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Everyone knows that water safety is of paramount importance.
Several components make up good water safety practices. One such component is a correctly functioning life jacket.
Life jackets are designed to keep you afloat if you are ever submerged in water. They will keep you face up no matter what, making sure that your mouth and nose are above the water so you don’t drown.
So, if life jackets are so important, what do you need to know?
A good place to start is whether or not they can expire. Keep reading to find out more.
Table of Contents
Do Life Jackets Expire?
The short answer? No. A life jacket will not expire. But you do need to be aware that the material inside that provides buoyancy will deteriorate eventually.
This will mean that the jacket is unable to support its full specified weight capacity in water.
Constant wear and tear through normal life jacket use will also have a negative impact on its buoyancy. Any damage to a foam life jacket will likely render it unusable as its performance will be so hampered that it cannot support a person.
We therefore recommend that you store your life jackets in a dry and cool place when not in use. We also recommend that you only use your life jacket for its intended purpose.
Doing both of these things will help prevent any unnecessary damage to your jacket, keeping whoever wears it as safe as possible.
As a general rule, you can expect an inflatable life jacket to inflate using a carbon dioxide tank. You need to keep a note of the expiration date of these tanks – this will be roughly every one to three years.
You also need to regularly check the tank for any signs of corrosion. Change or replace the tank at any point if you notice any damage.
Why Are Life Jackets Important?
Some countries require that any watercraft carry enough life jackets for every person traveling on the vessel. This is because a life jacket is one of the best defenses against drowning.
Your life jacket will keep your mouth and nose above water, even if you are unconscious. It is also one of the only measures you can take to protect yourself against cold water shock.
Coldwater shock is the term given to the body’s response to suddenly and unexpectedly being submerged in cold water. As in the sudden and unexpected submersion that occurs when a boat sinks or capsizes.
Even the most experienced sailor will be at significant risk of drowning if they are subject to cold water shock. The shock will quickly disorientate you, affect your nerves and limit the functioning of your muscles.
The more you inevitably panic, the more difficult it becomes to breathe. You are almost guaranteed to drown without external help.
Wearing a life jacket will be enough help to get your head above the water and keep you breathing properly.
Types Of Life Jacket
There are five types of life jackets available. These are:
Offshore Life Jackets
These are the largest and the bulkiest but are also by far the most buoyant and the safest. These will contain a minimum of 22lb of flotation material and will keep your face up in the water.
They are one of the most widely used types of life jackets for offshore water vessels as they will keep you floating for the longest.
Going out on a lake? You will most likely use this type of life jacket.
These will have around 15lb of flotation in them and are widely available in packs of three or four from most large sports stores.
Type II jackets may keep your head above the water but it is not guaranteed in the same way that it is with Type I. They are available in either foam or as inflatable with a carbon dioxide tank.
Type III will be purpose-built for a specific water sports activity. Kayakers, for example, can purchase flotation aids that will not inhibit arm movements with the paddle.
As with Type II, they are available as foam or inflatable and will carry around 15lb of flotation. They are the most comfortable on the market and will require a wearer to be conscious to get them to function properly.
Most people are familiar with ring buoys, but Type IV devices also cover horseshoe buoys and throwable cushions. These will help keep a person in the water afloat along with the life jacket they are already wearing.
Specialty Use Devices
These devices are limited to the singular use that they were designed for. This may be a life jacket that doubles as a harness for racing sailors or a fisherman’s vest.
These devices are also available as either foam or inflatable. Some are hybrid floatation systems that are more comfortable to wear.
How Can I Test My Life Jacket?
Not worn your life jacket for a while? Follow these steps to quickly test its buoyancy to keep yourself safe out on the water.
If you have a foam jacket, your first port of call is going to be putting it on. Make sure that it still fits properly and there is no visible damage, including to the straps.
Now you can try floating it on water. Make sure that it is still fitting properly and is not rising up over your shoulders. If you notice that it is doing this or not supporting you properly, it is defective and you need to replace it.
The foam is no longer buoyant and you cannot do anything to bring it back to life.
The process for inflated jackets is the same as for foam.
Instead of disposing of the jacket in the event of a problem, you instead need to replace the carbon dioxide tank. If the tank is expired, you need to replace it.
Generally, no. Life jackets do not expire. That said, part of the life jacket – like a carbon dioxide tank – may expire and make the jacket unusable.
A foam life jacket that is at the end of its life will not perform as it would when it was new. Again, this jacket has not expired but its materials have deteriorated to such an extent that it will not properly support you in the water.
You need to test your life jacket to make sure that it is working properly. You need a life jacket that is working so you don’t drown; life jackets protect particularly well against cold water shock.
Make sure that you test your life jackets regularly to be sure that they work properly. This will help guarantee that the jacket will be able to save your life if it is necessary.
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I’m an Colorado native, who learned to surf in the Pacific Northwest, and SW Canada. I live inland near the mountains now, and love to get out on my SUP. It’s weird, but I love windy, choppy days as no-one is out and I like the challenge.