Summer is here and now that we all want to get out on the water it is time to check your equipment.
But where to start? - How about the most important piece of gear; your Life Preserver or PFD.
Whether you have an inherent buoyancy (foam) life vest, or an inflatable one, the steps below are universally accepted as best practices to ensure that vests are properly fitted, maintained, and in good working order.
We'll Start with Inflatable Vests. The tips below are proper no matter the inflator mechanism your vests uses.
Information specific to inflator types is listed where noted
Open up the vest and visually inspect the bladder.
Make sure that there are no rips, tears, excessive abrasion or holes, all seams are securely sewn.
Don't forget to review the outer cover, adjustment straps and any integrated harness and that they're in good working order.
If the cover, straps and harness are not working properly, it can accelerate further damage to the vest through normal use.
Or worse, not enable the vest to work as it optimally should when you need it the most.
PERFORM AN INFLATION TEST
Manually inflate the vest using the oral inflation tube.
If you have another cylinder on hand, use the opportunity to test the manual pull tab inflator on your vest.
You should inflate the vest until the bladder is firm to the touch.
Let the vest sit overnight. This will help you know if there are any slow leaks or decaying seals.
By the next morning, the vest should still be as firm as it was after you finished inflating it.
If it is not, you have a leak and you should replace the entire vest.
INFLATION TESTS SHOULD BE PERFORMED EVERY TWO MONTHS
Next, Ensure that every mechanical component of the inflator is in proper working order.INSPECT THE C02 CYLINDER.
Remove the cylinder by unscrewing it from the inflation mechanism.
Ensure there is no pitting or rust on the threads, poor threads can allow air to escape during the inflation process.
Also check the date on the cylinder.
If your cylinder is within 1-year of expiring, it is best to replace it.
FOR AUTOMATIC VESTS
If you have an automatic vest that uses a bobbin to activate the automatic inflation, Landfall recommends annual replacement of the bobbin.
If you do not have a replacement bobbin and want to risk it, make sure the bobbin still has all of its filler-material.
Ensure that the bobbin's filler material has not developed a glaze.
A glaze on the bobbin increases it's impenetrability, therefore the vest will not activate as quickly as it is designed to.
Landfall Recommends Annual Bobbin Replacement
IT IS RECOMMENDED TO INSPECT YOUR BOBBINS EVERY TWO-MONTHS.
FOR HYDROSTATIC INFLATORS
Check the Date on the Inflator
These units have a finite working life. They expire after five years from the date of their manufacture and hence, require replacement
If your inflator is within 1-year of expiring, you should replace it.
INHERENT BUOYANCY VESTS
Similarly as with inflatable vests, Inherently Buoyant or foam vests require good working order of the outer covers, seams straps and any harnesses as well.
So, just as with an inflatable vest; start with a visual inspection on the life-vest. Ensure that there are no rips, tears, excessive abrasion or holes, all seams are securely sewn and any buckles are working properly.
Also, make sure you are using the right vest for what-ever boating activities you'll be enjoying. Make sure it is properly rated and recommended for the activity. You will also want to make sure that the vest is properly rated and fitted for the person using the vest.
PROPER LIFE-VEST FITTING
A Properly fitted lifejacket is essential to ensuring it will work properly when it is needed.
It should fit snug but not overly tight, It should not restrict breathing or be uncomfortable in any other way.
Uncomfortable vests do not get worn, and an unworn vest is useless in an emergency. The United States Coast Guard Recommends the following
Check the manufacturer’s label to ensure that the life jacket is a proper fit for your size and weight.
Make sure the jacket is properly fastened.
Hold your arms straight up over your head.
Ask a friend to grasp the tops of the arm openings and gently pull up.
Make sure there is no excess room above the openings and that the jacket does not ride up over your chin or face.
To work right, a PFD must fit snugly on a child. To check for a good fit, pick the child up by the shoulders of the PFD. If the PFD fits right, the child's chin and ears will not slip through. Ask them questions about where it feels too tight or loose, make adjustments as necessary. Children grown and hence may need a new life vest every year or two. Be sure that your child's or grandchild's life-vest is the proper vest for their weight range.
Standard Weight Ranges For Children's Life Vests Are:
Up to 30 Lbs
30 - 50 Lbs
50 - 90 Lbs
For the best fit, try the life jacket in shallow water under safe and supervised conditions. Pools are great for testing lifejackets. A lifejacket that is too big will float the victim with their nose below the water and drown them. A lifejacket that is too small will be uncomfortable and not be worn or not float the victim properly in the water.
IF you have any lights or peripheral equipment associated with your vest, such as: Spray Hoods, Whistles, Safety-Knives, PLB, AIS, or Tethers, now is a good time to inspect them as well. Ensure all peripheral equipment is properly secured and affixed to the life jacket.
CHILDREN AND LIFE JACKETS
One of the most important things to understand is that life jackets designed for adults will not work for children!
Therefore it is imperative that you ensure the fit for children's life vests in the spring. It is also a good practice to review the fit with the child every month. Have a conversation with them about their life-vest and make sure they completely understand why it is important that they always wear theirs while on deck.
Remember, PFDs are not babysitters. Even though a child wears a PFD when on or near the water, an adult should always be there, too. Parents should remember that inflatable toys and rafts should not be used in place of PFDs.
For Toddlers, non-swimmers and infants a life jacket that has a head board (extra foam behind the child's neck) will help the child right themselves if they fall into the water. As with any safety device it is best to practice its use in controlled settings, again pools are perfect. Let the child feel how the life jacket will float them when they are immersed in water. It may prevent panic in an emergency.
Ensure that the child practices how to right themselves, or make sure that their airways will not be in the water. apart from the floating aspect, being able to breathe easily while in the water is one of the benefits of wearing a life jacket.
Also, be aware that children are extremely perceptive, if you admonish the risk factors for wearing a vest they will mimic your attitudes. We need to be their partners in developing good boating habits so wearing your lifejacket when you are boating with them will set a good example. Even young children don't want to be the only ones wearing a hot and cumbersome device if no one else is. Setting this precedent early in their boating life, especially as they approach pre-teen and teenage years will hopefully avoid any notions that wearing a lifejacket is silly, un-cool, or worse yet, for little kids and babies.