I remember well the first time I got my hands on an inflatable, suspender-type personal flotation device. It was back in 1999, when the Bassmaster Federation Nation Nationals were held on the Red River.
The folks at B.A.S.S. handed me the PFD when I showed up to go on the water to cover the event. The little units were brand new back then, and I couldn’t get over how comfortable it was to have the PFD on.
I still have that inflatable life preserver, but I’m a bit sheepish to admit that I never, ever check to ensure everything is in working order: I simply toss it in the boat and assume it will perform as advertised if I’m dumped in the water.
Honestly, that’s stupid.
While definitely more comfortable than traditional PFDs, inflatables have working parts that need regular inspection. Especially if you have a model designed to inflate automatically.
So here are five steps to ensure that you won’t sink to the bottom in the worse-case scenario:
1) Eyeball it — Gently pull apart the Velcro flaps covering the inflatable air bladder and check for any tears to the material. At the same time, check to ensure the covering material, straps and buckles are solid.
2) Check the cartridge — Unscrew the CO2 cartridge and look at the center of the threaded end. If there’s a small hole, the cartridge has discharged and should be replaced. Also check for any corrosion.
3) Check the inflator mechanism — Auto-inflation models normally have mechanisms including a dissolvable pill or bobbin that, upon contact with water, triggers the cartridge. Ensure that this mechanism is in good shape. If your unit has a pill that is crumbling, it’s time to replace it.
4) Rearm it — If the cartridge and the inflation mechanism look good, put the pieces back in place. Replacement units can be purchased to remedy any issues.
5) Blow it up — No, don’t pull the cord. Instead, use the manual inflation tube to fill the air bladder. Let the inflated PFD sit for up to 24 hours to ensure it isn’t leaking. If it’s still inflated after that time, you’re ready to go; if it’s not still tightly inflated, replace the PFD.
That’s it. You can then deflate the bladder, carefully repack the unit and close the Velcro flaps.
You can now be confident you’ll be safely floated if an accident sends you into the water.