How long does a PFD last?

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banzer
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How long does a PFD last?

Post by banzer » Fri Jan 12, 2018 1:30 pm

I know they lose buoyancy after a while. How long is a while?

It's not that easy to do a buoyancy test at this time of year, you would need a friendly local swimming pool that ok with you attaching weights to your manky gear and watching it sink.

Any suggestions? I'm asking because 1) There are some offers on the web; 2) My roll was shocking on my last Scotland trip, usually your PFD helps to bring you towards the surface but this didn't seem to be happening.

Thanks, Rich.
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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by Jim » Fri Jan 12, 2018 2:17 pm

My new rule of thumb, if you can't read the label that tells you the certification standard, buoyancy etc. then it is time for a new one. This is based on the requirement to have a USCG certified one for the Grand Canyon - I did still have one, but the label was unreadable and the rangers wouldn't have accepted it, so I bought a new one which I rarely use so that label will still be readable in 20 years time :)

1) is a good enough reason, just avoid saying things like "shiny" and "my precious" because that way madness lies.

2) is a poor excuse, you need to practice more - it should be easier to roll with a BA that has reduced profile because the foam has shrunk, in fact I normally paddle in race BAs now with minimal buoyancy compared to creek designs which often hae 40N or more extra, and I have not noticed my roll suffering as a result, if anything I'd say the extra flexibility I gain means I am less likely to swim and miss the extra buoyancy...

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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by Adrian Cooper » Fri Jan 12, 2018 2:47 pm

I have a friend who used to work in the 'foam' industry and he was pretty scathing about the durability of foam products and reckoned about three years was enough. I usually test by inspection; the BA is built with a fabric pocket large enough for the foam pad, when you buy it the foam fills the pocket. After a while, the foam shrinks and the pocket feels baggy, when this looks excessive, I buy a new one. Interestingly I saw a mate's BA the other day which was an old Extreme River Vest, about two or three versions ago and the foam still seemed to fill the fabric. Strange since he is a pretty regular paddler, maybe he has a few BAs.

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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by banzer » Fri Jan 12, 2018 4:23 pm

Jim wrote:
Fri Jan 12, 2018 2:17 pm
2) is a poor excuse, you need to practice more -
The irony is I went to a couple of pool sessions before my trip and did LOADS of rolling and hand rolling. When it came to the river I was rubbish. However, I was unfit, and we had just done some mammoth missions of paddling, carrying and early starts the last couple of days. So perhaps I was just knackered after two big days out. There's no substitute for being 'paddling fit'!

(In case anyone wants a laugh, my 'poor roll' = swims at Poll Dubh then Randolph's.... ha ha)
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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by twopigs » Fri Jan 12, 2018 7:20 pm

IIRC the rules for Devizes to Westminster are that BAs should be less than 5 years old.

You could always try the sink test in a bath at home!
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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by Dan Yates. » Fri Jan 12, 2018 8:04 pm

This is the best / simplest explanation I have seen. It can be done in a dustbin.

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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by Jim » Sat Jan 13, 2018 1:16 pm

I've always said a carry in destroys my ability to paddle properly, I'd blame the 2 long days with carry ins rather than BA :)

Can't say I fancy either of those swims, but I did once get pinned in Randolphs in a bizarre way and needed rescuing. Must have been the carry down from the road...

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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by DaveBland » Mon Jan 15, 2018 1:26 am

I think the answer to that question is a combination of how well you look after it [or how much you use it] and what type of water you will likely be swimming in.
Obviously loads of use in sun and never rinsing or drying it out will last less well than one that's hardly used and carefully maintained.
Regarding the water type, if you are in lower grade, less aerated water, then it's less critical than boily, swirly stuff where every extra cm of float is kinda handy for breathing 'n that...

Personally I'd go for a if in doubt, chuck it out approach - they aren't that pricey and anything that makes swims less terrifying and unpleasant is worth it. But then I really can't swim that well.
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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by Poke » Mon Jan 15, 2018 11:18 am

I've heard an interesting theory that the number of times you fly with it degrades it significantly. The PFD ends up in the hold at a much lower pressure than normal atmospheric. Air in the foam expands and duly bursts some of the "closed cells", thus reducing buoyancy.

I guess the same may go for using it at high altitude. Definitely for using it as a seat. haha.
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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by tenboats1 » Wed Aug 01, 2018 12:15 pm

I can't see that it matter that much, its not like you are going to sink just 'cos a few bubbles have burst. There are time when a little less buoyancy is desirable anyway.

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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by Dave Manby » Wed Aug 01, 2018 10:55 pm

Sunlight is the biggest killer of pfds.

Leave that aside. Years ago the Rangers at Lees Ferry the rangers would not let us use our CE approved pfds but accepted Whit's 20+ year old Xtrasport pfd which was as faded as my jeans to quote Kris Kristoffeson (
They allowed him down the river in his Xtrasport pfd wnilst we had to use Type 4 jackets. Another story: years ago a friend maintained his Hawksworth Expedition jacket was fine - remember them pockets on the front for stuff and on the back for a throw line - I challenged him and when he took his jacket off I threw it in the river the one side sank weighed down by three crabs and a knife!

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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by Jim » Thu Aug 02, 2018 12:58 pm

Dave - faded wouldn't pass now, they have to be able to read the USCG label. Still can't use CE or ISO labelled BAs though. Something the Brexiteers still haven't thought about yet, are we leaving european standards? What labels will safety kit need to be sold here in future?

Back to the original question, there are 2 considerations in deciding whether or not your BA is still fit for use.
1) Does it still meet the buoyancy required by ISO/CE standard
2) If you deliberately chose a buoyancy aid with nearly twice the amount of buoyancy required by the standard because you expect to be swimming in heavily aerated water with pockets full of gear, you need to make your own judgement about how much buoyancy you actually want it to still have, just complying with the standard is probably not nearly enough for your actual requirements.

My race BA was dunked in an official ICF testing cage in May and passed just fine, I'll get at least another year out of it. Mind you, I do usually keep a watch on the left strap and sometimes a gopro remote on the right strap!

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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by Chalky723 » Thu Aug 02, 2018 9:04 pm

Do you float sufficiently with it on?

Yes - keep it.
No - replace it.

Luckily I seem to test this most times I paddle.... :-)

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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by TechnoEngineer » Fri Aug 03, 2018 2:06 pm

I have a suspicion that a worn BA will soak up water, so that could hamper your roll. Although it would have to be soaking it up like a sponge ;)
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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by DaveBland » Mon Aug 06, 2018 3:54 pm

If in doubt, whip ya cash out and grab a new one. I think especially for paddlers that don't swim much but paddle harder stuff, this is even more important.
It's hard to splash out a couple of hundred on something that gets used in anger every year or so – but then when you do use it, you'd give any amount of cash for the extra few cm of floatation, as you are gurgling in water, dangling on the end of a line in a never-ending cave vortex of doom...

plus your old one will still be worth something to a newbie paddler looking for gear who wants to use it on the flat to get learning...
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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by Bod Bagby » Tue Aug 07, 2018 2:44 pm

The answer to the conundrum is to give your not yet knackered bouyo to someone going to india/Nepal or somewhere similar and they can leave it with a raft guide trainee or community project.

You then get to see photos of it doing bigger and better stuff over time and enjoy it vicariously.

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Re: How long does a PFD last?

Post by chriscw » Wed Aug 08, 2018 4:04 pm

Some years ago before the sailing club I was a member of folded we used to test all the club BAs and of request members BAs with a set of weights. I cannot recall one ever failing. That does not mean they do not or that if they are worn out you do not need to replace them. The rule in a club some of my friends paddle with is that all coaches must have all gear less than 3 years old.

Somewhere between waiting until stuff is worn out or fails the float test and the 3-year rule there must be a sensible happy medium.
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