When Should I Replace My Old PFD?

For those who don’t know, PFD is the abbreviation for Personal Flotation Device, which is the technical term for a lifejacket. This is a common addition to the safety kit seen being worn by canoers who frequently spend time on the water.

If you are a keen water sports enthusiast, we have a question; do you give your PFD the TLC it deserves, or do you simply assume that it will be fully functioning and there for you when you need it most?

With the question above in mind, below is a handy guide to help you recognise where you might be damaging your PFD and how to resolve that.

Hopefully, you will never have to experience it, but there are times when a fully functioning bit of kit can be the difference between life and death. For example, when a hefty hydraulic is digging you deep under the surface and spinning you around like a sock in a washing machine, or when you hit that frigid winter water and get your suit flushed through with bone chattering chill. Like everything else in your kayaking collection, PFDs have finite lives. If it’s to save your life one day, you’ve got to prolong its life as much as possible. When the time comes, replace it.

We have all done it, arrived back home absolutely shattered after a solid day on the water and simply thrown the lifejacket in the dirty, damp corner of the garage or left it sodden in the base of the boat for a week.

Left in the dank corner of a garage or a wet boat, a PFD can quickly turn into a Petri dish for mould and mildew. Even if you have been freshwater paddling, make sure you wash your PFD out after use. It’s not just saltwater than can have an adverse effect on your PFD; your perspiration can eat into the fabric and flotation foam which will make you less likely to wear your PFD the next time and reduce its effectiveness at keeping you buoyant. After washing it in clean, fresh water or with a small amount of detergent, make sure you dry your PFD out properly both right side out and inside out. Show it the love it deserves by giving it its very own hanger and make sure you open up the straps and pockets to air them out.

You wouldn’t keep your boat outside, so you shouldn’t keep your jacket out there either. Like your boat, store your life jacket inside and out of the elements; UV and UVA rays degrade the material the jacket is made from, and just like your boat, fading is the first sign of your jacket getting worn out. Fading doesn’t necessarily mean your jackets integrity has been compromised, but it is certainly a sign it will be heading down that route soon. Remember to look out for ripped fabric or frayed webbing as this can be a good indicator it might be time to retire your old PFD.

When purchasing a PFD, never go cheap. A severe lack of quality can mean your expectancy of surviving a capsize can turn literally to dust. Foam that is stiff, hard or brittle can be problematic, so give your PFD a squeeze to half its thickness, it should shortly return to its original thickness. Look out for wrinkled fabric, where the foam has shrunk or contracted/degraded inside and caused the material on the outside to wrinkle up. Quality foam tends to retain its flotation qualities over the years, so if your finger goes through the foam, bin it.

Even if your lifejacket’s flotation is functioning well, your jacket could be too tight or loose or maybe just plain ugly after years of abuse, which will make you less likely to wear it. Purchase a lifejacket that feels and looks good; it is usually a sign of quality. To check whether your PFD fits safely, enter the water and float – if the PFD doesn’t raise past the chin, it fits.

The bottom line is, there isn’t an exact expiry date for your PFD as many variables make up whether yours needs replacing which all depends on usage and care factors. For example, a guide who is out in the water five days a week is going to need a replacement a lot sooner than the weekend warrior. The basic essentials to remember are to just keep it clean and dry after use and check your PFD for wear and tear after every session out on the water.

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