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Safe at Sea: Make sure to test inflatable life jackets

By Pat Schmidt - | Sep 23, 2020

When in Florida, we are always in the boating season and all of the associated activities. One of the regular practices for boaters who own inflatable life jackets is not only to to examine them, but also to test the inflatable life jackets.

The safety operation is recommended to be performed every 2 to 3 months. (It is a safe bet you have not even done it once in the many years you have had the inflatable jackets.) If you are questioning why you should do the exercise, please know it has been learned that a few jackets will not hold air. If you learn that one of your jackets does not hold air after the exercise, destroy and dispose of it because the total life expectancy is only 10 years.

So how should you test your jackets or jacket?

First, open it up along the Velcro seams as shown in Figure 1 until it looks like Figure 2. Remove the cap on the oral inflation tube — as shown in Figure 2 — and inflate the life jacket orally.

The critical step is to keep the jacket inflated over night. If the jacket fails to hold air all night, it is defective and must be thrown out.

If it holds air fully, then reverse the oral inflation cap and compress the jacket to remove all of the air. Once it is deflated, replace the cap to its original position and fold the sides back and press the Velcro seams to hold the jacket together.

In addition to testing its ability to hold air, the cylinder must be examined, as well. The inflator usually will have a green indicator showing that it is ready for use. If there is no green indication or the indicator shows red as in some PFDs, do not use the jacket until you have recharged tor replaced the cylinder.

Also, check the cylinder for corrosion. While you are doing that, double-check the jacket wear and tear. When in doubt, check your owner’s manual for more information.

Once completed, the exercise assures you that — should it ever been needed under any circumstance — the jacket will be able to serve its purpose: saving your life.

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and its boating education courses, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 612-987-2125.