Whether you’re swimming, skiing, boating, or any other water sports, you rely on your personal floatation device, or PFD, to take care of you in an emergency. No one wants, or expects, an emergency, but if it happens, you need to be confident that your PFD won’t fail.
To ensure your PFD will work correctly, there are a few simple tips to care for it between uses. The small investment of time is certainly worth your peace of mind. First, never make alterations to your PFD. This includes adding hooks or pockets, or trying to adjust the fit. These can affect your PFD’s performance to the point where it fails. If the PFD doesn’t fit, buy one that does.
Next, avoid long periods of direct sunlight. Two to three times a year, you should spray the PFD with a UV protectant. If you’re wearing it in the sun, that can’t be helped. However, when it’s not in use, you should store it out of the sun. This includes drying–don’t dry it in the sun. Heat can weaken your PFD. For this reason, don’t ever dry the PFD with any type of heat source, such as a heater, radiator, or dryer. Don’t store the PFD for extended periods of time in your boat. The heat can build up in storage compartments, which will deteriorate your PFD more quickly.
After every use, rinse your PFD in fresh water. This is especially important if your PFD has been used in salt water or chlorine. Hang the PFD to drip dry after every washing.
Your PFD should never be stored in a damp location, and don’t seal your damp PFD in a bag that doesn’t offer ventilation, such as a plastic bag. The PFD should also be stored in an area with good ventilation. It should not be stored at the bottom of a heavy pile of other equipment. This will make the PFD’s foam lose its buoyancy.
With every use, you should inspect the PFD to ensure that everything is working correctly, including latches, hooks, snaps, or pockets. Look for any tears or rips in the fabric, and make sure there is no mildew or signs of water logging on the PFD. Make sure the PFD still fits correctly, especially in the case of growing children. It’s a good idea to test it about twice a year to make sure you can still float with the PFD. If you are using an inflatable PFD, replace any spent cartridges.
It’s a good idea to identify each family member’s PFD to ensure someone doesn’t accidentally use one that does not fit correctly. This can be accomplished by buying PFDs of different styles or colors for each family member. However, if there are multiple PFDs that look similar, write the wearer’s name in permanent marker on the PFD.
Finally, you should remember that any PFD will need to be replaced in time, as they all eventually deteriorate. The time to replace the PFD is before you experience an emergency, so routine inspections are the best way to avoid any disasters. If you find it’s time to discard your old PFD, don’t sell it or donate it to someone else. Cut it up and throw it away so it won’t put someone else in the position of relying on a worn-out PFD.