Old lifejackets can fail - replace them

17 January 2019

Maritime NZ and Coastguard New Zealand are reminding boaties to replace and destroy their old lifejackets as they can fail when you need them most.

Maritime NZ Deputy Director, Sharyn Forsyth, said old lifejackets are dangerous and should be replaced as soon as possible with modern foam-filled or inflatable lifejackets and destroyed so they cannot be reused or on-sold.

Manufacturers say modern-style lifejackets last about 10 years but a lifejacket’s lifespan can be shortened as seawater and sun are tough on equipment.

“Worryingly, we know many Kiwi boaties are still relying on lifejackets that are 30 to 50 years old,” Ms Forsyth said.

Old4New lifejacket upgrade

“An easy way to replace lifejackets is to meet Coastguard’s ‘Old4New lifejacket upgrade’ van and get discounts on brand new lifejackets.

“The van will be in Greymouth and St Arnaud this Saturday and then in Wellington and Masterton on Wellington Anniversary Day on Monday.”

Maritime NZ is proud to support the Old4New campaign and encourages boaties to take advantage of it. The van has been touring New Zealand since the start of December and continues its tour around the country until the first week of February.

To find out when the van will be in your area, you can find the schedule at: www.old4new.nz.

If you miss it, don’t worry as you can still receive this offer at participating Boating and Outdoor retailers on selected dates.

In December alone, more than 1,200 old, damaged or out-of-date lifejackets were traded in at the ‘Old4New’ van as it toured the country.

To date, the van has visited around 40 locations throughout the country with another 21 stops still to go.

“The response is getting better every year,” said Sue Tucker from Coastguard who is travelling with the Old4New van this summer.

“We had over 100 boaties queuing at our Nelson stop last week before we even started. That’s a whole lot of families that will be safer out on the water.

“We discuss their boating intentions and check the fit with every jacket swapped, to ensure they will be fit for purpose. Some lifejacket models made for kayakers are selling out as fast as we can order them.”

Lots more information about safety, storage, and details for checking inflatable lifejackets is at www.maritimenz.govt.nz/lifejackets.

Kapok filled lifejackets

Kapok-filled lifejackets are particularly dangerous, even if they look brand new and have been well looked after.

Kapok is a fluffy fibre, similar to cotton. It has not been used in lifejackets since the 1980s because it can absorb water and causes wearers to sink.

The cotton straps on these old lifejackets are also a serious risk. They rot over time - even if a lifejacket is not used. In an emergency, cotton straps can tear or break off.

Checking lifejackets

Before you go on the water, these simple tests can help ensure that the lifejacket you are wearing is seaworthy:

  • Pull the straps, hard. If any of them stretch or tear, do not use the lifejacket, dispose of it, and replace it.
  • Check for any existing tears, cuts or punctures in the straps and lifejacket. If there are any, do not use the lifejacket, dispose of it, and replace it.
  • Check if it floats.
  • Inflatable lifejackets should be regularly serviced at a testing station in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions


  • Not wearing a lifejacket is the leading risk factor for boating fatalities. The other key risks are: not carrying waterproof communications, not checking the weather, and drinking alcohol.
  • It is likely that two-thirds of recreational boating deaths in New Zealand could have been prevented if lifejackets had been worn.
  • 75% of recreational boaties wear a lifejacket all or most of the time on the water.

Maritime NZ can provide hi res copies of these and other photos.

people holding up lifejackets
©Maritime NZ
Canterbury boaties queuing up to replace their old lifejackets, including kapok filled lifejackets, in Christchurch last week
kapok filled lifejacket
©Maritime NZ
Example of a kapok filled lifejacket
man putting on lifejacket
©Maritime NZ
Out with the old, in with the new

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