Cleaning Life-Jackets seems to be overlooked on many boats, and is not a job that anyone looks forward to.
Having clean Life-Jackets makes it easier to get the crew to wear them. Cleaning the Life-Jackets from time to time helps keep them in good condition and prevents build up of oils from the skin & sun block.
My boat is a “please have a Life-Jacket on by the time we leave the dock, they are located below and aft on Starboard, you will find assorted sizes and colors all equally un-stylish.” So they see more wear and dirt than other boats that have the Life-Jackets stored forever in a locker below (remember your Life-Jackets must be readily available, make sure you at least take them out of the plastic packaging they came in). The Life-jackets get more wear & tear on my boat than many other boats and the Life-Jackets pickup dirt and skin oil from being worn.
A blue tarp laid down to protect the Life-Jackets from the cement. A bucket of soap and water was prepared, liquid laundry detergent was used, it seems to mix a bit easier than powder detergent, the detergent / water mix was more concentrated than for regular laundry. It took about two gallons of soap solution to do 8 Life-Jackets once. The brush is a soft bristle deck brush.
Each Life-Jacket was scrubbed twice on each side then put in a pile on the blue tarp. The Life-Jackets soaked for about a half hour or a bit longer by the time all the Life-Jackets were scrubbed once.
Another bucket of soap solution was mixed up and the pile of Life-Jackets were flipped over with the help of the blue tarp. That put the first scrubbed Life-Jacket on the top of the pile.
The Life-Jacket that had been soaking the longest was then scrubbed twice on each side again then rinsed off thoroughly to remove all traces of soap. They were then hung on the lifelines to dry off before being put back below on the boat.
Having the Life-Jackets soaking for a bit over a half hour seemed to work better than any method I have tried in the past.
A few tips and things to be aware of.
- Never use harsh cleaners or harsh chemicals, they can damage the fabric or the foam inside the Life-Jackets. If the foam is damaged the Life-Jackets will not have the proper flotation and could fail in an emergency. Damage to the foam will probably be hidden and not detectable with standard inspections.
- Some people like to use Bleach, some people say that a Teaspoon is plenty, I am always very cautious when I use bleach for anything.
- Some people have reported good luck with Wet-n-Forget for killing mold, I have not tried it yet, this scrubby method this time worked well.
- Inspect the Life-Jackets annually to make sure they are in good shape and the fabric, straps and buckles are not worn or broken.
- The CG label must be readable — if its worn, obliterated, faded or whatever the life jacket should be retired.
- Retiring a bad, worn, ripped or otherwise useless life jacket? Cut it up to render it totally unusable.
- I tried the put them in the bathtub and scrub on your hands and knees. That did not work so well, had a sore back from all the bending over and the soak time was not as long as I used this time, so some of the more stubborn soil was more difficult to remove and required spot treatment.
- The big tub in the backyard fiasco, my condo has beauty bark in the back, even with a blue tarp down beauty bark was all over.
- A friend tried a washing machine, had to find a large commercial sized one at a laundromat, (remember to use cool water) – the end results were about the same as just rinsing the Life-Jackets off with water at the boat, stubborn soil did not come off.
- Best to clean the Life-Jackets in the fall so the dirt will not have all winter to site on the fabric of Life-Jackets.
- If your boat is moist during the winter, best to wash the Life-Jackets in the fall and store them in a cool dry place at home until your boating season starts.
- Best time to wash the Life-Jackets is in the morning, the sun will not dry off the soap and water as quickly when it is cool, that also gives the rest of the day for the Life-Jackets to dry off.
A first hand account of what happens when a crew goes in the water and the importance of wearing a Life-Jacket: Life Jackets Work!! But Only If You Wear It
For help picking the right Life Jacket see: Selecting The Correct Life-jacket / PFD
See also: Washing Your Sheets, Halyards and Lines.
Thanks for your interest in and support of Boating Safety
Thanks to Lee Youngblood, long time friend, photographer & Yacht Broker at Shilshole for the Wet-n-Forget tip and Garry Bromwell of the Coast Guard Auxiliary for reminding me to cut the straps off the discarded Life-Jackets.
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