Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2010 and was revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness in 2018.
Latest Update: September 2020
Lifejackets are one of the most essential pieces of safety equipment you can wear, whether you’re out at sea or enjoying the UK’s many and varied inland waterways, lochs and rivers.
Your lifejacket needs to be checked and maintained on a regular basis to ensure it is performing properly and will stand the test of time.
Take these simple steps to look at your lifejacket and they will prolong the life of this invaluable piece of kit and could help save a life.
1. Protect the ‘salt bobbin’.
The trigger mechanism for most automatic lifejackets is a dissolvable ‘salt bobbin’. The salt bobbin will react if it is stored in an area which is humid or damp.
It can also react if it has not been wiped down and aired after each use so make sure you never put your lifejacket away damp.
After each use, you should:
- Wipe the lifejacket down to remove the salt.
- Remove the bobbin if using water to wipe and clean the lifejacket.
- Allow the lifejacket to air dry and then replace the bobbin once dry.
2. Check the gas cylinder for loose screws and corrosion.
The screws in CO2 cylinders can loosen up over time so you should check them for tightness each month. You should also check the cylinder for corrosion every three months and replace it if it is rusty. Check any material that was in contact with the cylinder as the fabric may have been damaged.
It is advised that you should always carry a re-arming kit for each jacket you have onboard your vessel which will allow you to get it ready for use again immediately should it inflate for any reason.
Check the manufacturer expiry dates on cylinders as they may differ depending on the brand. Replace expired cylinders as recommended.
3. Check for leaks.
Every six months, you should inflate the lifejacket manually with a hand pump using the oral inflation (top-up) tube. Using a hand pump instead of your mouth will help to prevent moisture build-up inside the lifejacket.
Leave it inflated for 24 hours to ensure that there are no leaks or damage. If there are no issues, re-pack the lifejacket according to the manufacturer’s folding instructions.
4. Check the exterior of the lifejacket.
The webbing of your lifejacket, along with the stitching that holds the webbing together, should be checked every three months.
You should also check that the zips, buckles and other fastenings are in good condition.
5. Store it correctly.
Store the lifejacket in a dry area on a non-metal coat-hanger. Out of season, automatic lifejackets should be stored partially inflated.
They should not be stored in hot engine rooms, on engine blocks, or kept under tarpaulins in open areas. These environments will essentially create a ‘greenhouse effect’ and could damage or weaken the operation of the lifejacket.
6. Service the lifejacket at least once a year.
The manufacturers of our own lifejackets (Hi Line Pro and SeaStorm) recommend that you have your lifejacket serviced at least once a year by a registered servicing centre.
If this service is not performed, the chance of an accidental firing of the lifejacket is greatly increased.
7. Consider getting a free RNLI safety check.
As an extra security measure for your peace of mind, the RNLI perform free inspections at their lifejacket clinics. They also advise you on how to carry out your own checks.
At one of their recent clinics, they found 80% of lifejackets had faults, and many had serious defects. Make sure everything is working properly by visiting their page to register your interest in a free check at a clinic near you.
Prices for lifejackets start from as little as £33.49 (ex. VAT) for kids and £38.49 (inc VAT) for adults while re-arming kits start at £13.49 (inc. VAT).
RNLI also offers a great official guide to lifejackets and buoyancy aids, from choosing the right one for you to maintaining it. You can download and read it here.