You must check your lifejackets

Commercial operators are advised that old unsafe lifejackets should be destroyed so they cannot be re-used or on-sold.
an old kapok filled lifejacket lying on the deck of a boat

Lifejackets used by commercial operators should be checked regularly and must meet relevant regulations, which depends on the type of operation. Those that are unsafe should be replaced with new lifejackets as soon as possible.

Kapok lifejackets are unsafe - check, destroy, replace

Kapok is unsafe – It was used to fill lifejackets 30 years ago, but we now know kapok can become waterlogged and cause wearers to sink.

Cotton straps rot over time – Even if a lifejacket is not used. In an emergency cotton straps can tear or break off.

Lifejackets with either kapok filling or cotton straps should be destroyed and new jackets purchased. Read the full safety update:

Safety Update

Your obligations

It’s the operator/owner’s responsibility under the Maritime Transport Act to have the correct lifejackets and enough for everyone on board. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, a person who conducts a business or undertaking must ensure so far as reasonably practicable the health and safety of workers and other persons is not put at risk from the work it carries out – this includes lifejackets.

Check our list of approved lifejacket brands/models. This can be helpful – depending on what regulations apply to you.

Lifesaving appliances [PDF: 86kB, 9 pages]

If in doubt – check with the manufacturer or a lifejacket servicing station

They can tell you if your lifejacket is still within its lifespan. The New Zealand liferaft and lifejacket servicing stations listed in this register have met the standard required to service, repair and repackage the named brands of commercial liferafts and lifejackets.

Liferaft and Lifejacket Service Stations [PDF: 63kB, 3 pages]

Old lifejackets

Old lifejackets used in New Zealand may fail in an emergency. If you use an older lifejacket (10+ years old) - or have them onboard – Maritime NZ recommends:

  • Check your lifejacket, even if you think it’s safe - An unsafe life jacket may look in perfect condition.
  • NZ standards have moved on - Make sure that life jackets meet the current New Zealand Standard NZS 5823: 2005
  • More than 10 years old? Replace it – Manufacturers say that lifejackets can last up to a decade, although it can be less depending on deterioration from age or usage. After 10 years, they usually need replacing.


Dispose of unsafe lifejackets by making visible cuts in the jacket and then taking them to the dump. Unless they’re going to a museum, please take them out of circulation.

Checks for all types of lifejackets

As a starting pointing, check your lifejacket with these simple tests – however, this does not replace expert advice:

  • Check to see it meets the requirements in Maritime Rule Part 42A – in most cases New Zealand Standard NZS 5823: 2005 - you may find it stamped in the jacket. Otherwise, follow the manufacturer’s terms and conditions
  • Pull the straps, hard. If any of them stretch or tear, do not use the lifejacket, destroy, and replace.
  • Look for tears or cuts in the straps. If there are any, do not use the lifejacket. Destroy and replace.
  • Check for tears, cuts, or punctures in the lifejacket. If there are any, do not use the lifejacket, destroy and replace.
  • Check if it floats. Check with the manufacturer or lifejacket service centre.

Caring for your lifejacket

Heat, salt water and sunlight can damage lifejackets. Proper care and storage of your jacket can prolong its usable life.


  • Store it dry and out of sunlight
  • Clean off salt
  • Check for damage before you put it away Tips for caring for your jacket:
  • After using your jacket, wash it in fresh water. If the jacket is soiled, wash in warm water using a mild soap – rinse thoroughly.
  • Automatic-inflating lifejackets should be wiped with a wet sponge – not rinsed.
  • Dry your lifejacket in open air, preferably out of direct sunlight and away from heat.
  • If you’re using your lifejacket around grease and chemicals – you need to check the fabric regularly to make sure it hasn’t disintegrated.
  • Store it in a dark, dry place – hang if possible.
  • Don’t store folded or compressed under a heavy object.
  • Don’t dry clean lifejackets – the chemicals can dissolve the foam.
  • When you’re storing it, do a quick safe check – look for corrosion, wear, damage and leaks.

Inflatable lifejackets

Watch the video below for tips and advice for caring for inflatable lifejackets:

Maritime New Zealand 2023
Maintaining inflatable lifejackets; So they work if you need it to!


Contact us

If you have any questions about safety equipment, talk to our operator certification team.

+64 4 473 0111