If you’re planning your next water adventure, there’s a good chance you’re going to have to check the inflator on your personal flotation device, especially if it’s been stored away for a while.
Life jackets are an essential piece of equipment that could save your life if you fall into rough water. And this is why it’s so important to check that your inflatable lifejacket is in working condition.
Before I get into checking the inflator on your type 5 PFD, I first want to explain a little bit about the differences between a life jacket and a PFD.
I’ll also be talking about the five different types of PFDs, and how to check if they’re in good condition.
Great, let’s get started:
Table of Contents
What Is The Difference Between A Life Jacket And A PFD?
When I was studying adventure management at university, we were asked to explain the difference between a life jacket and a PFD.
And I think it’s a good question. They both look pretty similar, so the difference isn’t always so noticeable.
My teacher explained it like this:
“A life jacket preserves life, and a PFD assists people with floating.”
But, if we were to go into more detail, what would this phrase mean? Well, let’s delve into it a little bit deeper:
So, a PFD is a garment designed to keep a conscious person afloat and assist with buoyancy. Basically, if you’re awake and alert, a PFD will give you a fighting chance of surviving falling in the water, as long as you’re wearing the right type (more on that later).
But a Type I classified life jacket was designed with neck support, which helps to keep the user’s face above the water. In other words, even if you’re unconscious, wearing a life jacket will keep your head above the water until rescue comes.
As you can see, the terms PFD and life jacket are incredibly different. Or at least they were…
Nowadays, a life jacket refers to any vest that aids in your floatation as only as you’re still conscious. But for me, I like to go with the old definition.
If you’re looking for something that preserves your life if you’re unconscious, you need to look for a type I flotation device. The other four types will just help you float when you need it.
What Are The 5 Different Types Of PFDs?
Okay, I’ve explained the difference between a life jacket and PFD. But as we found out, many people don’t stick to the original definition and instead go with the types. And that’s why I think it’s essential to explain the five types of PFD.
One thing you should remember is there are two types of life jackets:
- Inherently buoyant
- Inflatable life jackets
And depending on which style you choose will depend on how it performs in the water. So in this section, I’m going to explain the recommended uses of each type of PFD and both styles of life vests.
Let’s take a look:
Type I – Inherently Buoyant Life Jackets
- Minimum Buoyancy: 22 lbs (11 lbs for children sizes)
- This style is best for open, rough, or remote water where chances of rescue could be slow. It will also turn most unconscious people face-up in the water.
- It offers excellent protection but is often considered too bulky and uncomfortable for paddle sports. It also does a great job at retaining body heat, making it great for cold waters.
- It’s best for people who will be in stormy conditions or fishing offshore due to them being built for extended survival.
Type I – Inflatable Life Jackets
- Minimum Buoyancy: 34 lbs
- Best for offshore activities like racing, cruising, and fishing.
- Provides two inflation mechanisms; manual and automatic.
- It will turn an unconscious person face-up.
- They require a lot of maintenance and are not suitable for whitewater. They are also costly.
Type II – Inherently Buoyant Life Jackets
- Minimum Buoyancy: 15.5 lbs
- Best for racing, fishing, boating alone, or being in stormy conditions.
- They feel more comfortable than Type I but provide less floatation.
- They work best when rescue is not immediate. But it’s not suitable for surviving long durations in rough water.
- It will turn some unconscious people face-up in the water.
Type II – Inflatable Life Jackets
- Minimum Buoyancy: 34 lbs
- Inland racing, dinghy sailing, or cruising.
- There’s no guarantee that it will turn an unconscious wearer face-up.
- Very high price and will either be manually inflated or automatic inflation.
- They feel very comfortable to wear and are more buoyant than their inherently buoyant counterparts.
Type III – Inherently Buoyant Life Jackets
- Minimum Buoyancy: 15.5 lbs
- It works best for supervised activities like sailing, water skiing, canoeing, kayaking, etc.
- Not suitable for extended periods in rough water. There must be an immediate chance of rescue.
- They are more comfortable to wear than Type II or Type II life jackets.
Type IV – Inherently Buoyant Throwable Device
- Minimum Buoyancy: 16.5 lbs for ring buoy and 18 lbs for boat cushion.
- It can be horseshoed, ring or cushion mounted on deck.
- They feel more comfortable than Type I or Type II but don’t provide as much floatation.
Type IV – Inflatable Flotation cushion Device
- They are used for inland water where the chances of rescue are immediate.
- They are used to throw overboard and help people on the water; they are not meant to be worn.
- Don’t use them as a seat; it will deform the foam and reduces its floatation abilities.
Type V – Inherently Buoyant Life Jackets
- Minimum Buoyancy: 15.5 to 22 lbs
- They are restricted to special use for which the PFD was designed, i.e., whitewater.
- They are not designed for extended periods in rough water; there needs to be a quick chance of rescue.
- It is more comfortable than Type I and Type II, but it provides less floatation than Type I life jackets.
- They are suitable for inland waters where the chances of immediate rescue are good.
- They are not designed to turn an unconscious body face-up.
Type V – Inflatable Life Jackets
- Minimum Buoyancy: 22.5 lbs to 34 lbs
- Restricted for the use it was designed for.
- Not guaranteed to turn an unconscious wearer face-up.
- You must wear it to meet federal requirements.
- Some of the models feature a combination of built-in foam and CO2 inflation.
How Often Should The Inflator On A Type V Life Jacket Be Checked?
Unfortunately, if you own a Type V inflatable life jacket, it will require more frequent maintenance than an inherently buoyant PFD.
Most people say you should check it every two months, and you should be checking for:
- The inflator status indicator
- And whether you can inflate it orally
Of course, depending on what style of life jacket you have could change the process slightly. So, in the following sections, I’m going to be explaining how to see if a PFD is in good condition, when to replace the CO2 cylinder, and much more.
Let’s take a look:
How Should You Check A PFD To See If It Is In Good Condition?
Your PFD is vital for your safety, and it pays to check that everything is in condition and working correctly.
But of course, some of these tests don’t need to be done every time you use the PFD. And this is why I’ve split it into two four time frames:
- Before Every Use
- After Each Inflation
- Every Six Months
- Every Year
So, throughout this section, I’m going to talk about the checks and maintenance you need to do to keep your inflatable PFD in good condition.
I’ll also be giving you some tips on how to clean and store your PFD in between uses:
1. Checks Before Every Use
There are a few simple visual checks you can do on your PFD to make sure it’s fit for purpose, and I’m going to explain them to you now:
- Make sure the service indicator is green.
- For HAMMER inflators, you need to check the expiry date of the inflator.
- Check that all the lobe closures are securely fastened; these should be things like the breakout zipper or the Hook & Loop tape.
- Visually inspect your PFD for damage and abrasions, wear & tear, or contamination such as oil or mildew. You should pay extra attention to the stitching, hardware, and straps.
- Check the oral-inflation tube dust cap is in a stowed position.
- Make sure the manual pull-tab is in an accessible position.
- Ensure the waist belt is not twisted and can be securely fastened.
- You should ensure the bobbin is valid for any HR auto/manual inflators.
2. Check After Each Inflation
After each inflation, you should re-arm your device to ensure it’s ready the next time you need to use it.
3. Checks Every Six Months
Every 6-months, there are a few checks you need to make. That being said, you can do them more often if you feel your life vest has been exposed to damage or extreme conditions.
So, let’s take a quick look at these checks:
- Perform A Leak Test: Use the oral inflation tube to inflate the PFD until it’s firm. Once you inflate the life jacket orally Let the PFD stand for at least two hours, but ideally for 16 hours. You should also make sure you run this test at a stable temperature. If your PFD is leak-free, your PFD will remain firm when you come back.
- Deflate And Repack Your Life Vests: Deflate and repack your PFD as outlined by the owner’s manual. You should also ensure you’ve removed as much air as possible.
- Check You Inflator: The things you need to check for really depend on what style of inflator you have:
- Halkey Roberts Inflator
- Make sure your service indicator is green
- Inspect the auto/manual bobbin
- Inspect the bobbin and ensure the white “pill” is free of damage and in one piece.
- Check the date on the bobbin is not past the expiry date.
- 6F Manual Inflator
- CO2 cylinder without bayonet: You need to unscrew and remove the CO2 gas cylinder from the inflator and inspect the small end to ensure it’s not been pierced.
- Inspect the inflator’s metallic lever: Ensure the lever is in the up-and-ready position and the green indicator pin is in place over the lever.
- HAMMAR Inflators
- Make sure the service indicator is green.
- Check the expiry date has not passed the inflator expiry date.
- Halkey Roberts Inflator
4. Annual Checks
And finally, there are a few checks that you should do yearly to ensure your PFD made it through the season and storage:
- Perform Visual Inspections: You need to check every component for dirt and corrosion. You should also clean or replace any of the parts when needed.
- Ensure you perform all the tasks in the “Checks Every Six Months” section.
- Clean the inflatable PFD; you’ll find out more about this in the next section.
- Make an annual inspection record on the Care and Storage label in permanent ink.
How To Clean And Store Your PFD
Cleaning your PFD is vital for caring for your PFD and should not be overlooked. Luckily, it’s a pretty simple task.
You should hand wash or sponge down your PFD in warm, soapy water; just make sure you don’t submerge or expose the inflator to water.
Once it’s clean, rinse the PFD with clean water and hang it to dry on a coat hanger.
During the cleaning process, make sure you do not dry clean it and expose it to bleaches or direct heat.
And finally, it’s time to store it away. The only thing you have to do here is to ensure the life jacket is fully dry and stored in a dry, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight.
When Should You Replace The CO2 Cylinder In An Inflatable PFD?
After each inflation, you will have to re-arm your life jacket with a CO2 cylinder. One of the easiest ways to know if your PFD needs a replacement CO2 cartridge is by checking the service indicator.
If the service indicator is in green, your PFD is good to go and should inflate within a second of touching the water.
If it turns red, you’ll need to purchase a new re-arming kit to begin the recharging process. Here are a few things you should look out for to see if you need to replace the CO2 cylinder:
- Inspect the bobbin for any cracks or holes
- Make a visual inspection of the service indicator. If it’s green, it’s good to go; if it’s red, it’s a no.
- Make sure the CO2 cylinder has not gone past its expiry date.
- If the CO2 cylinder is spent, it will have a small hole on the bottom, which indicates the cylinder has been used.
If you need to replace your CO2 cylinder, you need to know how it works. And this is why I don’t want to leave this section without explaining how to do it:
How To Re-Arm A CO2 Cartridge For An Inflatable Life Jacket
So, you know when the cartridge needs replacing, but you don’t know how to replace it. Well, this is where you’re in luck; I’ve created a quick guide to show you the basics:
Step 1 – Remove All The Air From The chamber
Your very first step for recharging your life jacket is to ensure all the air is removed from the chamber. You need to flip the black oral inflation dust cap from the manual inflation tube and hold it inside. You’ll then need to squeeze or roll the inflated chamber until all the air has been expelled.
Step 2 – Discard The Bobbin, Cylinder, And Old Cap
Your next step is to locate the bobbin and the cylinder. Once discovered, discard the old cap, cylinder, and bobbin.
Step 3 – Get A New Bobbin
Your bobbin should have a shelf life of at least three years, but you must check the bobbin when you’re making a replacement. If it’s cracked, broken, or shows deterioration, you need to replace it. A broken bobbin could stop the PFD from inflating when you need it.
Step 4 – Install A New Cap & Bobbin
Before installing the bobbin, make sure the material on the bobbin is not damaged or cracked. If your bobbin is damaged, you’ll have to dispose of the old one and install a new one. You should also check out the expiration date on the new bobbin.
With the white on the bobbin facing up, drop the new bobbin into place after correctly aligning with the grooves.
Once the bobbin is securely in the housing, re-install the cap and turn it clockwise until it meets the housing. You need to ensure no gap between the housing and the cap is present.
Step 5 – Run Checks On The New Cylinder
Once the cap and bobbin are secured safely, you can start running a check on the new CO2 Cylinder. Check for any damage and ensure it’s not been punctured and it’s not past the expiration date.
Step 6 – Install Your New Cylinder
If you’re happy with everything and the cylinder is in good condition and not punctured, you can start installing the CO2 canister. To install the cylinder, it’s a simple case of placing it in the housing and turning it clockwise until tight.
If the cylinder is installed correctly, you should see the service indicator will show green.
When the service indicator shows green, you can start repacking the air chamber. Do this by folding both sides of the air chamber into the outer shell. Just make sure you don’t twist as you’re folding.
To close your air chamber, you need to press the hook and loop together on the outside edge of the shell. Once the bladder is in the shell, you need to recheck the green service indicator is present.
If it is, you’re all done; just make sure it’s armed before going on to the water.
Final Thoughts & Takeaways
Okay, I hope this helped you understand when to check the inflator on your Type V PFD, the differences between the types, and how to change your CO2 cylinder.
Ideally, you should be checking the inflator every six months at least. But, if you feel like something is wrong, you should check it right away.
Make sure you follow my checklist for your PFD; it might save your life. And while you’re here, why not check out this article on the best women’s PFD for kayaking?
Frequently Asked Questions
Are PFDs Difficult To Put On In Water?
Yes, PFDs are extremely difficult to put on while in the water. Make sure you’re an intelligent boater by putting your life jackets on before you board your boat, and make sure you’re wearing them at all times.
What Can Happen If A PFD Is Too Small?
If the PFD is too small for you, it will struggle to keep you afloat. And this can lead to death, so you need to ensure the PFD provides a snug fit yet allows some freedom of movement.
Which Type Of PFD Will Turn Most Unconscious People Face Up In The Water?
A Type I PFD is specially designed to ensure an unconscious person’s face is turned up in all water conditions. This allows people to survive in rough water when the chances of rescue could be delayed.
How Much Buoyancy Do I Need In A Life Jacket?
The average adult needs around 7 to 12 lbs of extra buoyancy to float comfortably and keep their head above the water.
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