Do you know when you need to replace your PFD?
Any time we get out on the water we have to think about safety. What is the weather doing? Have we left a float plan? How old is your personal flotation device(PFD)? These are the questions that need to be answered any time you head out for a paddle.
A PFD or a lifejacket won’t last forever. So when do you replace your PFD?
Repair or alteration
Transport Canada does not have any regulations regarding the general ageing of a PFD as a sign that it must be replaced but if a PFD is repaired or altered in any way it is void of its Transport Canada certification. If you rip your PFD and plan on repairing it, unfortunately, it is no longer Transport Canada approved as a flotation device for you. Take care of your PFD and if it does sustain some damage be sure to get a new one. Altering your PFD will result in the same loss of certification.
Worn or Weak Fabric
We have all had a hole in our jeans or worn through the soles of our shoes at some point, a PFD is no different. Over time the materials and fabric will age and breakdown from use, exposure, or improper storage. The breakdown of materials is especially dangerous in the case of shoulder straps. Imagine falling out of your kayak and as your rescuer reaches out to grab your shoulder strap the fabric breaks apart and you’re still in the frigid water. Those handy shoulder straps that your rescuer was planning to use like handles on a human tote bag are now gone and you are still bobbing in the water helplessly. There comes a time in every PFD’s life when it is just past the fabric’s lifetime and abilities.
Loss of Buoyancy
Over time the foam and flotation in a PFD break down for a number of reasons. It is recommended that you check your PFD every year but definitely at the 5-year mark. PFD’s are rated for 15.5 lbs of buoyancy which is the average weight of a human head. Your PFD should be able to keep your head above water comfortably with your chin exposed so that no water is anywhere near your airways. The best way to test this is to wear your PFD into chest height water and bend your knees so that your feet come off the bottom to see how high up in the water your PFD is able to hold you when floating. An alternate testing method is to attach 15.5 lbs of weight to the PFD and make sure it still floats.
Inflating PFD’s still have the same basic principles as above, their fabric will weaken over time and any rips or tears cannot simply be repaired. These PFD’s work differently however as they have cartridges that inflate them, or are manually inflated in some cases. When referring to the cartridges the newer PFD’s have a viewing window where you can see the cartridge and it will be clear if it is full and usable or if it is no longer good and safe to use. In older PFD’s without this window, it is best to test the PFD and replace the cartridge every year.
Proper care of your PFD can help to prolong its life. Clean your PFD with a mild soap every 1-3 months and rinse after every use with clean running water, avoid dry cleaning products. Allow your PFD to dry in the open air when clean, do not use a dryer or the sunlight to dry and do not store them when wet. Store your PFD in a dry and well-ventilated area. Make sure to never put your PFD away with salt water on it.