You’re not the only one who can get a sunburn
How to test your life jacket for sun deterioration (PWC)
A personal floatation device (PFD) or life jacket eventually wears out and needs to be replaced. You know the signs — broken zippers, frayed webbing. But there’s a less obvious way that your PFD can be damaged and become less reliable. The cover fabric can become weak from extensive exposure to sunlight. How can you tell if your PFD has a bad case of sunburn?
Most PFDs are covered in nylon or polyester, which are forms of plastic. Like other plastics, these fabrics can start to break down with extended exposure to the UV light in sunlight. One obvious sign of UV damage is a tear in the cover fabric. Discard any PFD in this condition right away and replace it with a new one. Splits in fabric can lead to the buoyant material inside the jacket falling out.
Another clue is serious fading in the color of the fabric. To test for fading, compare the color in a place where it’s protected, like under a strap, to a place where it’s exposed. Or try this simple test. Pinch the fabric and try to tear it. If it tears, destroy the PFD right away and replace it with a new one.
How often do you need to replace your PFDs? Fabric covered PFDs usually last several boating seasons with normal use — vacation, weekend, and evening use, for example. If you use the PFD every day in sunlight, it will need to be replaced more often.
Before the start of boating season, check your PFD for sun deterioration and to make sure it still fits properly. And always put it on before you leave the dock.