PFD Lifespan

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.

Maybe normal usage compresses the loft of the material in the pfd that gives you buoyancy resulting in less lift. To be honest I have never really thought about it.

I have heard what @Oldboo is mentioning - that the amount of flotation provided can get reduced through the air pockets breaking or being crushed or the foam degrading.

I use an Extrasport pfd from the 70’s, works great. Construction is long foam pieces sown into nylon baffles similar to this:
I don’t sit on it or anything. Seems like the shell or straps will wear out before the closed cell foam noticeably deteriorates.

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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.

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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.

Pfd’s are relatively cheap and there have been some nice advancements in fit, size and style. I would replace it.

Will you ever need your PFD? Maybe not. But if you do, do you want to rely on one that is that old?

If you want to test the flotation on an old PFD, Palm has instructions on how to do it.

They use metric so their 10 kg weight is about 22 lbs.

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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.

I am not sure why this comment is directed at me because I only posted an answer to the question asked by the thread starter. Maybe you were looking for someone else.