Elderly man with inflatable jackets
Photo: Johner

Caring for inflatable life jackets

Many people now use life jackets that inflate automatically when submerged in water when they are out on the water. Inflatable life jackets require a little more maintenance than traditional life jackets. Here is a list of what you should check to make sure that your life jacket is still working.

Check the trigger mechanism and gas cartridges

Inflatable life jackets have a trigger mechanism (a small tablet that dissolves in water) and a gas cartridge. Once it comes into contact with water, the trigger will pierce the gas cartridge, and the rescue jacket will inflate. To be sure that the life jacket works, you should check this mechanism at least once a year.

Make sure that the gas cartridge is in the correct position and has not come unscrewed. If you have precise kitchen scales, you can weigh the cartridge and make sure it weighs as much as it says it should. If everything is in order, screw the cartridge firmly back into place. Gas cartridges can come unscrewed with time. You should therefore check that the cartridge is properly screwed in each time before use. 

Check that the trigger tablet is not damaged, past its expiry date or been exposed to moisture. The trigger tablet must be replaced periodically. How often the triggers need replacing varies between different life jackets. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Manufacturers usually recommend replacing the trigger tablet each year.

Check that the life jacket doesn’t leak

A leaking inflatable life jacket is not much use. At the beginning of the season, it is therefore advisable to check that the jacket is still airtight. Open the cover and use a bicycle pump or similar to inflate the life jacket. Do not blow into it yourself, as this results in moisture inside the life jacket.

An inflated life jacket should stay inflated for 24 hours. After the test, deflate it completely before folding it up and putting it back into the cover.

Maintaining inflatable life jackets

  1. Make sure the gas cartridge is full, undamaged and firmly screwed in.
  2. Check that the trigger tablet is not damaged. Replace the trigger tablet if necessary. 
  3. Check that the life jacket is not damaged and is not leaking. 
  4. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper use and maintenance.

Life jacket maintenance tutorial videos

The Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue has made three videos demonstrating how to carry out annual check and maintenance of life jackets, how to replace the trigger tablet and gas cartridge , and how to repack an inflatable life jacket after testing.

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