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When Should You Discard A PFD?

Mark Armstrong
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If you’re new to watersports or even if you’re not, you may have asked yourself, do PFDs expire? With the various types of life jackets on the market, there can be different answers to this question.

But to give you a better idea of how and why you might need to replace your PFD at some stage, we have put together some information that might help.

When Should You Discard A PFD?Pin

​Two Main Types Of Life Jacket


Inflatable life jackets can be a popular choice for a range of water activities because of their often more compact designs. They can be easier to move in and can be more comfortable.

Inflatable PFDs differ from standard foam ones in that they usually feature a carbon dioxide cartridge that fills the life vest with air when you’re in the water. This can be done either manually or automatically, depending on the type of inflatable PFD you have.

The air or CO2 from the cartridge is what provides the PFD with buoyancy, so they generally need to be inflated for them to work as intended.

​Foam-Filled PFDs

Foam-filled PFDs are probably what you think of when you think of a standard life jacket. This type of PFD tends to be made using a closed cell foam. The foam contains air, which is trapped within the material and it is this air that helps to give the foam its ability to float.

Foam-filled PFDs are generally buoyant by nature, compared to inflatable ones which need to be inflated in order to become buoyant. This means that foam life jackets can be suitable for children and adults as they are designed to be low maintenance and keep you afloat with minimal effort.

The expiry date on a life jacket may not always be clear, except in the case of an inflatable PFD which should have an expiration date printed on the gas cartridge. If your PFD has reached the end of its life span, it must be discarded.

​Do Life Jackets Expire?

As with most fabrics, the quality of the material can deteriorate over time. In the case of life jackets, the materials will likely deteriorate more quickly the more often they’re used or if they are not well looked after.

Generally, foam life jackets have a 10 year lifespan. This includes PFDs for leisure purposes. Life jackets for commercial use will usually need to be replaced more frequently.

With inflatable life jackets, you will often find that the air cartridge has an expiration date printed on the side. The length of time you will get out of your cartridge will vary but will often be around 1 to 3 years. But you should check the cartridge regularly to make sure there is no damage or corrosion that could affect its performance.

When Should You Discard A PFD?

  • If it is no longer buoyant
  • If there are any rips or abrasions on the material
  • ​Damage to the buckles or strap webbing
  • ​If the materials have faded or suffered UV damage
  • If the air cartridge has expired
  • ​Frequently exposed to extreme temperatures through usage or poor storage
  • ​If the fabric is loose around the foam in your life vest
​Video: How ​To ​Check ​Your PFD ​Health

​How Can You Test Your PFD?

​Check The Buoyancy

Making sure your PFD will still provide you with additional buoyancy can be important before you head out on the water. One way you can test this is by wearing it in a swimming pool or calm water that’s safe.

Wear your foam filled PFD as you would normally wear it and try to float in the pool. If the life vest is working properly, you should be able to float easily and your head and chin should be kept out of the water. The life jacket should also not move around while you’re wearing it or rise above your shoulders.

​Check The CO2 Tank

If you have an inflatable PFD then it’s important to check the gas cylinder before you head out to make sure it’s not beyond its expiration date and that it’s not empty.

If you have inflated the life vest you will likely need to replace the cartridge with a new one and make sure it’s properly connected to the mechanism that enables it to inflate the PFD.

It’s also recommended that you replace the cartridge or cylinder if it looks damaged, for example with rust.

​Check The Straps

The straps that you use to secure your life jacket should be checked before each use. Straps generally go through a lot of wear and tear and can be susceptible to damage.

You can test them by visually inspecting the straps for any fraying or weakening, particularly around the shoulders or waist. Another way to test the straps is to pull sharply on them to make sure they can handle additional pressure.

​Closing Thoughts

A life jacket can be an essential life saving accessory for watersports but if its components are beyond their expiration date then it may not be able to do its job.

Remember to check your PFD regularly for signs of wear and tear and if you have an inflatable one remember to also check the expiry date on the air cylinder.

Look after your life jacket and it should look after you, but eventually you will probably need to replace it. Let us know your thoughts on this and help others stay safe on the water by sharing this with them.

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