Life of PFD

How long does a PFD last? Mine seems ok. Will the foam in the vest eventually break down?

Thanks FishHawk

don’t use it as a seat cushion, and it should last.

Once a year…
I put on my PFD and do a “self rescue test”

If when I roll over, I come back up I know the PFD is good for another year and I can stow it on the back deck again.

If I don’t come back up I leave insructions that the PFD should be thrown into the trash can.



Have heard 5 to 7 years
Not that it goes into total failure even then, but the foam loses its resiliency or something. If nothing else, it isn’t unlikely the stitching will show major wear by then if you’ve had it in salt water regularly, even with rinsing and storing out of the sun.

A long time…
I’ve got ski vests that are over 20 years old that still work great. As long as you don’t leave them in the sun or in the bilge soaking up boat gas, they last a long time. Jump in for a swim and test 'em each year.

PFD Life
One of my PFDs is over 10 yrs old now and has been exposed to salt and fresh water on a regular basis. While the color has faded a lot it’s flotation has not. Check the seams for wear and when you take it off hang it up to dry.

7 years
Is the official verdict on a PVC Foam jacket. Unlike ski vest, paddling PFD’s are only required to have 15.5 lbs of flotation. PVC off-gasses as it ages so your vest losses flotation. A vest with exactly 15.5 lbs of flotation will not have the buoyancy to float your body 7 years down the road. Average human weighs 12 lbs fully immersed. Some paddling PFD’s have as much as 20 lbs of flotation but are definitely of the bulky variety. Ski vest are designed to protect a body from impacting the water at high speeds and typically have much higher amounts of flotation.

I cannot speak for Kapok or Gaia foam, but I have an old PVC vest which no longer floats. I keep it to show people that PFD’s do in fact have a shelf life.

*If you never use them, store them right, etc.

I have one that I think might just be older than I am. I remember my mom wearing it when I was just a little paddler (OK, we had an inflatable rowboat). Its my ‘extra’ that I take when I am not planning on wearing it like on fishing trips or that I loan to passengers in our canoe. It still has plenty of flotation…it gets tested annually by an immersion technique once the water is warm.

I see it like a bike helmet. If you are wondering if it is ‘expired’ then it is probably still OK. If you have a specific reason for concern, such as a tear or a performance problem, it needs replaced. If it was the yellow one I saw alongside the road this weekend…get a new one.

I have always gotten ten years out of
a PFD with regular weekend use. It hasn’t seemed to matter that some may be stored in a hot car at work. Long ago, PFDs sometimes fell apart from UV damage to the lightweight Nylon fabric, but fabrics in use now seem much more resistant.

professional use
I have been an instructor for about 6 years. My vest last me about two - three years. This is due to tightening up the nylon straps on the shoulders and waist. If you dont open up the gate then the nylopn will rub smooth and not catch. If you paddle the the vest comes lose then get another. I would expect to purchase a vest every 4-5 years if you are using these for recreation. I wouldnt be concerned so much for the flotation as I would the nylon straps. Random thoughts.


Get in the habit of checking it over
a PFD gets no more respect than a church vaccuum cleaner. It’s like any other rescue device, it needs to work when you need it to work.

When I first came to
when I first came to, I posted a thread questioning the pricing of kayaking-marketed equipment, how it was much more expensive than the same equipment marketed to other sports, and this is because companies that market to kayakers are cashing in on the current yuppie popularity of kayaking. In particular, I used the example of my $40 ski vest vs my $90 paddling vest. Especially I questioned paying so much for a vest that you were going to have to throw out after about 5 years. Several people told me how wrong I was, that if you care properly for a quality (expensive) PFD, it will last indefinitely.

I was also told that I was stupid to compare a ski vest with a paddling vest, as a paddling vest has to be more rugged and provide more flotation.

Nice to see a group of people here on this thread who know what they are talking about - that PVC foam lasts only about 7 years, and ski vests actually have to be more rugged because of the high speed environement, and have to provide more flotation.

Like everyone said, PVC foam loses its resiliancy over time - like pretty much all polymers. Seven years is a pretty good life expectancy for it.

Check The Label
Lower end vest will have the Coast Guard and U.L. labels printed directly onto the fabric of the vest while higher end vests will usually have this label on a sewn piece of Tyvec.

Either way if you can no longer clearly read the label it is no longer a legal and viable P.F.D…or so the Coast Guard folks told me.

Average Human Weighs… (?)

– Last Updated: Jun-11-07 8:58 PM EST –

You say that the average human weighs 12 pounds when fully immersed. I thought that the average person would float. Actually, I think the average "American" would float pretty darn good, since most of them are pretty fat (ever see a fat person who didn't float pretty effortlessly (Oh, and I'm NOT saying such a person doesn't need the assistance of a PFD in a lot of cases)). I'm way skinnier than the average person, and can float if I take a breath first. If I exhale and sink, I'm certain that I don't weigh 12 pounds - I think I sink too slowly for weighing that much, but I guess I haven't stepped on a scale in that situation either. So what's the deal with this "average person" thing? Is that with lungs full of water or something?

life of Pi

I hadn’t heard that one
It is a good rule of thumb, definitely for legality, and at least should show you your PFD is definitely too worn out. Hopefully people will replace them before they get that bad, though.