Wearing a Coast Guard approved life jacket is one of the best safety moves you can make for yourself and your loved ones when you are on or near water. Knowing that your life protection gear has been properly maintained and cared for will greatly enhance your feeling of security.
A life jacket that has not been properly cleaned and stored between uses, and especially between seasons, can lose its buoyancy. A flotation jacket with less than optimal buoyancy will not float as high in the water and will not support the amount of weight it was initially designed for. Following these seven simple guidelines will insure that your life preservers will be in the best possible condition to save a life in a water emergency.
1. Inspect for rips, tears, mold, mildew and worn areas. Discard any life vest that is not in good condition. When under stress what may appear to be a slight tear or worn area can give way, putting the wearer's life at risk. If you are discarding worn out flotation devices, cut them up so that no one else may be tempted to use an unsafe item.
2. Rinse your life jackets at the end of the day. Salt and sea spray left on a flotation device will attract moisture, which in turn attracts mildew and rot. Removing salt will help keep them dry in storage. Even life preservers that have been worn only in fresh water, or have not been in the water at all, will collect salt from your skin. Rinse them well when you are done wearing them for the day.
3. If a vest needs more than a quick rinse, use a mild detergent to wash it down, and then rinse thoroughly. Never use strong cleaning products and never dry clean a life jacket. These chemicals can weaken the fabric and reduce buoyancy.
4. Air dry all flotation gear thoroughly before storing them away. Never dry them in direct sunlight or in front of a radiator, stove, or other source of direct heat. Excessive heat can weak or destroy the outer fabric and break down the inner flotation material.
5. When clean and dry, store your life jackets in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place. Many people store their flotation devices in cubbies or storage cupboards aboard their boats. During the boating season these storage areas work well if they are dry and well-ventilated. During the "off-season," all life preservers should have been removed and stored on shore away from moisture.
6. Never place heavy objects on top of a life jacket. Unrelieved pressure on a flotation device can compress the air pockets in the flotation material. Avoid using them as boat bumpers, seat cushions or pillows, as well.
7. Be prepared to immediately replace any child's life vest that has grown too small. Your child will be reluctant to wear a life jacket that is too tight or has grown uncomfortable. A too-small flotation device will not properly support excess weight in the water. A life vest that is not worn, or that does not float high enough in the water, is a life vest that can not properly do it's life-saving job.
Follow these seven simple guidelines to caring for your life jackets and other flotation devices and they will give you many years of service and peace of mind in, on, and near the water.