Do Life Jackets Expire and When to Replace?

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Life jackets and personal flotation devices do not have an expiry date. However, they can be voided or be deemed ineffective if they have been repaired, damaged, or otherwise altered. So in answer to the question ‘do life jackets expire?’ – the answer is yes, but also no. 

The terms life vest, life jacket, and personal floatation device are often used interchangeably. Depending on who you ask (and where you live), there are slight variations between these floatation devices. 

For example, the term life jacket is used to refer to foam based floatation devices that have an inflatable neck support. These jackets are typically coast guard approved and are designed to keep the wearer’s neck and head from going under in the event they lose consciousness.

All other life jackets that do not feature this characteristic are typically referred to as life vests or personal flotation devices (PFDs for short). Life vests hug the wearer closely via buckles while PFD can come in a variety of styles including inflatable life jackets. 

Two Main Types of Life Vests

Life vests and PFDs will typically come in two different styles: Inflatable life jackets and foam life jackets. 

Foam Life Jackets

These types of life jackets are internally lined with a foam material that is highly buoyant. Foam life jackets are really easy to maintain but you should still be careful with them. If you damage the foam interior, it can render the life jacket useless. 

Inflatable Life Jackets

Inflatable life jackets require inflation in order to be used. These jackets will come with a carbon dioxide tank that quickly inflates the vest. The CO2 tank can last anywhere from one to three years.

How do you Know if a Life Jacket is Still Good?

You don’t necessarily have to get a new life jacket at the start of each season. Rather, you can test out the life jackets you already have to see if they can still serve you. 

Foam Life Jacket Test 

Testing a foam life jacket is fairly simple. You’ll want to start by visually inspecting the jacket to make sure that there are no rips or tears. 

Make sure that the foam inside is not exposed either. If you see any of these issues, it’s time to replace the jacket. 

Simply putting on your vest is not enough, you’ll need to test it out in some calm water. The life jacket should fit snugly on you.

As you float, Be sure to maneuver yourself in different positions in order to see if your life jacket can retain buoyancy. If the life vest is able to hold you up, without rising above your shoulders, it should still be safe to use. 

Inflatable Life Jacket Test 

When you’re testing out an inflatable life jacket, start by visually inspecting it before putting it on. When you put it on, the material should fit you nice and snug. 

Check to see that the recommended tank replacement date hasn’t passed. If it has not passed, look at the can and nozzle to make sure there’s no corrosion or dust. 

Inspect the material of the inflatable life vest to make sure there are no rips, tears, or other issues. 

ALSO READ: PFD Maintenance 101 – All you need to know

When to Replace Your PFD (Personal Floatation Device) 

To practice proper water safety, you should replace your PFD every couple of years. Every season brings with it newer models of life jacket types and upgrading your PFDs is always a good idea. The following factors are additional reasons why it might be time to get a new PFD. 

Look For Signs of Wear and Tear

If you see visible signs of wear and tear on your personal flotation device, it’s time to replace it. This is especially the case if you’re using an inflatable life jacket. 

Keep a close eye on an inflatable canister and make sure it is not damaged by rust, corrosion, or dust that could block the nozzle from letting the gas escape. 

Check the Expiration Date

Do life jackets expire? Well, in a word – yes. Inflatable life jackets expire and should be replaced after the replacement date for the CO2 tank. Typically this expiration date is anywhere from 1 to 3 years. If your inflatable jacket’s tank exceeds this expiration date, then you should replace the whole PFD.

It can be tempting just to replace the canister, but to be on the safe side, getting a new inflatable life jacket will ensure that the material is holding its integrity and that there are no rips and tears that you can’t see.

Test Your Life Jacket

If you’ve tested your life jacket or PFD and you have concerns about its integrity, then it’s time to replace it. There are some things that are not worth the risk, and anything regarding your safety when you’re on the water falls under this category. 

When testing, lower buoyancy levels, a vest that does not fit property, and signs of regular wear are all reasons to replace your vest. 

Replace if Needed

When you’re replacing your PFD, you may want to opt for the same model that you have had or you may want to move to a different model or life jacket type. Every year, personal flotation devices and life jackets get a little more advanced with stronger material that offer greater protection and higher buoyancy. 

When you are purchasing a replacement life jacket or PFD it’s always best to do your research to make sure you’re getting a jacket that will fit properly and meets your intended purpose. 

It can also help to reach out to your life jackets manufacturer to see what your options are. Some companies may offer you a discount or replace your life jacket for you if it meets certain qualifications.

How to Keep Your Life Jacket Lasting Longer

Naturally, life jackets expire over time, you can however keep your jacket lasting longer. The best way to lengthen the lifespan of your PDF is by taking care of it. Always store your inflatable PFDs in a location where nothing can poke or puncture it. 

When it comes to your foam life jackets and PFDs, store them in areas where other objects won’t crush them. If you store your life jacket underneath heavy objects, the weight of the object can cause the foam inside to break down faster than it should. 

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