Jeremy Dale, Managing Director of SeaSafe Systems, explains why regular maintenance of lifejackets is essential.
For some reason many people treat lifejackets in the same way as they treat old coats, in other words they pass them down and do not throw them away. They are kept somewhere on the boat for when those dirty jobs need to be done or in case they are required when extra people come on board.
We have to start changing our attitude towards lifejackets and their upkeep. From the moment you buy a lifejacket the clock starts ticking towards the first service. Lifejacket manufacturers will, of course, offer guarantees but that does not mean nothing needs to be done for a year or two.
If you were going mountain climbing and your life was dependant on a rope, I guarantee you would check the rope in great detail. In just the same way if you were jumping out of a plane you would check your parachute.
So why do we not check and maintain our lifejackets in the same way? Basically it is because we do not think we will ever use them. The clue is in the name – lifejackets. They are designed to save our lives, when and if that moment arises.
Manufacturers spend a lot of time and money designing and testing lifejackets so that when you need to use one it will help save your life. However it falls upon us, the user, to make sure that they are always maintained in tip top order.
CHECK THE INSIDE
All too often a lifejacket looks great on the outside but things are not so good on the inside. The photograph shows what could be lurking inside your lifejacket cover.
The best way to look after yours is a regular quick look at the Co2 bottle and your firing system. Make sure the Co2 bottle is screwed in tight and that there are no rusty areas. Check that the firing system is in good order and the securing nut is tight and, finally, check that the firing cartridge is in date.
Check for any wear on the outside of the lifejacket cover, and if there is then double check the corresponding area on the inside to ensure that the bladder is not damaged. Make sure that if you open up your lifejacket and unfold the bladder you make a note of the fold creases so that when you put it back together you replace everything in the same way the manufacturer did, in other words follow the creases. Ensure that you familiarise yourself with the manufacturer’s recommendations and specifications at all times.
Now we come to the ongoing checking and maintenance. Unlike the commercial user there is no regulation for recreational sailors to have their lifejackets checked and certificated annually, however an annual inspection by a service centre makes sense. By having your lifejacket tested each year by a service centre you will have the peace of mind that, should you depend on your lifejacket to help save your life, it will.