Why Do Life Jackets Require Regular Maintenance?

If lifejackets are not taken care of, they can become dysfunctional, and their performance is affected. In addition, they can become unsafe to rely on as personal flotation devices should you end up in the water, creating a dangerous situation.

You need to have complete confidence and rely on your lifejacket to fulfill its purpose: to keep you afloat in water.

As a professional yachtsman of 10 years, life jacket maintenance was a legally required monthly check as a part of our life-saving appliance checks and general boating safety.

A few types of lifejackets or personal floatation devices (PFDs) exist. Each is unique in its design and how they function. Each requires different care and maintenance to keep them working optimally.

As lifejackets are essential for water activities and safety by the user, it is necessary to understand why and how to maintain your lifejackets properly.

🚤 Why Is It Critical To Maintain Your Lifejacket?

‘If you take care of your lifejacket – it will take care of you. Sailors will probably only be in serious need of a lifejacket once. Still, it can be lifesaving when they do, so making sure your lifejacket is in good condition and does what it is intended to do is essential.’


Several activities require the use of a lifejacket. Due to the nature of these water- sports activities, the risk involved, and the unknown elements- you should be aware of the care of your life jacket and whether it requires regular maintenance.

There are stringent guidelines and instructions about the care and servicing of lifejackets. These instructions should be followed and taken seriously, as you cannot afford to use a lifejacket that has not been looked after and serviced.

🦺 Maintenance Of Foam Life Jackets

There are five types of life jackets: and they can be either foam-filled or inflatable life jackets. Here is some detail on each: 

Foam Life Jackets

Type Of Foam Life JacketDetail
Offshore Lifejacket 
Designed for survival in rough water. It will turn an unconscious person over. The best PFD (Personal Floatation Device) keeps you buoyant when rescue may take time.
Near-Shore Buoyant Vest  This PFD is for calm seaside or inland water. For use when rescue response is fast. 
Flotation Aid  ComfortableVarious styles for boating activities and sports. Not able to turn an unresponsive person facing up.  
Inherently Buoyant Lifejackets The person using it does not need to do anything to activate flotation. The outer shell is usually nylon or vinyl with closed-cell foam sewn inside. Reflective patches on the front and back are usually bright orange or yellow to be spotted easily from a distance. 

Steps To Maintain Your Foam Life Jackets

Follow these guidelines for the maintenance of your foam-filled life jacket;

1️⃣ After sailing / other water activity, always be sure to rinse the lifejacket off only with fresh water so that salt (or other substances) cannot cause mildew to form.

2️⃣ Do not put the lifejacket in the washing machine and do not tumble dry or spin dry.

3️⃣ Once rinsed, ensure it is bone dry before stowing it away in an easily accessible, preferably ventilated space.

4️⃣ When not in use, don’t leave it out in the sun for longer than necessary; direct sunlight can weaken the material and make its color fade so that it won’t be as visible from a distance.

5️⃣ Try not to place the jacket anywhere it could be chafed or punctured, as this may precipitate further disintegration.

6️⃣ Inspect the jacket regularly, especially during the boating season, to see if worn webbing fastening straps, bust buckles/clasps, or reflective tape has lost its reflectivity and needs to be replaced. Check any lights and whistles.

7️⃣ Sailors’ lifejackets often have integral harnesses so that when clipped via a rope to the yacht, they will prevent you from being washed overboard. You should check the safety clips and straps for corrosion and weaknesses and ensure they can be attached and released quickly and effectively to fixed points or rails on the boat. 

🌬️ Maintenance Of Inflatbale Life Jackets

This type of jacket has cartridges of carbon dioxide gas sewn into them. The inflation system will release the gas and fill the jacket chambers when activated. 

Steps To Maintain Your Inflatable Life Jackets

Follow these guidelines for the maintenance of your inflatable life jacket;

1️⃣ Annual maintenance and inspection of your inflatable lifejacket before any offshore voyage is advantageous.

2️⃣ The Hydrostatic Release Unit (Bobbin) should be replaced every three years for recreational use to avoid accidental inflation or, more frequently, in extreme conditions, such as high temperature and high humidity.

3️⃣ Store lifejackets in a dry, ventilated environment. When storing automatic lifejackets (excluding Hammar) while the lifejacket is still wet, remove the activator capsule to avoid accidental inflation.

4️⃣ To clean your automatic inflatable lifejacket, only use fresh water (where applicable, remove the activator capsule first).

5️⃣ Do not put the lifejacket in the washing machine and do not tumble dry or spin dry.

6️⃣ Allow your lifejacket to air dry naturally and ensure the lifejacket is dried thoroughly before rearming or storing. 

🙋‍♀️ FAQs 

When Should You Replace Your Lifejacket?

Lifejackets can last many years without needing to be replaced if you continue to look after them and store them well. However, there is a time when you will need to consider replacing your life jacket.

Test your lifejacket regularly, and a dealer you trust or yourself can try it by checking its buoyancy in a pool. Each lifejacket should be able to keep an adult afloat for several hours.

You can check your inflatable lifejacket by following several steps.

How Often Should A Life Jacket Be Checked?

Life jackets are checked every year according to the manufacturer’s instructions. For an inflatable life jacket, you will need to have it serviced yearly. In most cases, self-servicing is impossible as it requires a professional to carry out the process. 

As a standard rule, you should check your life jacket for any changes or safety concerns each time before use. You will then be able to notice any changes to the condition of the exterior and the interior of the jacket. 

However, where the manufacturer’s instruction allows for self-service, and you have the relevant knowledge and skills, you will be able to carry out this procedure yourself.

Why Do Life Jackets Expire?

Regular use, general wear and tear, and exposure to the environment will mean that life jackets will expire over time and lose their ability to perform optimally. 

💭 Final Thoughts

Several experienced sailors and people who use lifejackets regularly say that it is common for most cruising and racing sailors to check and maintain their lifejackets.

Both the foam-filled and inflatable life jackets both require maintenance. In some cases, this servicing will need to be carried out by the manufacturer.

Over time, with use and general wear and tear, a life jacket can become less functional, which is why regular checking and maintenance are essential.

Discovering faults through routine checks can potentially save your life. So knowing what to do with a torn PFD is important.

When it comes to a life-saving device, ensuring you follow care and service instructions is critical.

I’m the founder and chief editor here at Sailing Savvy. I spent a decade working as a professional mariner and currently, I mix those experiences with digital publishing. Welcome, and I hope that we can be the hub you need for safe passage.