Just a quick reminder for those of you with inflatable life vests — it is time to do your yearly maintenance!!
2022 is going to be a good one!! (I really hope this comment ages well.). So, let’s start preparing to make it a safe one on the water by doing the basic maintenance on our inflatable life vests!!
The inflatables are super comfortable, look cool, and have great features. But, these additional features require actual yearly maintenance that you MUST perform. If you aren’t going to take 15 minutes to perform the service, you should stick with a non-inflatable life vest.
My Vest and Why I Chose It
I chose a Spinlock Deckvest Vito. (Note: I am not affiliated with or sponsored by Spinlock.). The reason for picking this particular PFD (personal flotation device) was that I am on the water a lot so I wanted maximum comfort. I am on the water in lousy weather, so I wanted a low risk of inflation due to rain or being splashed. And, I have an ocean crossing planned (perhaps you have heard something about that) so I wanted maximum buoyancy and safety features that only offshore vests offer. If I were spending all of my time in the San Francisco Bay, there were some slightly more comfortable and less expensive options.
If you have an inflatable vest it is important to understand how it works. Most inflatable vests use a water dissolvable tablet to trigger the inflation. That is, the tablet gets wet and dissolves, which releases a spring that causes the CO2 to enter the vest. If that tablet gets moist it will begin to degrade. So, on the upside, if you slip into the water from your dinghy the vest will inflate. On the downside, a big splash of water on a rough day could cause your vest to inflate.
The Deckvest Vito uses a hydrostatic trigger. The hydrostatic trigger will not cause inflation unless it has water pressure equivalent to being submerged about 4 inches underwater. The upside here is that rain and being splashed will not trigger the vest. The downside is that if you somehow slide off the boat gently without getting the trigger 4″ under the water it will not inflate. (I know of one person who fell off his dinghy and it did not inflate.). Most falls off of a sailboat, however, will trigger the vest. And, of course, there is the manual inflation option as well.
Servicing My Vest
This is a fairly simple process. First, inspect the outer materials, zippers, straps, and buckles for any breakage or undue wear and tear. Next, open the vest and inspect the inflatable bladder and all of its components. If you haven’t seen the inside of your PFD then you aren’t fully ready to use it in an emergency.
In these pictures, you can see that the zipper opens all the way around the vest to let out the bladder. Also shown are the spray hood, the “lift here” strap, the oral inflation tube with a whistle, and my personal locator beacon. I just popped mine open, which resulted in some difficulty to re-close it. I suggest you unzip yours like a civilized person so that re-closing it will be by simply using the zipper in the opposite direction. Once open, look everywhere for were and tear, mold, etc.
The next step is to detach the personal locator beacon (if you have one) and inflate the vest using the oral inflation tube. Once the bladder is full, let it sit for 24 hours and see if it lost any air. If you lose air, send it for service to the manufacturer or replace it. There is no room for even a tiny leak in a piece of equipment that may (or may not) save your life.
While it was inflated I check the light that comes with my PFD by using the test button, and the internal bladder “Lume” light which is an LED that shines inside the bladder itself by applying wet fingers to the two leads (not shown).
Finally, I checked to confirm that my CO2 cartridge was still in good shape (I removed it and checked it out), and once re-installed that the trigger showed all was good to go.
Once done, repack your PFD and go sailing.