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Your personal floatation devices are probably the most important piece of equipment on your boat. But, as you probably already know, they become less and less useful over time. Unfortunately, some people don’t think about the maintenance of their PFDs enough. This is how they find themselves in some sticky situations…
If you’re worried about your PFDs you’re probably aware that a significant number of boating deaths are due to drowning. But don’t let this worry you. There are ways to prevent this risk.
In this article, we will be answering the questions: “What Causes PFD to Wear Out Over Time?” and tell you “How to Care for Your PFDs”. Then, once you’ve learned more about personal floatation devices, we’ll show you the best ones on the market so you can be sure to buy yourself floatation devices that last.
What causes a PFD to wear out over time?
If you’re a boat owner it’s important to know what causes your personal floatation devices to wear out over time. This will help you store them and maintain them better so that they last longer and you get more bang for your buck!
The number one cause of wear on a personal floatation device is ultraviolet radiation from the sun. That is because the sun destroys the synthetic material that most PFDs are made out of. You can tell if a personal floatation device has been left out in the sun too long by its color. I’m sure you’ve seen tons of floatation devices that have seen the effects of the sun. So, if you’re looking to get your own personal floatation devices, for your boat or kayak make sure you keep them out of the sun.
Another thing that causes personal floatation devices to wear out over time is not allowing your PFDs to dry before storing them. Keeping your PFDs wet causes the buoyant materials to become worn. This means your PFDs won’t float as well. Also, the more moisture and humidity that stays in the life jacket the more likely the jacket is to get moldy or full of mildew. Your PFDs need to be air-dried to make sure thy last as long as possible.
How to care for your PFDs?
There are a number of ways to ensure that you are storing your personal floatation devices effectively. First, make sure your floatation devices are dry before putting them back into storage. The ideal location for your floatation devices is in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight. Some people keep theirs in boxes on their boats or in their garage if they’re using them for kayaking or other recreation. Those are two great places to start.
Be sure to test out your personal floatation devices before going out on your boat. This way you can assure that they are safe and do, in fact, float. If you’re using an inflatable PFD, you’ll want to check for air leaks before going out on a boating trip. Also, we mentioned before that you need to store your PFDs in a cool, dry location this is to prevent the life jacket from acquiring mold or mildew. If you’re not using your PFDs, make sure to check for mold in the synthetic material before heading out on the water.
Not only does this affect the integrity of the PFD, but it also makes your PFD not Coast Guard compliant. If you have someone boating with you that doesn’t fit into the PFDs that you have on your boat, don’t make any alterations to try to make the PFD fit. At this point, it’s better to buy a quality PFD that fits.
How to Test a PFD
You can test a PFD buoyancy straightforwardly and safely; all you need is a swimming pool or shallow water.
Be sure that you go over your PFDs before every boat trip. You should look for the following:
- Ripped or torn material.
- Zippers or straps that don’t work.
- Illegible labels.
- Material that is weak or discolored.
- Be sure to throw away and replace any of your defective PFDs.
If you are using an inflatable PFD, the same rules apply. Check out your status of the inflator. Verify the CO2 cylinder was not used. Check that it has no leaks.
Make sure it is screwed in very tightly. Remove the CO2 and orally blow up the PFD. It should still be firm even after many hours pass.
Be sure that after you inflate a PFD with a cylinder, you re-arm the cylinder. Mechanical devices like inflatable PFD require some maintenance.
Follow your owner’s manual closely to ensure maximum performance.
How to Take Care of PFD
It goes without saying that your PFD is essential, so keeping it in the best possible working condition should be your priority. So let’s look at some Do’s and Do not’s you should consider:
Things to Do With your PFD
- Check your PFDs at the beginning of the season.
- Make sure all the straps and hardware are firmly attached and in working condition.
- Check for hardened or lumpy buoyancy material, mildew, and saturated oil in the fabric.
- Check for tears in the fabric.
- Make sure that the label is still attached and approved by USCG.
Things to Avoid With your PFD
- Please do not use it as a boat fender or kneeling pad unless you don’t intend to wear it ever again.
- Avoid cleaning with detergent; use Revivex Cleaner Pro instead.
- Never remove any labels, buckles, or straps.
- Don’t sew or stick anything onto the life jacket.
Factors That Wear Out a PFD
Just like everything else on your boat, your PFD can only take so much. But because they don’t apparently change in appearance, feel, or fit, it’s hard for people to see whether or not the onslaught of time has affected their integrity. That’s also why people tend to think that PFD’s last a lifetime – because they never really look like they’re worn out.
However there are several factors that can cause degradation of that buoyant foam inside. And when that happens, your personal flotation device might start to malfunction in the flotation department. Here are some of the factors that can wear out that material over time:
Most often, ultraviolet radiation or simply UV radiation is the culprit for PFD degradation. Those harmful rays destroy the synthetic material that makes up both the cover and the foam inside, causing it to lose buoyancy and retain more water when exposed to moisture.
The best way to tell if a PFD has been sun damaged is by checking its cover. Does the color look desaturated and dull? Is the cover looser on the foam inside, making it look wrinkled and creased? If the answer is yes, then UV degradation has likely begun. See to it that you stow your PFD’s away from direct sunlight to extend its lifespan.
Moisture and Humidity
The cover that conceals the buoyant foam inside is anything but waterproof. Sure, it won’t retain water, but it won’t prevent it from penetrating through to the foam material either. When that foam is constantly wet, it will become denser and heavier, causing it to lose its buoyant properties over time.
Another thing about constant moisture and humidity exposure is that it can and will cause the development of mold and mildew. A PFD that’s always wet also becomes a breeding ground for all sorts of microbes and bacteria that make a home in the foam and speed up its degradation.
Wear and Tear
If you’re a model boat owner and you always wear your PFD, then wear and tear becomes normal. The constant donning and doffing of that flotation device will cause friction, constriction, and other mechanical damages that can wear the PFD out the longer you use it.
This, combined with the effects from the elements, makes it impossible to keep your PFD from losing its integrity with each passing year. That’s why there might be something to gain out of using your PFD with a little extra TLC.
Tips to Care for a Personal Flotation Device
A single PFD might not be too tough on the wallet. But if you’re replacing several PFD’s for a whole family, then it might get a little expensive. That said, there are a few things you can try to slow down that degradation process and max out that 10 year lifespan on your flotation device.
Practice Proper Storage
The first and most practical way to keep your PFD’s in good working condition would be to store them properly. Remember that sun exposure is the primary reason for the degradation of a personal flotation device. So naturally, keeping it out of direct sunlight can help keep it functional for longer.
Some boat owners buy their PFD’s their own storage container that goes on board. Steer clear of clear plastic boxes and try to opt for a solid yet light colored container to provide better UV protection. If you have storage under your boat seats, then that might be a good place to store your PFD’s as well.
Keep Them Dry
A lot of people tend to toss their PFD’s into storage after a day out on the beach or lake without taking a second to consider whether it’s been dried thoroughly. Storing that thing while it’s still soaking wet just speeds up the process of mold, mildew, and bacteria formation, which can eat away at the foam inside.
Since PFD’s shouldn’t ideally be exposed to sunlight, drying them can be a bit of a challenge. Most boat owners meet success however by simply hanging it out to dry somewhere warm, well ventilated, and shielded from direct sunlight. It can take a few days to completely dry out though, which you can test by squeezing the material and checking for any residual moisture.
Use Them as Intended
Wear and tear is normal, that’s for sure. But unnecessary wear and tear can cause damage to your PFD’s and render them useless in the water. Some examples of ways that people misuse PFD’s include wearing them when they’re the wrong size, or using them to help you float without actually wearing them.
When you first purchase your PFD, it will come with a short user manual or instruction sheet that tells you exactly how it can be used. Following the instructions can help extend the life of your PFD and keep it functional every time you step into the water.