Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2010 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Lifejackets are one of the most essential pieces of safety equipment you can arm yourself with, whether you’re out at sea or enjoying the UK’s many and varied inland waterways, lochs and rivers.
As they are so important, lifejackets need to be checked and maintained on a regular basis to ensure that they are performing properly and will stand the test of time.
Taking a few simple steps to look after your lifejacket could help save a life as well as prolong the life of this invaluable piece of kit:
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 has not been wiped down and aired after each use. As such, your lifejacket should never be put 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, remembering to 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 on board 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 whether they are Halkey Roberts, United Moulders or Hammar. 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 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 Gael Force Cruise, Hi Line Pro and SeaStorm Lifejackets 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. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org to find your nearest clinic.
Gael Force supplies a range of baby, child and adult lifejackets along with appropriate re-arming kits. Prices for lifejackets start from as little as £17.95 (inc. VAT) while re-arming kits start at £11.49 (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.