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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I purchased a Stearns automatic / manual inflatable approx 2 years ago, at Hamilton Marine, Searsport, Me. I have worn it often while sailing, often in windy / rough conditions.
It has never been inflated, or dropped in water.
This spring I noticed that the pill indicator was red, although the manual pull, and co2 bottle indicators were green. As it had never been inflated, I assumed that it would still inflate with the manual pull.

Finally, I decide to test the manual pull, and when, to my surprise, it did NOT inflate, I checked the CO2 bottle. It had a small puncture hole in it!


Maybe I am missing something, but....

How could the CO2 bottle have a puncture hole in it, without inflating the lifevest????

As I paid approx $200 for this vest, I am extremely disappointed that it did not inflate!

I guess that humidity caused the pill to eat away, and finally disappear. But why did this not cause it to inflate?

Submitted this question to Stearns! Still awaiting a response!!
 

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it could have been a bad co2, or check the seal where the co2 mates to. if it was loose the auto could have fired but did not get a full sized puncture and then it leaked out around the threads on the co2 instead of inflating.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Yes, I suppose it could have leaked out some, after misfiring from the pill "melting" over time, from the humidity.

There was a pin-size hole in the end of the Co2. I guess I assumed that, since it had never inflated, that it must not have went-off / fired.
I guess I was wrong.
 

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CO2 Cartridge.

North,
I hate to sound cynical as I have the same vest, but I wonder if the vest was demo'd at the retail establishment, or may be it was a return, and some low life packed it used?
Thank you for the thread. I am going to check my CO2 cylinder.
Dick
 

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Our local laws require that inflatable PFDs (Life jackets) must serviced (ie cylinder replaced) every year.

I would recommend you check your local regs, you may be required to do the same. The reason for this requirement is to try and prevent your situation, I jacket not inflating when you need it to.

Personally I opted for the old fashion kind, but that's a personal choice.

Dave.
 

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I keep a spare C02 cartridge in a pocket on every one of my inflatable PFD's. Dont know how effective it would be to change out the cartrdige while treading water...but better than nothing, and for $20 per, cheap insurance.
 

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Grasshopper
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Yep, the directions say test the unit every year...but I haven't tested in two years. I do take out the CO2 bottle and look it over, but nothing more than that...I should really test the bottle. When I do test it I'm going to take the pill out, because so far I haven't been able to find replacement pills.

Where do you guys get those replacement pills?
 

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I newer trust a new inflatable PFD - even if ot comes in a sealed package.

The check is easy to perform and I do it before I start to use an new one and then every year.

Procedure:
Open the PFD
unscrew the CO2 bottle, the gross weigth is stamped on the bottle - I use a digital kitchen weight to controll.
Check the "pill" that it has not been triggered, normaly they should have a replace by date stamped on it.
Manualy inflate - leave inflated over night, should not loose air.
Check the it for wear and tear

Assemble and pack (follow packing instructions)

Yes, I suppose it could have leaked out some, after misfiring from the pill "melting" over time, from the humidity.
It has been found that the CO2 bottles can become partly unscrewed during use, in that case the PFD will not inflate..
 

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I'm pretty sure it would be easier to blow it up using the mouth piece than replacing the canister while in the drink.
Spare cartridges and bobbins (tablets) are a great thing to have, but they should be kept in a dry and cool place if possible.
I keep a spare C02 cartridge in a pocket on every one of my inflatable PFD's. Dont know how effective it would be to change out the cartrdige while treading water...but better than nothing, and for $20 per, cheap insurance.
 

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At the Great Lakes Single-handed Society's spring kick-off meeting this year, a manufacturer's rep went to demo a new self-inflating jacket and it failed to inflate--it had never been enabled when packed at the factory.

Thus, figure that if you have a self-inflating vest and have never had the packing checked and confirmed functional, you may be in for a big surprise at a very bad time, and I don't mean being embarrassed before a friendly audience.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Ouch! Doesn't get much worse than demo-ing a product and having it not work. And a Lifevest at that!!


Well, I can't get the proper rearm kit in Canada, as I called Stearns (looking for a dealer) and they said my auto (pill) inflate model (purchased in the US) is not Canadian Caost Guard certified, so thye can't sell them here.

No big deal, as it's just a 33 gram Co2 , a pill, and the little plastic pin.
I will likely just buy another brand oif rearm kit - as long as the pill fits in the space, and it's a 33 gram bottle (they probably all usre the same cartridge / threads) it should be OK. I know it's a live saving device, but it isn't rocket science... it the CO2 bottle is the same, and fits...

No pet peeve on marine pricing. You can buy 12 grma Co2 bottles for a buck each, but the slightly more sophiticated, threaded, 33 gram ones we need are $20. Hate those markups. Are 33 gram bottles used / sold for other purposes??
 

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Ouch! Doesn't get much worse than demo-ing a product and having it not work. And a Lifevest at that!!

Are 33 gram bottles used / sold for other purposes??
If they are, Google couldn't find it. It seems that 99% of disposable CO2 cartridges are 12 grams, and any other size, regardless of purpose (25 gr for refilling bike tires, etc.) are all more than $10 US.

That demo in some respects confirmed my worst fears, and since it's as likely you want some extra insulation as not here on the Great Lakes (especially this year), that failed demo actually un-sold a self-inflating vest--at least for a while.

I've always been a foam PFD fan, simply because I *know* it's going to work. The KISS Principle in action.

It may be a little bit more ungainly than a self-inflating PFD+harness, but I've worn too many harnesses that chafed my neck and had me wondering if it would work when I needed it. Besides, I like having that foam back then when I'm leaning against the stern rail.
 

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Actually, if the pill indicator was red, this is an indication that the system has failed. When that happens, you need to replace the pill and inspect the C02 tube to make sure that it didn't get punctured (which it did here). It is known that the pills sometimes crumble from moisture exposure or just age. I don't think you have a problem with the manufacturer. When the pill crumbled, it was not as sudden as if you fell into the water, but was fast enough that the spring did infact make a small hole in the CO2 tube....this should have inflated the life jacket, which over time may leak down (that's why they have the manual tube). However, a really small puncture of the CO2 tube could have resulted in such a slow discharge that the CO2 went out the threaded end of the tube instead of inflating the life jacket. We had one that failed similarly...when we came to the boat after some months of storage, the jacket was flat, not inflated, but laid out showing it had in fact inflated, then leaked down over time. I would go to expense of putting in a new cylinder and testing it to make sure it really does inflate when the pill comes apart in immersion, just to make sure everything is ok.

As to getting replacement pill, pin, cyclinder, there are a number of different ones on the market and not all are interchangeable. West Marine (and probably others) sells a number of different ones depending on manufacturer of the arming mechanism, not the vest manufacturer. Look inside the life jacket and see the brand and model number of the arming mechanism...buy the one that fits your mechanism, even if it costs a bit more (is this really where you want to make a substitution to save a few bucks?) Order by mail if you are remote from the store that carries the proper unit.
 

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"Maybe I am missing something, but....How could the CO2 bottle have a puncture hole in it, without inflating the lifevest???? "

VERY SIMPLE. The pills slowly crumble from humidity. They don't just go BANG! and explode away, they crumble. So at some point (pardon the pun) your pill crumbled enough to let the needle wiggle against the CO2 cartridge, and then it slowly chewed a pinole in the cartridge, releasing the gas so slowly that the vest never inflated.

These vests should ALWAYS be stored with the CO2 cart removed, to prevent accidental discharge.

That's one reason why I picked a Crewfit 20+ years ago, they use a coil wrapped in paper mache instead of a "pill", and it took 20 years before I (ahem) forgot to remove the cart during winter storage, and found it had finally failed and discharged. Crewfit aren't really interested in the US market anymore, and Mustang no longer uses their mechanisms either, so that's not a popular option.

Co2 carts of "lifevest size" also inevitably have threaded necks--and there's no other source I've found for them. All you can do is shop around online, try to find the least painful deal, and make sure to order a spare at the same time. (Since you'll need it immediately if you DO go overboard and are fished out again.)

I'm surprised Stearns hasn't answered in three weeks, even in today's skeleton crew times, that's excessive. Don't they also have a toll-free? And, is there more than one Stearns company, you're sure you have the right one, and their reply isn't being spam filtered from your end? (Don't ask me why I mention that.<G>)
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Thanks for the input, and explanations on the pill crumbling and slowly discharging.

As mentioned, I would buy the proper rearm kit, but am an 8 hour drive from the closest store (in Maine). I could mail order, but will be into a few weeks for delivery and duty clearing, etc.

I will see if other brands will fit, and not buy them if they don't. If the bottle screws in enough so the thing turns green, and the pill fits in the holder (and keeps it from firing) I should be fine. Otherwise, I will finish the season with my rigid lifejacket.
 

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8 hours from Maine and "duty" in between...You might be a Canadian then?

It is a problem, the gas cart makes the package "hazmat" which usually means ground services but not postal mail...If you can have it shipped via USPS Priority Mail--that's often surprisingly fast and competitively priced, and the US and Canadian postal systems are set up so there is no "duty" or "brokerage" delay. Especially if the parts are marked as "spares for vessel in transit". IIRC that's the specific magic phrase.

But surely there's a Canadian source??

Meanwhile...you know of course that you CAN screw the used cart back in, all the way, and the PFD will still work with manual inflation. Just have to make sure not to smack your head on the way into the water.<G>
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Yep, Canadian - Nova Scotia.

Yes, I am aware that it can be blown up with the tube.

I have been told that USPS is the better way to ship, avoiding the high broikerage rates, but thought the CO2 maight be a problem, as well. I normally do a few trips a year to Maine / New Hampshire, etc, so I will likely just pick up a couple then.

Stearns (really Colman / Stearns) told me( called the 800 #) that they have over 1000 emails in their inbox, and that's why I haven't heard anything from them. No excuse really - put some people on overtime, and get them answered!!
Anyway, they said only some rearm kits, not the one I need, are authorized in Canada, so I can but one in the US, or buy the worng one (ie maula inflations type / no pill, here in Canada) They said it was because the auto ones were approved here. Find that hard to believe though, as other brands sell auto vests / rearm kits here.

No worrying aboit it right now. heading to the boat ASAP, for a couple days of sailing!
 

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"Find that hard to believe though, as other brands sell auto vests / rearm kits here." You know how governments work, it doesn't matter how something performs--unless you have it certified. I used to use a modified BC as a PFD, noting that when The Nooze showed the President of the US being flown on a helicopter--he and his crew were all wearing similar UNCERTIFIED inflateable PFDs. Sometimes, the market is too small or too lean to justify sending things up for testing, and compliance afterwards, etc.
So yes, I can easily believe that one.

Once you get back, try asking the USPS folks (who sometimes are very confused, so keep asking) if those carts can be shipped "ORDM" which is still classed as hazmat, but ships without a surcharge by ground. Heck, even the TSA specifically allows them on aircraft, as 'essential lifesaving equipment' and small capacity.
 

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Getting replacement CO2 bottles is not all the tough to get, but I haven't been able to find pills. I think it would be nice to have a bottle of pills handy.
 
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