Unsafe lifejackets: kapok filling or cotton straps

7 July 2018

Maritime NZ is advising boaties that old lifejackets with kapok filling or cotton straps are unsafe, are likely to fail when used, and should be destroyed.


General Manager Maritime Compliance, Kenny Crawford, said these old lifejackets should be replaced as soon as possible with modern foam-filled or inflatable lifejackets and destroyed so they cannot be reused or on-sold.

“Check, replace, destroy,” Mr Crawford said.

These lifejackets are decades old and have not been made since the 1980s. However, an unknown number are still being used.

Kapok fibre

“Kapok is a cotton-like fluff that is no longer used in lifejackets because it naturally losses buoyancy over time and if it gets wet it will absorb water and pull you down,” Mr Crawford said.

“Cotton straps rot over time, even if the lifejacket is not used, and will tear or break off the lifejacket. The lifejacket will come off in the water.

“If one of these lifejackets has been used in the past and floated then, it should still be replaced as soon as possible and destroyed. It will have deteriorated and might not float now.

“Even if these lifejackets are in their original packaging, have never been used and look in perfect condition replace them and destroy them. They are too old and are unsafe.”

Mr Crawford said these old lifejackets complied with international rules when they were manufactured, and many of them have the old standards “S” logo on them. However, they no longer comply with the modern New Zealand standard for lifejackets.

Boaties would originally have bought the lifejackets new in the 1980s and even earlier.

“They will have been used in summers and stored over winters again and again,” Mr Crawford said.

“They may have been passed down in families and to friends or sold second-hand.

“They are turning up on Trade Me and at the ‘Old4New’ lifejacket upgrades that are funded by Maritime NZ and run by Coastguard in summer.

“Trade Me, Coastguard and many others are helping us get rid of these old lifejackets.”

On Maritime NZ’s advice, Trade Me has removed several old lifejackets from auctions and will continue to do so as more are posted for sale. It will also send safety information to sellers when any lifejackets, old or new, are posted for sale.

Maritime NZ, Coastguard NZ and their Safer Boating Forum partners are spreading information about these old, unsafe lifejackets through their communities to boaties.

There will also be advertising and articles in magazines, digital advertising, and a social media campaign.

“Now is a great time to ‘check, replace, destroy’ old lifejackets before the weather improves and boaties start getting back out on the water,” Mr Crawford said.

“If you have this message, pass it on. Tell your family and tell a friend.”

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Pictures and video

News editors: Maritime NZ can provide high resolution pictures showing kapok lifejackets and how to check a lifejacket, and a video. You are welcome to use the pictures and video.

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