How Do You Test Your PFD?

How to test your PFD

Test your own wearable PFD in a pool or shallow water close to shore to see how it works. If it fits properly and is correctly fastened, it should stay in place and not ride up or slip over your chin. To work best, PFDs must be worn with all straps, zippers, and ties properly fastened and any loose ends tucked away. To check the buoyancy, relax your body and let your head tilt back. Make sure your PFD keeps your chin above water and that you can breath easily. If your mouth is not well above the water, select a different PFD with more buoyancy. If possible, the best test of all is to jump into a pool, feet first, from a platform the same height as your boat. (Be sure you are in deep enough water.) Your PFD should not ride up and try to pop off over your head. Throwable PFDs (life rings, boat cushions) should be tested by heaving them. Test how accurately you can aim at a specific spot, keeping in mind the adjustments you need to make for changing wind conditions.

BE AWARE: Your PFD may not act the same in swift water or heavy seas as it does in calm water.

If the life jacket rides up, try securing it tighter to your body. If it still rides up, you may need a different style. You should be comfortable and able to swim without significant restriction. You should have someone else to act as a lifeguard or assistant if you are uncomfortable with being in the water or are trying this activity for the first time.

Inflatable PFDs: If you do not wish to test the CO2 inflation system, remove the CO2 cylinder (and if the PFD has an automatic feature, remove the water-sensing element). Put your life jacket on and fully inflate it. Then test it like an inherently buoyant PFD.

Because of the design, ride-up is generally not an issue with inflatable PFDs. The amount of buoyancy provided with inflatable PFDs will probably require the user to swim using some form of side or backstroke, as it will be difficult to swim on your stomach when the PFD is properly secured.

  Maintenance and Storage Tips

If you want your PFD to take good care of you — take good care of your PFD. Follow these tips and your PFD will last for many years.


  • alter your PFD to make it fit. Buy another that does fit.
  • put heavy objects on it or use it for a knee pad or fender, it can lose buoyancy when crushed.
  •  leave your PFD on board for long periods when the boat is not in use, the heat can degrade its flotation.
  •  dry your PFD in a dryer, on a radiator, heater, or any other direct heat source. This can degrade and damage the buoyancy material.
  •  let your PFD lie out in the sun when the boat is not in use. Sunlight weakens some synthetic fabrics very rapidly.
  •  leave your PFD onboard for long periods of time when the boat is not in use, the heat can degrade its flotation.
  •  dry your PFD in a dryer, on a radiator, heater or any other direct heat source. This can degrade and damage the buoyancy material.


  • let your PFD drip dry thoroughly before putting it away.
  • If your PFD has been in salt water, rinse it thoroughly with fresh water.
  • stow your PFD in a well-ventilated place.
  •  check your PFD for rips, tears, and holes and make sure seams, straps and hardware are okay.
  •  make sure there is no sign of water-logging, mildew odor, or shrinkage of the buoyant materials.
  •  check and replace spent cartridges in inflatable PFDs.
  •  put your name on your PFD if you are the only wearer. It will keep you from mistakenly putting on one that is not sized for you.
  •  test all your PFDs at the start of every boating season.
  •  discard old PFDs by cutting them up and properly disposing of them. You don’t want someone finding one you discarded and using it.
  •  give your PFDs all the above checks, plus check their buoyancy in the water, at least twice a year.