Servicing inflatable lifejackets

The emergence of affordable, comfortable and stylish lifejackets is a major step forward in boating safety. Inflatable lifejackets are rapidly gaining popularity because of their convenience and increasing affordability.

As lifejackets spend so much time in a harsh marine environment where they are often exposed to heat, sun and salt, they are subject to damage. One aspect of inflatables that boaters are often unaware of is that Victorian regulations require inflatable lifejackets to be serviced at least annually, unless the manufacturer specifies and permits a longer period.

In addition to the formal process of servicing, inflatable lifejackets should be regularly checked throughout the year to make sure they are functioning properly.

Manufacturers Servicing

Some manufacturers require you to have your lifejacket serviced by them or by an authorised agent. This will ensure it remains in good working order and functions properly. You should not service the lifejacket yourself in this instance. When the lifejacket is serviced, checks will be carried out to ensure the bladder, reflective tapes, buckles and straps are in working order and that the inflation system and oral inflation tube are operating correctly. Contact the manufacturer or your place of purchase for more info.

Self-Servicing

If you are self-servicing, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. If there is a service record in the inside of the jacket, sign and date the service record with a permanent marker. If not, make a paper record of your own and keep a copy handy on board the vessel. Keep all servicing receipts and certificates of servicing as documentary evidence of the service occurring. Keeping a safety equipment log for your vessel is a good way to record service or replacement dates. 

How To Self Check Your Lifejacket

Below is an example of how to ‘self check’ a lifejacket, which can be done at any time to ensure the jacket is functioning properly. If you want to ‘self service’ your lifejacket, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific lifejacket model.

  1. Check for visible signs of wear and damage. Ensure all fastenings and buckles are in good working order.
  2. Following manufacturer’s instructions, reveal the inflation system and oral inflation tube. Inflate bladder using the oral tube and leave overnight in a room with constant temperature. If the bladder loses pressure, immediately take jacket to an accredited service agent for further tests. Do not attempt to repair jacket yourself.
  3. Use cap attached to the oral inflation tube to deflate bladder. Invert cap and press down on valve at the top of the oral tube. Do not insert other objects into top of tube as they may damage the valve. Roll or press jacket to deflate fully.
  4. Remove CO2 cylinder and inspect. The cylinder should be intact with no rust or corrosion. Weigh the cylinder on kitchen or letter scales and ensure weight corresponds to the minimum gross weight engraved on cylinder +/– 2g. If the cylinder is rusted, corroded, has been pierced or is not the correct weight it should be replaced immediately. On auto inflation lifejackets, ensure auto components are armed and in date. Refit cylinder to inflation system, tightening it by hand until firm. Do not over tighten.
  5. Repack jacket as per manufacturer’s instructions. Ensure manual inflation toggle is accessible and unlikely to be caught when being worn.

Choosing Your Lifejacket

Style

There are now many different brands in the market so it is important to choose one that suits your needs. Whether it is a jacket or vest, a yoke or a belt bag inflatable style, ensure you read and understand all the instructions. Familiarise yourself with the inflation procedures and the care required for your jacket while not in use.

Manual or Automatic Inflation

This will depend on what you are most comfortable with and what activity the lifejacket is being used for. The benefit of an auto inflating jacket is that as soon as the inflation mechanism gets wet the jacket will inflate, whereas a manual jacket’s CO2 inflation is only activated by hand.

Poor swimmers may be more comfortable with an auto jacket but remember a large amount of spray may activate the jacket while on deck.

An Inflatable That’s Been Activated Already

Once activated, the CO2 cylinder is pierced and cannot be used again. On an auto jacket, auto components may also need to be replaced. Cylinders and auto components are available from dealers, but it is wise to have spares on the boat or in the garage just in case.