Letters – by Our Readers


Hi Captain Pat,

I hope all is well with you. I really enjoyed your last article about Is It Right or Is It Wrong. However, I just had a few questions for you about some other boating safety concerns that have come to my mind over the last week.
Since we are getting our oceangoing fishing boat fixed and I am home by myself for the weekend, it occurred to me that it might be good to inspect my inflatable life jacket while I have some time. I have performed the manual inflation test as directed in a life jacket testing handbook, in which you inflate the vest using the mouth tube and let it sit for 12 hours to see if it holds air. The next step I read is the water immersion test. This test, according to the same handbook, requires you to inflate the vest again using the mouth tube and place in water for 12 hours such as a bathtub.
Since mine is an auto inflate life vest that uses a pressure sensor in which the vest has to be so many feet under water to inflate, how can I do this test without accidentally tripping the auto inflate mechanism? Or should this happen as part of the test? Also, I understand that there is an indicator on a lot of auto inflate life vests that tells whether the cartridge is still good via a color like red or yellow. Since I am blind, which you may or may not know and therefore cannot see the color of the indicator, what is a good time frame or other method I can use to determine whether the cartridge is still good?

Sincerely, Daniel


Apologies for the delayed response. Been crazy around here this past week.
Your questions regarding testing the integrity of the air bladder in your inflatable life jacket show that you are really thinking about the equipment. The vast majority of users ignore the fact that inflatable life jackets need to be tested regularly for proper operation. If the jacket holds air for 12 hours, immersing it in water is redundant and really does not add any new information. The value of the water test is to observe where any leaks are occurring (small bubbles) and not to determine if the leak exists. If the jacket does not hold air for 12 hours, then the next step is to use the water immersion test. However, if the jacket is losing air in 12 hours the entire vest should be replaced, and no attempt to repair it should be made. Should you want to do the water test and if you are concerned with the auto inflate system activating, then you can easily remove the CO2 cartridge and the dissolvable pill.
Most manufacturers advise that the jacket be tested regularly every two to three months, and that the CO2 cartridge and pill be replaced every five years.
Note the service life on an inflatable life jacket is 10 years. This being the case, you have one good opportunity at the five-year mark to put on the vest, jump in the water and see how the automatic inflation system works.
There are two different styles of automatic inflators, the dissolvable pill and the hydrostatic. The hydrostatic inflators are usually much more costly, are immune to casual spray and are marked with an expiration date. Many also have a small indicator light that shows green when operational and no light when not.
On the dissolvable pill style, the red/yellow/green indicators do not measure pressure of the CO2 cartridge, they only measure the strength of the spring and the presence of the water-soluble pill that releases the pin that punctures the CO2 cartridge. With some automatic inflation systems there is a metal lever that attaches to the manual activation cord. You can feel the position of the lever to determine if the water-soluble pill is present and the system armed. In any of these systems there is no way to determine with 100% certainty that the CO2 cartridge has full pressure. We can only assume that it is good if there is no puncture wound in the tip!

Hope this helps.
Best, Pat

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