My Stolquist PFD is 16 years old. No major tears or frays. At 175lbs, I have stayed within 10lbs of when I bought it.
Some references on the web put the lifespan of a PFD at about 10 years. Is that a good rule of thumb?
I try to practice rolls and re-entry’s each time I go out. What I have noticed this year is that while it still works (I still float), I am now sitting lower in the water than when I used to. I like to wear it quite snug around my body.
Does flotation capacity diminish with time? Time for a new one? Any insight is appreciated.
I used my second one to its end. I could see that it was faded and worn from salt, sun, and wear. Finally one day while someone was practicing righting me with the hand of god rescue, the material tore out where the shoulder strap was sewn on, and back in I went momentarily.
So my experience was the nylon material became compromised and gave out under unusual stress.
I’ve seen the ten year guideline too. I imagine it’s similar to the guideline to replace your car’s tires and your motorcycle or bicycle helmet every five years, because some degradation has occurred. At the same time I think it’s OK to use some judgement. A PFD doesn’t turn to trash one day after it’s tenth birthday.
A lot depends on use and exposure to sun, salt, sweat, abrasion, etc. Rinsing with fresh water, occasional hand cleaning with a mild detergent, and storing in in a cool dry place away from sunlight will prolong its life.
Heavily used PFDs may wear out in just a few years, but lightly used ones may look fine for well over 10 years. However due to the possibility of hidden delamination and deterioration of the floatation material, the official word from manufacturers is 10 years. The ability of the material used for buoyancy tends decrease over time as the material degrades. This may not be evident just by looking at it. The Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Trade Federation (FSR) came up with the 10 year limit based on research following the tragic loss of the training sailing ship “Pamir” with the loss of 80 men, even though some were wearing lifejackets.
Interestingly, studies have indicated that nylon fabric may take 30-200 years to break down in a landfill.
I put my pfds into semi retirement before they stop floating me well. That’s not to say they won’t ever be used again but only on a very occasional basis. I store them in a dark closet. For me retirement occurs somewhere between 150 to 200 on water days, around 3 years. If you pfd is becoming a “low float” you should have already retired it.
As mentioned earlier, I will never use my PFD as a cushion or pillow, or stuffed into small spaces as some people like to do. If I need it for its intended purpose, I expect the floatation to be fully expanded and functional, not to be a useless flat pancake. I air dry it after use if it got wet. When not in use (being worn on me), it is safely stored away from sun and light and dampness.
My daughter was trained, certified and accepted a job as waterfront director at a BSA camp some years ago. When she arrived at the camp and saw the horrible unserviceable condition of many of the overused old PFDs, she took a knife and cut most of them in half, then into the garbage they went, with the concurrence of the camp director. New PFDs were immediately purchased. With that some young scout’s’ life may be better preserved.