What Causes a PFD to Wear Out Over Time & What to do About it

PFD or personal flotation device is a life-saving device that every boat owner should have on their boat, and boat owners are encouraged to have one PDF per passenger.

But much like parts on our boat wear out over time, so do the PFDs.

What causes this to happen?

The question of what causes a PFD to wear out over time is a common one. Often it is the ultraviolet radiation of the sun. It breaks down the synthetics of your PFD.

The most common cause of why a PFD wears out over time is repeated use and the sun wearing out the material. The ultraviolet radiation of the sun breaks down the synthetics of PFD.

High temps can also degrade the foam inside.

Poke at your PFD. If your finger goes through it, buy a new one. You can also squeeze the foam to half the thickness. If it returns to its original shape quickly, it’s a keeper.

If not, get a new one.

But we have more tips about ways to stay safe and use your PFD. Stay with us and find out.

The Basics

According to Boat Pennsylvania, the vast majority of boating fatalities are drownings caused by all kinds of boating accidents. Many of these accidents are preventable. 90% of all those who drown, they say, did not have on a life jacket.

If they are wearing a good and appropriate PFD, the risk of drowning is rare. You need to have one on board for everybody and have them all wear them.

Other important and easy rules to follow:

  • Be sure the PFDs are easy to access. Everybody should wear them because it is the right thing. It is hard to put them on once you are in the water.
  • Make sure they fit the wearers for their weight and chest. The kid’s PFDS should be snug. Pick up the PFD shoulders of the child and verify the chin and ears do not go through.

How to Test a PFD

You can test a PFD buoyancy straightforwardly and safely; all you need is a swimming pool or shallow water.

Be sure that you go over your PFDs before every boat trip. You should look for the following:

  • Ripped or torn material.
  • Zippers or straps that don’t work.
  • Illegible labels.
  • Material that is weak or discolored.
  • Be sure to throw away and replace any of your defective PFDs.

If you are using an inflatable PFD, the same rules apply. Check out your status of the inflator. Verify the CO2 cylinder was not used. Check that it has no leaks.

Make sure it is screwed in very tightly. Remove the CO2 and orally blow up the PFD. It should still be firm even after many hours pass.

Be sure that after you inflate a PFD with a cylinder, you re-arm the cylinder. Mechanical devices like inflatable PFD require some maintenance.

Follow your owner’s manual closely to ensure maximum performance.

How to Take Care of PFD

It goes without saying that your PFD is essential, so keeping it in the best possible working condition should be your priority. So let’s look at some Do’s and Do not’s you should consider:

Things to Do With your PFD

  • Check your PFDs at the beginning of the season.
  • Make sure all the straps and hardware are firmly attached and in working condition.
  • Check for hardened or lumpy buoyancy material, mildew, and saturated oil in the fabric.
  • Check for tears in the fabric.
  • Make sure that the label is still attached and approved by USCG.

Things to Avoid With your PFD

  • Please do not use it as a boat fender or kneeling pad unless you don’t intend to wear it ever again.
  • Avoid cleaning with detergent; use Revivex Cleaner Pro instead.
  • Never remove any labels, buckles, or straps.
  • Don’t sew or stick anything onto the life jacket.
GEAR AID Revivex Pro High-Tech Fabric Cleaner, 10 fl oz - Restores Water Repellency and...
  • Clean 20 jackets or 5 sleeping bags with a 10 fl oz of this concentrated, low suds detergent; safe for all technical gear including GORE-TEX jackets
  • Restore breathability, water repellency and warmth by removing dirt and oils; ideal technical wash before Revivex water repellent treatment
  • Wash insulated and soft-shell garments with this gentle formula that’s free of fragrances, softeners and optical brighteners; leaves no soap residue

Take No Excuses

We all have those whiny friends. You know which ones I mean. The ones who always say things like “This is too hot” or “Too awkward.” It doesn’t matter how a PFD looks or feels. You must wear one as your life depends on it.

For those picky friends, there is a solution.

It is an inflatable PFD. They are US Coast Guard approved, too. You can find one that fits like a pair of suspenders. You can find one that looks like a fanny pack, too.

You just pull the cord for it to inflate. Or some are water activated.

You must be aged 16 years and up to wear an inflatable PFD. You should not wear them on personal watercraft or while water skiing.

And of course, make sure you know how to operate your PFD before use.

Types of PFDs

There are five varieties to choose from according to BoatUs.

Every one of them is designed for different boating activities. They are also specific to water conditions.

They also have their own max buoyancy rate, level of performance, and other limits.

Type 1: Inherent Buoyant Device

  • Great for cruising, fishing on the lake, during storms.
  • Min buoyancy of 22 lbs., or 11 lbs. for kid sizes.
  • Good for places where rescuers will be slow in arriving.
  • Most wearers who are unconscious will go face up.

Type 1: Inflatable

  • Min buoyancy of 34 lbs.
  • Great for cruising, boat racing, or fishing.
  • Comfortable to wear.

Type 2: Near the Shore/ Inherent Buoyancy

  • Great for cruising, racing, and fishing on the water. Also, for boating solo or stormy weather.
  • It requires you to tread water to stay up. May turn some user’s faces up.
  • More comfortable but has less buoyancy than Type 1.

Type 2: Inflatable

  • Min buoyancy 34 lbs.
  • Good for dinghy use, cruising inland, racing
  • Comfortable but may not turn the unconscious user face up.

Type 3: Flotation Aid, Inherent Buoyancy

  • Great for the regatta, water skiing, fishing, and PWC operation
  • Min Buoyancy 15 lbs.
  • Not designed to turn users’ face up if unconscious.

Type 3: Inflatable

  • Min buoyancy 22.5 lbs.
  • Good for canoeing, regatta, or dinghy races
  • May not turn wearer face up if unconscious.

Type 4: Throw Device, Inherent Buoyancy

  • Throw overboard to help a victim and supplement buoyancy.
  • This is not wearable.
  • Min buoyancy is 16.5 lbs. for a ring or 18 lbs. for a cushion.
  • Must be kept at arm’s length while on your craft. This is true for all Type 4 devices.

Type 5: Special Use Device

  • Restricted to the use for which each is created: commercial whitewater vest, deck suits, etc.
  • Not for extended use in rough water
  • Comfortable to wear.

Type 5: Hybrids

  • Good for activities when rescue is near & must be worn when efforts are underway
  • CO2 cartridge is pierced when activated, which releases gas to inflate the device
  • It requires more frequent maintenance.

Type V: Auto Inflation Models

  • Restricted for use for why it was designed
  • May not turn wearer face-up
  • Some feature a combo of CO2 and built-in foam. It provides 15.5 to 22 buoyancy.

Choosing the Best One

You will want to choose your life jacket based upon the type of boating you do. You MUST wear it so choose what is comfortable and appropriate.

Good colors to choose from are neons and yellows. You will want to be visible. In the event you must be spotted by rescuers, brighter is better.

Next, you must do a try-on. You take the PFD out of the case or wrap and try it on. Be sure you can easily adjust the PFD. If you cannot easily adjust the device, learn how with help. Or choose a different device that is easy for you.

After you have mastered the land, now it is time for the water test. Get into some safe water like a swimming pool or calm body of water as you get in the water; stay still.

Be sure the PFD holds you above the water with no effort. Remember, water is rough. Swimming is hard. Heaven forbid an accident to happen; you want to be able to float safely. You should be able to stay afloat until help comes along.

A Little Lesson…

We bet some of you think you can defy this rule.

Okay, let’s do a challenge then.

Get into a safe body of water and try to put on your PFD. We bet you it was harder than it looked.

Now imagine doing that in a body of water where you cannot touch the bottom. The wind is high, and the current is strong.

This is why is critical to wear your PFD anytime you board a watercraft.

Labels Matter

Labels keep us safe in many ways.

What are some labels you know?

At work, you might see signs indicating something is corrosive. At home, you might keep a cleaner away from your pets because of the label.

The same goes for PFDs; just as we follow labels at work and school, the labels of your PFD matter greatly.

Special note: if the label on your PFD is damaged, discard it. Then immediately replace it. Even if you do not plan on boating soon, it’s better to be prepared.

Even though the PFD may float and fit well, the label must be intact. The label makes it seaworthy.

Why does this label matter anyway?

Well, it keeps us safe and tells us how to use the device. The attached guide will tell you critical info like:

  • The size will accommodate.
  • How to care for the device.
  • How to put on the jacket or device.


Remember, do not use the jacket outside of its intended purpose. Doing so can get you in trouble with the law.

You may even lose a loved one if not properly used. So, please don’t risk it, play it safe…. and happy boating!

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