Inflatable lifejackets need attention to ensure they will work when needed.Looking after your inflatable lifejacket

Lifejackets are the most important piece of safety equipment on any boat. Many more boaters are now choosing inflatable lifejackets, because these CO2 inflated garments are lighter and less bulky than conventional foam lifejackets, and they have become more affordable. But it is essential to recognise that inflatable lifejackets have added maintenance requirements.
Inflatable lifejackets must work efficiently when they are needed. All it takes is a fish hook, or a loose or damaged CO2 cylinder to prevent them from inflating. If not looked after they simply won’t work and you, your family and crew are then at serious risk of drowning.
There are now many different brands on the market so it is important to choose one that suits your needs and uses. Whether it is a jacket or vest, a yoke or a ‘bum bag’ style, ensure you read and understand all the instructions. Familiarise yourself with the inflation procedures and the care required for your jacket while not in use.

Skipper’s responsibilities

If the skipper is providing inflatable lifejackets, all passengers must be made aware of how the jackets work and also their capabilities, as with other safety gear aboard.
If you are providing the jackets, make sure they have been serviced and tested on a regular basis.

Care and servicing requirements

Store inflatable lifejackets in a dry, well ventilated place, not the damp boat. Rinse them in fresh water after use and dry thoroughly prior to storage. If a jacket is set for auto inflation, remember to remove the auto inflation cartridge prior to rinsing.
Your inflatable lifejacket should be serviced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. If the manufacturer has not specified, it must be serviced annually. It should also be self checked regularly between services to ensure it works efficiently.
Servicing will ensure all parts of the jacket including the bladder, inflation mechanism and CO2 cylinder are checked and in good working order.
Once activated, the CO2 cylinder is pierced and cannot be used again. On an auto jacket, auto components may also need to be replaced. Cylinders and auto components are available from dealers, but it is wise to have spares on the boat or in the garage just in case.

How to self check your inflatable lifejacket

Step 1.    Check for visible signs of wear and damage. Ensure all fastenings and buckles are in good working order.
Step 2.    Following the manufacturer’s instructions, reveal the inflation system and oral inflation tube. Inflate the bladder using the oral tube and leave overnight in a room with constant temperature. If the bladder loses pressure, immediately take the lifejacket to an accredited service agent for further tests. Do not attempt to repair the jacket yourself.
Step 3.    Use the cap attached to the oral inflation tube to deflate the bladder. Invert the cap and press down on the valve at the top of the oral tube. Do not insert other objects into the top of the tube as they may damage the valve. Roll or press the jacket to deflate fully.
Step 4.    Remove the CO2 cylinder and inspect. The cylinder should be intact with no rust or corrosion. Weigh the cylinder on kitchen or letter scales, ensuring weight corresponds to the minimum gross weight engraved on cylinder +/- 2g.
        If the cylinder is rusted, corroded, has been pierced or is not the correct weight it should be replaced immediately.
        On auto inflation jackets, also ensure auto components are armed and in date. Refit the cylinder to the inflation system, tightening it by hand until firm. Do not over tighten.
Step 5.    Repack the jacket as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Ensure the manual inflation toggle is accessible and unlikely to be caught when being worn.

Set a reminder

While you are reading this column, why don’t you put a reminder in your mobile phone, computer or calendar to get your inflatable serviced.
For more information on lifejackets, including the compulsory wearing requirements that came into effect last November, visit www.maritime.nsw.gov.au.