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Old 07-03-2002
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Inflatable Lifevest Maintenance

How often should the CO2 cartridge on an inflatable be changed? Can a cartridge be weighed to determine if itís still effective?

Mark Matthews responds:
Inflatable life vests bring convenience, but like many other sailing products that make life easierófrom watermakers to refrigerationóconvenience is another word for maintenance. Although easy to wear, and therefore more likely to be worn, these type of PFDs also need to be checked for leaks, and sharp objects can also puncture them, and you'll also have to insure that the CO2 cartridge is up to code. A CO2 cartridge on an inflatable life vest has to be changed every time it is activated, ditto if the cartridge is leaking or corroded. The bobbins on the automatic unit should be replaced at least once a year, more often if the unit is exposed to high temperatures or humidity.

Unlike some things that linger in the bottom of my vessel's icebox, a CO2 cartridge does not have a prescribed shelf life and will last indefinitely unless it is corroded or leaking. To determine if your cartridges are still good, weigh them on a kitchen scale, calibrated in grams. When the cartridge is weighed it should be no more or less than one gram off from the amount stated on the cartridge. If you do need to recharge the cartridge, rearming kits can be purchased from the manufacturer.

Now, if you're planning on meeting up with a boats far afield, you should know that most airlines won't allow you to take CO2 cartridges on the plane. Itís best to check beforehand so there are no surprises at the gate. You might also consider shipping the unit to your destination. For more information on the subject, log on to

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