Do Life Jackets Expire?

Whether you board a kayak or participate in other water-related activities, you must have used a life jacket at least once in your life.

A life jacket, also known as a Personal Floatation Device or Life Vest, is one of the most critical pieces of equipment used to keep you floating on the water in case of any emergency, whether you’re conscious or unconscious.

So, do life jackets expire? Most life jackets do not have an official expiry date, but the jacket should be replaced once any of the individual materials suffer degradation that impairs performance. Storing your life jacket in a cool and dry place helps prevent unnecessary wear and tear.

In today’s post, I’ll answer all these questions for you, so without further ado, let’s hop in!

Do Life Jackets Expire?

There’s a huge debate on whether life jackets and personal floatation devices have an expiry date or not.

On the one hand, some say that since life jackets are usually made of various inorganic materials, they theoretically don’t “go bad”. On the other hand, others believe that since the life jacket’s performance drops with time as its materials lose their ability to do their function, they expire and need to be changed frequently. 

Ideally, the second team makes a good point here because life jackets are made for one purpose only, which is keeping you floating in case of an emergency in the water.

If the jacket’s materials lose their ability to keep your buoyancy in water with time, it’s deemed useless and needs to be replaced immediately regardless of its “expiry date.”

Also, there are different types of life jackets out there that work in different mechanisms. If one of these mechanisms depends on anything with an expiry date, the entire floatation device should be replaced as soon as the first ingredient expires.

This way, you can ensure your safety in the case of an accident while using your boat or performing in a water-related activity.

Even if the life jackets don’t have an expiry date, they can also lose their initial durability with time, especially with frequent usage and wear and tear from boat seats.

For an older life vest, it can be much easier to damage the vest by poking a hole or causing a minor tear that causes the system to fail.

Does the Type of Life Jacket Affect its Lifespan?

There’s a wide variety of life jackets on the market with different mechanisms of action. Due to this variation, they have different factors of wear and tear, causing them to technically expire and not function as they’re intended to be.

Let’s have a quick look at the different types of life jackets and how they can expire.

Foam Life Jackets

Most recreational kayakers and stand up paddle boarders wear those foam life jackets. They’re considered the standard or traditional type of life jackets and you’ll see them all over the place anytime you spend a day on the water.

They’re shaped like a regular vest, but they’re lined internally with highly buoyant materials, usually foam.

Pardon the selfie, most life jackets that you’ll see are like the foam life jacket pictured.

Foam life jackets require little maintenance when compared to inflatable life jackets. However, the materials used for creating buoyancy, usually foam-like, are usually more susceptible to damage due to wear and tear.

While the life jacket might still remain buoyant in the water, the buoyancy level might decrease with time. Ideally, a foam life jacket can last anywhere between 5 to 10 years if it’s stored properly in a cool and dry place. 

However, once you start using them, their shelf life starts shrinking quickly, especially if they aren’t used as they’re intended to be.

For example, most foam life jackets are recommended for calm and flatwater conditions. Using them in rough water conditions will make them deteriorate much quicker than they’re supposed to be.

Inflatable Life Jackets

As the name suggests, inflatable life jackets come with small gas tanks that immediately inflate the vest. The gas is usually carbon dioxide (CO2), which usually has a replacement date on the tank.

Ideally, most inflatable life jacket brands will recommend that you replace the gas tank anywhere from 1 to 3 years. 

As you can see, they’re more efficient and less bulky when they’re deflated, but they require more maintenance than foam ones. 

Other factors can also affect the overall performance of the gas tank, such as general damage, corrosion, and dirt specks that can block its nozzle. That’s why it’s crucial to inspect the tanks for any signs of damage every month or two. Also, 

How to Test a Life Jacket to See if You Need a New One

Now that you know that life jackets should be replaced when they perform poorly, which can happen with time, it’s time to know how to check the jacket and see if you need to get a new one before setting off to your next water-related journey.

Whether you have worn the life jacket recently or have it lying around for long, make sure to perform this inspection before taking it on your next trip.

First, regardless of the type of life jacket you have, you’ll need to put it on. This way, you’ll test its integrity and durability.

The vest might be performing well, but it’s rising on your shoulder too high rather than offering a snug fit. In that case, you should consider replacing it with a new one that fits you better. 

Look for confined water space and try floating with the jacket to test its buoyancy. If the jacket doesn’t support a safe floating in calm water, it’s time you get a new one!

Remember to give the vest itself a visual check for any wear and tear using a flashlight so that you can spot any signs of damage. 

Wrap Up

With that said, you now know that life jackets do expire, and their expiration date relies mainly on their ability to stay afloat on top of the water.

To prevent your personal floatation device from deteriorating quickly, make sure that you clean them with clean water and dry them properly after you use them.

Also, remember to store them in a dry and cool spot to extend their lifespan and protect them from sharp objects that can cause damage and corrosion to the jackets.