The question “when should you discard a PFD” would be better answered right after getting to know what exactly PFDs are. Personal Floatation Devices, commonly known as PFDs are specially designed to help wearers stay afloat. It’s also known as a life jacket, life belt, and floatation suits in some quarters. It is highly recommended equipment by the United States Coastal Guard for professional boaters and kayakers. This is because boaters’ failure to wear life jackets is one of the leading causes of boating deaths. Hence, boaters and kayakers must properly understand the need to use PFDs and how to use them.
How to Get the Right PFD
Before delving into the red flags to look out for in a depreciating PFD, let’s briefly discuss how you can get an appropriate PFD for yourself.
The use of PFDs goes beyond just having them, a boater has to wear his PFD always. Failure to do so means the life jacket won’t be able to do its job of protecting you. Many drowning victims had life vests with them but unfortunately, they chose not to put them on. A study done by the Center for Disease Control on the major causes of boating accidents shows that in 2009, there were more than 3000 injuries and 700 deaths. 73% of these accidents were drowning incidents, most of which happened as a result of not wearing PFDs.
Personal floatation devices are designed to keep you afloat and protect you from drowning. This would afford rescuers and safety officials extra time to get to you and save you. Even if you are an above-average swimmer yourself, you definitely aren’t immune to fatigue. So, that extra time the Personal Floatation Device provides can make the difference.
Having understood the underlying importance of Personal Floatation Devices, it’s vital to know how to select the appropriate PFDs. Wearing just any PFD might not be enough to keep you out of danger. PFDs must be fitted for whatever activity the wearer plans to use them for. In ensuring that every boater gets the appropriate PFDs, here are some criteria.
Finding the Appropriate Size
PFDs are in diverse sizes and shapes for different individuals. Some are custom-made for little kids, some for adults, while some are for lean persons and others are for robust persons. Don’t be surprised, some life jackets are even made for dogs. This would mean that no boater has a valid excuse to wear ill-fitting PFDs.
Most manufacturers have sizing recommendations. This can further help in determining which size is appropriate for individuals. For instance, an adult should for no reason, wear PFDs designed for kids and vice versa. PFDs are to be snug and close-fitting and they are when you get the appropriate size.
Finding the appropriate PFDs also involves making sure it fastens well. It doesn’t matter whether or not the device fastens through zippers or any other means. Before making a choice, test the device on and make sure it’s closed and remains closed. You can also ask someone to tug it and see if it stays fastened.
In addition to ensuring appropriate sizing and proper fastening of a personal floatation device, you can test a PFD in shallow water to ensure its buoyancy. A test of appropriateness in the water is the wearer being afloat and comfortable. Where the PFD rather overwhelms the individual in a way, then it’s not the perfect jacket for that particular individual.
How to Properly Maintain PFDs
Now that we have looked into how to make the right choice of Personal Floatation Devices, the next thing to note is how best to maintain them. Before getting to the point where you have to discard your PFD as a matter of necessity, it’s important to note that maintenance of the PFDs has a role to play in how frequently you discard and replace them. Below are practical ways to help you maintain your PFDs and elongate their use.
An altered PFD lacks the approval and recognition of the United States Coast Guard. There is no justifiable reason to alter a Personal Floatation Device, not even the excuse of trying to make it fit would avail. In such situations, the best thing to do is to get a new one. We can validly refer to an altered PFD as a compromised PFD, meaning that you cannot trust its effectiveness. This explains why the US Coastal Guard has strict regulations concerning the alteration of Personal Floatation Devices.
Let It Dry Before Storage
It’s not ideal to go swimming and then place your wet swimming trunks in your wardrobe alongside your other clothes. This would be the same as getting out of a tandem kayak while wearing a wet PFD and throwing them anywhere. Such recklessness could weaken the buoyant materials causing a considerable depletion in the device’s floatation capacity. Also, it’s advised to abstain from the use of artificial drying machines like dryers, but instead, go the natural way of drying them in the sun at no risk.
Do Not Make It a Multipurpose Equipment
Human beings tend to get innovative by way of converting something and using it for another purpose which can damage the object. Of course, it can be tempting to want to use Personal Floatation Devices as kneeling pads or seat covers. However, the use of PFDs in this manner can affect its effectiveness and buoyancy. For instance, when you sit on a PFD, you could literally be crushing the buoyant materials, thereby exposing yourself to an avoidable risk.
One of the ways to ensure the durability of PFDs is to store them properly. This means keeping them away from heat. Store them in cool and dry places that would mean ensuring they are not exposed to direct sunlight at whatever spot they are. Much more than this, nobody wants every Tom, Dick, and Harry to have access to their stuff behind their backs. It should be no different for PFDs as proper storage will deny intruders access to tamper with them.
Cleaning the Device
Cleaning and dealing with mildew in a Personal Floatation Device is something you should do regularly. It all boils down to frequent and regular cleaning as the absence of this increases the mildew. Cleaning your PFDs will only take a few minutes of hard work. In cleaning the device out, one of the best ways to achieve your goal is to spread the device out and then scrub with some level of force.
While cleaning, it’s not impossible to find positions difficult to reach. Get a toothbrush that would help you navigate those tough places and wipe off the seemingly invisible pores and mildews. After cleaning the specific parts, the next thing to do is clean the entire jacket with a proper detergent once again and then rinse it. Proper maintenance of your PFD can increase its durability by a mile and save you from the hassles of discarding your devices every now and then.
When You Should Discard Your PFDs
For the sake of stressing and emphasizing this very important point, Personal Floatation Devices are very delicate equipment, and going wrong in the usage could be lethal. Hence, individuals must take proper care as to the specifications of PFDs suitable for every person on a boat and whether or not they are fit to wear. PFDs showing signs of expiry can be because of the very simple reason that they got worn out over time and it can be because users have failed to take proper care of them. However, whatever the reason for the wear out, below are signs that you need to replace your PFDs
1. When the Jacket Starts to Fade
Same as it is for most devices of this nature, fading is one of the first signs that you need to discard your PFD. This is usually a result of improper storage and exposure to the sun. Fading might not mean your PFD has become useless at that point. However, chances are that it is headed in that direction. It is then advisable to start planning to replace your PFDs when you notice it has started to fade as it’s better safe than sorry.
2. Torn or Ripped Fabric and Compressed Foam
One of the foremost signs of a PFD headed for expiration is a ripped fabric. Truth is, when getting PFDs, you find out some are more expensive than others. The odds are that the more expensive ones are less likely to break down as manufacturers make them with more potent foams than their inexpensive counterparts.
As much as it’s usually good to go for high quality, it goes without saying that; sometimes you have to settle for less. However, when one is boxed in such a corner, it’s important to always be on the lookout for signs like a torn fabric. The Coast Guard inspectors in Florida reportedly found over 60 life jackets that had lost their fabric. The Coast Guard further advises that boaters lookout for compression of the foams which could diminish the ability of the lifejackets to stay afloat. So, when one notices a torn fabric or compressed foam in lifejackets, it’s important to immediately stop the use and discard it.
3. When it is Waterlogged
A fisherman going on a fishing expedition in a fishing kayak has most likely been in situations where he had to use his PFD in water. This would mean that such a person needs to watch out for saturation as that can be a very vital sign of permanent damage, evidenced by a drastic reduction in its buoyancy. A life jacket that has gotten to a point where it is absorbent can actually weigh a person down rather than keep them afloat. It is therefore incumbent upon boaters to immediately discard saturated PFDs for their own safety.
4. When There is an Air Leak
Another sign to replace a PFD is when there is an air leak. A simple way to know when there is an air leak is by gently and carefully squeezing the device. When you do this and air is visibly escaping from the material, then the exterior casing is most likely defective and this can expose the device to water which would deplete buoyancy. Where this is the case, you have to discard the PFD.
5. When it Doesn’t Fit
Usually, for most things that human beings wear, there comes a time when we outgrow such wears and can no longer wear them. In the same vein, it’s not impossible that boaters who spend most of their time aboard have grown physically. This could mean that they can’t fit into some Personal Floatation Devices they once used to fit into. It’s very important for boaters to take note of this, particularly because it’s usually tempting to force ill-fitting wears on when you don’t have an option. As basic as that is, it could be a dangerous thing to do.
Wearing an ill-fitting PFD might just mean signing up for disengagement of the vital parts. The best thing to do when you notice an ill-fitting PFD is to discard and replace it or give it out when you are certain it’s still in perfect condition.
6. When the Straps are Not in Great Shape
It goes without saying that one cannot wear a strapless PFD. However, a Personal Floatation Device can have faulty straps that many users will not discover except they inspect the device carefully before wearing it. One simple way to check for defective straps is to always tug them to ensure they are still in good shape. When they are not, it is important to discard and replace them immediately.
7. When There is Excess Mold
Now it’s not impossible that a PFD gets tainted with a few mildews and dirt from time to time. However, where users do not clean the device regularly, there might be a concentration of molds. One of the ways to detect this is when the device gets smelly and musty. Where this is the case, it is very likely that the device has become saturated. This can weaken its viability. The best way to handle such is to discard and replace.
8. A Punctured CO2 Cylinder
CO2 Cylinders are unique components of inflatable PFDs. When the bottom of the cylinder is punctured, it puts the entire device at great risk. It’s therefore important for owners of inflatable PFDs to look out for this sign. When you notice it, the next thing to do is discard and replace it with immediate effect.
Safety equipment cannot be called safety equipment in a strict sense when they have lost their effectiveness. For instance, a Federal agent who wears a bulletproof vest might get hurt or even killed in a shootout. This might not be because he didn’t wear a vest but because the vest had become ineffective. Personal Floatation Devices are safety wears designed for all boaters and recreational kayakers. It’s primal to ensure that they are always in perfect condition. This is because wearing ineffective PFDs is tantamount to not wearing one at all. When they are not in optimum conditions, it is necessary to discard and replace them.