Although lighter and less bulky than most standard life jackets, inflatable personal flotation devices need to be inspected regularly to ensure their reliability.
Read the manufacturer’s safety and inspection recommendations that came with your inflatable PFDs, and keep them in a safe place.
Note that some manufacturers recommend their PFDs be returned for annual testing and inspection, which may be required to maintain their U.S. Coast Guard approval.
Examine your inflatable PFDs at the time of purchase, the beginning and end of each season, before and after each use, and periodically during the season.
Make sure the inflatable is free of creases, tears, rips, puncture holes and frayed material. All seams should be sewn securely. Check the material for grease or oil spots, heavy soil or mildew, which could weaken the fabric.
Check all hardware and straps for damage and strength. Zippers, snaps, fasteners and buckles should work correctly and be in good condition. Apply candle wax, crayon or bar soap to zippers and snaps to help them glide smoothly. Remove debris from Velcro fasteners.
Check the inflator, and ensure that the CO2 cartridge is operational. Make sure there is no dirt or rust on the fittings and no damage to the threads on a screw-type cartridge. Damaged threads usually can be fixed with a small fine file.
Pressure and release testing
Periodically remove the inflation cartridge and inflate the PFD orally. Let it sit overnight to check for air leaks. If it loses firmness, replace it or return it to the manufacturer for repair. If there are no leaks, deflate the PFD and reattach the cartridge.
Store the dry PFD flat or rolled—never fold it. To be safe, store it with an extra cartridge or rearming kit. They are inexpensive and should be part of your boating equipment.
Some inflatables use a water-sensitive bobbin to trigger the automatic inflator. The bobbin can deteriorate when exposed to heat and humidity, which can cause the PFD to inflate unexpectedly—another good reason to keep an extra cartridge or rearming kit on hand.
If the indicator tab that holds the manual inflation mechanism breaks, it usually can be repaired or replaced inexpensively.