inset), became the first woman to win a round-the-world yacht race when she and her crew aboard Sanya Serenity Coast claimed the overall victory in the 2017-18 Clipper Race. “I am just so happy,” Tuck said at the finish in ...read more