Firstly, congratulations again on investing in safety equipment. Much like insurance, it's a 'cost' that doesn't always directly provide a return - but the day you need it, you will be happy you have it.
It's important to also look after your life jacket (life vest, personal flotation device, PFD), especially when it comes to self-inflating options - checking the function.
How often should life jackets be inspected?
Read the manufacturer's recommendations - however, you should be stopping and giving it a good once over at least once a year. For self-inflating models - the manufacturer may recommend testing and replacing the CO2 cartridge at a regular interval - and - it's not a bad idea to actually set it off at least once to familiarise yourself with the operation.
Depending on your intended use (personal or commercial), government body regulations on inspection intervals might also exist.
How do you service your life jacket?
Generally, most Inflatable life jacket suppliers have self-test forms on their web pages. Servicing isn’t a routine check and clean; it requires more inspection and care. Before attempting to self-service your lifejacket, you should ensure you have the necessary knowledge and skill. Otherwise, it is recommended that your lifejacket is serviced professionally.
When self-servicing, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and ensure the recharge kit matches your life jacket. If a service record is available inside the jacket, sign and date the service record with a permanent marker. If this is unavailable, create your own paper record and keep a copy of it onboard your vessel.
Step One- Visual Inspection of the Lifejacket
- Open the jacket inflator pocket and remove Co2 cylinder and Inspect the bottle for rust or corrosion.
- Check all stitching, buckles and closures to see all are intact and working correctly
- Open the jacket and check yellow inner fabric is not damaged
- Check all reflective tape is stuck down and not peeling away
- Check oral inflator tube is not damaged
- If water activated SOLAS Light fitted, Check the Exp date and Light is working.
- Check it has a whistle
Step two – Testing the bladder holds air.
- Inflate the bladder by mouth through the oral inflate tube until the bladder is fully inflated and firm.
- Leave bladder inflated overnight or for at least 12 hrs. This should be done in an area of stable temperature. Around 20 deg C is best. If the temperature drops overnight, it will affect pressure, so ensure the temperature remains constant.
- After at least 12 hrs, check that the bladder is still firm and there is no visible pressure loss.
If your Inflatable Lifejacket or a component fails any test listed below, then the Lifejacket must be taken to an authorised service centre for further inspection.
Step Three – Oral Inflator Check
- Check inflator valve is operating correctly by blowing a small amount of air into the bladder and then inverting the cap into the oral tube to release the valve, and expel all air, do not put anything into the valve except the inverted cap.
- Look for any damage or cracks around or on the tube.
Step Four – Co2 Cylinder Inspection
- Check cylinder is intact and not punctured.
- Weigh the cylinder to ensure that it is full. The cylinder must weigh within 2 grams of the gross weight shown on the cylinder. This will need accurate scales measuring down to 1 gram (supermarket and/or post office scales are ideal). If it is impossible to weigh the cylinder accurately, it must be replaced with a new one of the same size/weight.
Record the original gross weight and the actual weight on the self-test form. If the cylinder is damaged or the weight is lower than the gross weight minus 2 grams, then the cylinder must be replaced.
If the cylinder does not conform in any way or has been punctured or ii corroded, replace the co2 with a new one of the same size.
DO NOT REPLACE THE CYLINDER ON THE JACKET YET
Step Five – Manual Firing Mechanism Inspection
(Manual Operated jackets only)
- Check firing mechanism is working correctly, pull the cord and see if the cutter pin rises above the internal base of the mechanism.
Step Six – Auto Inflate Mechanism Inspection
(Automatic Operated jackets only)
- Unscrew anti-clockwise the automatic activation cartridge from the bottom of the inflator.
- Check cartridge is clean and dry.
- Check the expiry date. If the expiry date of the cartridge is within the next 12 months, replace it with a new cartridge now.
- Once all steps above are completed, screw the cartridge clockwise onto the firing mechanism, ensure all threads are correct and tighten by light hand force only.
- Check that the lower indicator on the body of the inflator is now green. If the indicator is red, the cartridge is no good and must be replaced with a new cartridge.
Step Seven – Replace Co2 Cartridge.
- If the jacket and inflator have passed all tests, replace the cylinder.
- When fitting the cylinder, hold the mechanism firmly and screw the cylinder into it clockwise direction; hand tighten only until firmly into position.
Step Eight – Record Inspection
Record with a biro if your jacket has passed all the self-inspection points required. Do not use a permanent marking pen as the chemical can damage the bladder material.
If the date when you self-test is 14-07-2022, record “S/Test 07 2022” and your initials next to the date on the service label.
Step Nine – Repack your PFD
Repack your PFD, ensuring all the air is removed from the bladder.
Ensure that the inflator pull cord is free and not tangled around the bottle.
Step Ten – Complete Self-Test Form
Ensure all information on the self-test form has been completed and that you have signed and dated it. Take note of the date of the next self-test and record it so that you will not forget to test your jacket.