Do Life Jackets Expire? How Often To Replace One?

May 2, 2023
by Christine Devereaux

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If you’re known for hitting the waters in your free time, then we are sure that you already understand the importance of your life jacket.

It’s literally right there in the name, this jacket can be the difference between life and death. While the sea can be home to all kinds of fun, it is still an incredibly dangerous body of water that must be respected at all times.

And that’s why it’s so imperative to ensure the upkeep of your life jacket at all times. So, with this in mind, you may be wondering do life jackets expire? And the answer is yes.

Just like any kind of material or clothing item, as time goes by, the structural integrity and overall quality of the item will continue to deteriorate and decline.

The Two Types Of Life Jackets

Okay, so before we delve into the life expectancy of life jackets, we think it’s worth mentioning that there are two different kinds of life jackets; inflatable and foam-filled.


Often worn for a range of watersports, inflatable life jackets are generally more compact and comfortable. They feature a carbon dioxide cartridge that fills the life jacket with air.

This can be done manually or automatically, depending on the jacket you’ve purchased.


The more ‘standard’ association of a life jacket. These are made using a closed-cell foam that contains air and allows for buoyancy. These are more suitable for children and require less effort than inflatables.

Do Life Jackets Have An Expiration Date?

Yes and no. Now I realize that probably doesn’t sound all that helpful, but let us explain why it’s both. You see, a life jacket doesn’t have an ‘official’ expiration date.

As in, you won’t find a specific date that the jacket needs replacing by, nor is there a general rule of thumb for how long you should keep your jacket before it needs to be replaced.

Though some experts do say that they should never exceed 10 years of life.

With that being said, though, your life jacket will expire. There will come a time when after an extended time or an excessive amount of use the material starts to deteriorate and thus the life jacket will no longer be able to do its job correctly.

While there might not be an official expiration date, there will still come a point after general wear and tear when it needs replacing.

So How To Know When It’s Time To Replace It?

Since life jackets don’t have an official expiration date, it can be a slight worry off your shoulders since you haven’t got to keep a keen eye out for specific dates.

As long as you follow the tips, tricks, and recommendations in accordance with your jacket, they can actually live a pretty long life.

You’ll know it’s time to replace your life jacket when it starts to show obvious signs of wear and tear.

One good trick for keeping an eye on the general time frame of your inflatable life jacket is to check the CO2 cartridge and tank replacement date.

When these start to show signs of damage or corrosion, it’s usually a good indication that the whole jacket needs replacing.

Wear & Tear

So, as I mentioned above, keeping an eye on wear and tear will be pretty important in terms of your life jacket as this is the best way to know it’s time to replace the life-saving piece of equipment.

We would always advise that you inspect your life jacket prior to use.

But What Exactly Are You Looking For?

Well, as you continue to use your life jacket its usefulness will begin to decrease. There are a few warning signs that you’ll want to keep an eye out for and these include:

  • Loss of buoyancy
  • Rips, tears, or abrasions on the material
  • Damage or deterioration to the buckles or straps
  • Faded materials or UV damage
  • Expired air cartridge
  • Exposure to extreme temperatures (eg. through storage)
  • Loose fabric around the foam.

Tests & Checks For Your Life Jacket

Man fixing a orange life jacket

Sometimes, you’ll need to test out your life jacket to check for some of these signs. For example, you won’t be able to tell if your life jacket is still buoyant just from inspection.

And you definitely don’t want to wait till you're stuck in water rapids to find out it’s not. So, testing your life jacket in a swimming pool or a safe and calm body of water is essential.

Test The Buoyancy

Try on your life jacket in a calm water environment and try to float.

This one is pretty simple, if you float with ease and your head and chin can be kept out of the water then your life jacket is good to go. If you’re struggling to float, then it’s time to replace it.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your jacket shouldn’t be moving when you are wearing it. It also should never rise above your shoulders. If it does either of these things, then you’ll also need to replace your life jacket.

Check The C02 Tank

Checking your C02 tank for those with inflatable life jackets should be second nature by now.

Not only do you need to check that the gas cylinder hasn’t expired, and thus will not work effectively, but you also need to double-check that it’s not empty. Otherwise, it won’t inflate.

The cartridge tends to need replacing once you’ve inflated the life jacket, and you’ll also want to check that the mechanism that allows it to inflate is still in working order.

If either the cartridge or the cylinder shows signs of damage or deterioration such as rust, these should also be replaced as soon as possible.

Check The Straps

The straps of your life jacket arguably see the most wear and tear and so it is vital that you always check them before each and every use.

First of all, you can inspect them visually for any obvious signs of damage such as weakness, fraying, or rips and tears.

But even if everything looks good to go, we always recommend trying the jacket on and then pulling on the straps sharply to make sure that they can handle the additional pressure.

Final Thoughts

It’s so very important to always do the necessary checks to ensure that your life jacket is in good working condition. After all, it could be the one thing that saves your life.

And though life jackets do not seem to have an official expiration date, like pretty much any other material, they will deteriorate with time and therefore need replacing.

Luckily, as you can see from this article, the necessary checks and inspections for signs of wear and tear really aren’t all that difficult to spot.

Just ensure that you keep an eye out for any visible signs of damage, and always test for buoyancy. Depending on the life jacket you have you can also check the air cylinder too.

But the good news is that with the right maintenance and proper care, life jackets can live a surprisingly long time.

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About the Author
Christine Devereaux is a style and gear junkie. She loves the outdoors and picking out clothing and home goods for her husband, son and dog.
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