Inspect your life jackets

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The United States Coast Guard wants to remind all vessel operators to routinely inspect their life jackets to ensure they are suitable for service. Recently, Coast Guard inspectors in Key West, Florida, discovered two vessels that had over 60 life jackets that were required to be removed and destroyed. It  as discovered that the unicellular foam buoyant material within the nylon outer shell had degraded significantly over time, broke apart, crumbled and  in some instances was reduced to dust. The life jackets were properly stored, kept dry, and not under direct sunlight; however, the location was very hot at times.

These particular lifejackets were the Type 1, 160RT model distributed by The Safeguard Corporation of Covington, Kentucky. They were manufactured in China and approximately nine years old.  The distributor is no longer in business.  Over the years, the Coast Guard has distributed a number of other safety alerts related to life jackets and personal floatation devices. (See PDF page numbers 27, 72, 138, 145, 158 and 165.)

As a result of this recent discovery, the Coast Guard strongly recommends that vessel owners and operators inspect their Type 1 unicellular plastic foam life jackets for potential indications of failure or degradation, specifically:

  • Compression:  The  life jacket  may  be  compressed  from many years of stowage.
  • Loss of resiliency: The life jacket is excessively hard, stiff or its foam is brittle. Normally after compressing the life jacket to about half its initial thickness, the foam should expand to its original dimension in a short period of time.
  • Shrinkage: A physical reduction in size may be indicated by “wrinkling” of the coating on vinyl  dipped type or by a loose fitting shell on a fabric-covered life jacket.
  • Manufacturer: While the potential for problems applies to all older PFDs, those manufactured by The Safeguard Corporation should be closely examined.

This safety alert was developed by the Coast Guard Headquarters Office of Investigations and Casualty Analysis in conjunction with the Inspections Division of Coast Guard Sector Key West. Any questions or comments should be sent to send to HQS-PF-fldr-CG-INV@uscg.mil.