Many people use their life jackets every time they go paddling, and if you’re one of them you probably know that after a few years there’s bound to be wear and tear. It doesn’t matter how careful you are with your PFD – zippers can break, buckles can come undone and fabric tears will happen just about anywhere. Sometimes tears are small enough that they can be patched or sewn up, but if the tear is larger then you should take the PFD out of service. So you need to know- What Should You Do If A PFD Has A Tear In The Outer Fabric?
The outer shell of a life jacket (i.e. not including things like pockets) does more than just look good – it also keeps water away from your body and helps you stay afloat. If the outer shell is compromised in any way, then your life jacket won’t hold you up properly – which means it won’t do its job of protecting you. That’s why it’s important to fix or replace any tears that are compromising the integrity of your PFD’s shell.
Here are some guidelines for recognizing when tears on the outside of life jackets are too large to patch up:
A tear that has gone through more than one layer of fabric (outer shell plus inner liner) will be difficult to fix – if not impossible. If you can stick your finger through a hole or rip then you might as well consider the PFD out of service. A hole could cause you to get wet, which defeats the purpose of wearing a life jacket.
A rip in the outer shell that is longer than three inches gets harder and harder to fix as it gets larger because seams and stitching can come apart when there’s tension on them. As we just mentioned – it doesn’t matter if something is difficult or impossible if your PFD isn’t going to work for you.
If a patch comes off – or the place where it was attached is torn apart – then your life jacket should be out of service. The same goes for any other fastener, like buckles or plastic clips.
An article by Rob From Canada suggests an easy way to test whether a tear is too large to attempt a fix – put your life jacket on and try paddling around. If the PFD feels loose or starts to slip around then it’s not going to keep you safe in an emergency so don’t try to patch it up – take it out of service instead.
What Should You Do If A PFD Has A Tear In The Outer Fabric?
It’s important to recognize when a tear in your PFD is beyond repair, but what do you do then?
There are two things that you can do if this happens – either buy a new life jacket or go out and get patches for the one that you have. Most manufacturers use different fabric on their outer shells than they do for the inner liner, so even if your jacket is ten years old it’s probably still worth getting patches to fix the tears.
Kelty recommends sewing fabric over holes in your PFD with a needle and thread or using blue painter’s tape as a temporary fix.
Nylon patches are another option if you don’t want to sew anything yourself – you just stick them on the inside of your PFD where it’s flat, then stitch around the edges to secure them. Whenever you put on a life jacket with patches make sure that all of the stitching is smooth and not exposed anywhere (you don’t want sharp pieces of plastic catching on things).
If this hasn’t convinced you that patches are the best option for you, then check out this video from Nautilus Lifesaving Equipment. In it, they demonstrate the steps to making a temporary fix to a hole in your life jacket by gluing silicone patches over it.
PFDs are an important piece of gear because they’re the only thing between you and the water if something goes wrong on a boat. Imagine falling overboard – would you be ready to handle it? If your answer is no, then learn more about wearing and caring for your life jacket. Also, find out what to do when you find a tear in your life jacket so you can get back to boating as soon as possible.