Check your lifejackets

You need to wear a lifejacket that works. The only way to know it’s safe is to check it regularly.
an old kapok filled lifejacket lying on the deck of a boat

Wear and tear can shorten your jacket’s lifespan, which manufacturers say is usually up to 10 years. This section tells you how to look after your lifejacket and how to tell when you should throw it out and replace it.

Kapok lifejackets are unsafe – check, destroy, replace

Kapok is unsafe - Used to fill lifejackets 30 years ago, we now know kapok can absorb water 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


Replacing lifejackets

Coastguard’s highly successful Old4New Lifejacket Upgrade campaign will be back in time for summer and visiting communities throughout the country from 1 December. Simply bring your old, damaged or out-of-date lifejackets to the Old4New van and receive a great discount on brand-new, quality Hutchwilco Lifejackets.


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 - We recommend that your life jacket meets 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:

  • 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.


Selling your lifejacket?

Using the above checks, ensure your lifejacket is safe to use before you sell it. Destroy any lifejackets that are unsafe.


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

It’s important to ensure your inflatable lifejacket is regularly serviced. You should also check that the gas cylinder is properly secured and not corroded.

Guidelines for inflatable lifejackets [PDF: 281kB, 5 pages]


Maintaining different lifejackets

Safer Boating NZ
Maintaining inflatable lifejackets; So they work if you need it too!
HutchWilco ©2018
Hutchwilco inflatable lifejacket servicing

Related information:

Check your gear and prepare

Know what gear you need onboard and how to keep it in good working order.

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Final checks before you head out

Learn about the tasks you need to do just before you hit the water.

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