Check lifejackets before it is too late

Lifejackets have saved countless lives over the years and they are boaties’ number one piece of safety equipment but they have to be maintained to be effective.

It is really important that people make sure they have checked their life jackets before they take their boats out, Chair of the Safer Boating Forum and Maritime NZ Deputy Director, Sharyn Forsyth, said. “Once you’re in the water it is too late.”

That’s the message from Maritime NZ during Safer Boating Week leading up to Labour Weekend when boaties are getting their vessels ready for the summer.

Old kapok lifejackets, not made since the 1980s, are still being discovered even though they should have been destroyed by now. Manufacturers recommend that lifejackets should be replaced after 10 years.

And while, increasingly, people are using inflatable lifejackets, the gas cylinders can corrode and leak if they are not checked and maintained.

Maritime NZ is urging skippers of all recreational boats, no matter how big or small, to “check your lifejackets” – that includes kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and jet skis.

The skipper must have lifejackets of the right size for everyone on board.

“If they do not have lifejackets they can be fined and can be prosecuted but, in the most tragic situation, no court penalty will ever match the death of a family member or a friend on your boat,” Ms Forsyth said.

From 3 November to February 2, Coastguard’s Old4New lifejacket upgrade campaign will once again be happening around the country. Kiwis are encouraged to bring in any old, damaged or worn lifejackets and upgrade them for brand new fit-for-purpose lifejackets at a heavily discounted price.

Kapok lifejackets are of particular concern. Kapok is a fluffy, cotton-like plant fibre that can absorb water and cause wearers to sink. Many of these old lifejackets also have cotton straps. Cotton rots over time – even if a lifejacket is not used – and in an emergency can tear or break off.

Simple tests for other styles of lifejackets to do every time before going on the water are:

  • Pull the straps, hard. If any of them stretch or tear, do not use the lifejacket, dispose of it, and replace it.
  • Check for any existing tears or cuts in the straps. If there are any, do not use the lifejacket, dispose of it, and replace it.
  • Check for any tears, cuts, or punctures in the lifejacket itself. If there are any, do not use the lifejacket, dispose of it, and replace it.
  • Check if it floats.

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