Inflatable life jackets are just one of the many forms of PFD Personal Flotation Devices. Wearing a life jacket is very important, however knowing how to use it properly and maintain it is also just as important. This article will try to cover some of the basic points of life jacket safety but for further information make sure and head over to the U.S Coast Guard’s site and have a look on there.
There are a number of different brands that make life jackets however there are only three particular brands that are approved by the USCG, which means that these particular jackets will comply with boating laws.
What to do is an automatic life inflatable life jacket fails to inflate?
All automatic life jackets that are approved by the USCG can be manually inflated. The wearer must pull the lanyard that is attached to the inflation mechanism which will in turn puncture the unused CO₂ canister causing it to inflate. If this fails there is another option to orally inflate the life jacket by blowing into the orange tube located on the inner upper left side of the jacket.
Bobbin/ Pill Inflators
Some life jackets have a chemical inflator bobbin. There was a change in the design of these bobbins and the new models now use a yellow shell bobbin instead of the previous red shell bobbin. If your life jacket still has the red shall bobbin then you should try to replace it with the yellow shell version ASAP. If your life jacket doesn’t have a bobbin then you have a manual life jacket. Some boaters thought they had an automatic life jacket when in fact it was a manual jacket and have almost drowned as a result, so make sure and check what your mae west life jacket actually is. People were confused as the manual versions still have a CO₂ cylinder but use the lanyard to puncture the cylinder instead of a bobbin/ pill which will activate the firing pin.
The pill mechanism I just referred to is when a “pill” prevents the firing mechanism from triggering but it disintegrates in water and therefore when the jacket is exposed to water it allows the firing pin to trigger.
CM Hammar Inflator
Another mechanism that is accepted by the USCG for inflatable life jackets is the CM hammar inflator. This mechanism can be found in Mustang hydrostatic life jackets.This system uses a hydro-static valve to detect water pressure and will trigger if submerged more than 4 inches into water. The benefit of this system is that the life jacket will not inflate from just getting wet unlike the other pill/ bobbin systems.
It is important to frequently check and replace components if required. For recreational bobbins Halkey-Roberts recommends changing it every 3 years. However a chemical bobbin can be affected high temperatures and humidity may deteriorate in less than 30 days. However that is very rare as not many boaters use life jackets under extreme conditions so they should last for years. There will be a date of manufacture on the side of the bobbin along with the manufacturer’s shelf life. If a bobbin is used in a commercial marine environment it should be replaced every 2 years. It is important to inspect the bobbin to ensure there are not cracks or discoloring of the white fill and there are “ridges” still evident.
The key to looking after your life jackets is to store them appropriately as it will help to preserve them making them last longer. You should annually inspect the bladder of the life jacket as specified by the manufacturer.
Mustang Survival also provide videos about life jacket care and maintenance which are well worth watching.