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 Catalina/Capri 25/250 Sailor's Forums
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 Inflatable PFD inspection and service
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JB
1st Mate

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43 Posts

Initially Posted - 04/14/2018 :  14:40:55  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I was testing our inflatable PFDs in anticipation of the sailing season and found that the manual inflation valve is leaking. It holds air with the cap but it's got a check valve that's defective. This is the first time I've tested it without the cap so it might have been this way all along. It's a West Marine Offshore model with the D rings for tethering so I don't want to pitch it. West Marine does not offer a repair service, I was hoping someone out there would have some options. Either a place that would repair the valve or offer replacement valves for self repair. Coleman Stearns is the actual manufacturer.

Voyager
Master Marine Consultant

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3923 Posts

Response Posted - 04/15/2018 :  07:50:23  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I've come to largely distrust inflatable PFDs since I've had occasion to use two of them, a Mustang provided by the USCG for USPowerSquadron instructors, and a near shore $100 West Marine. Neither one "went off" when I went for a swim. Both times I was working on the dock on the boat wearing my PFD, I lost balance or grip and ker-plunk. In neither case did my PFD automatically inflate even though in pre-season checks all the parts were in the correct location and should have operated.
I did use the blow tube in both cases and thankfully the check valve was working.
IMHO, if you don't buy a new one every 1-2 years, or completely replace the inflater mechanism every year, you're not protected from the rare, but potentially fatal, case of being unconscious when you hit the water.
A defect like the inflation tube check valve leaking further validates my case - these devices are way too complicated to be foolproof.
I've got a really comfortable conventional Cabelas Angler PFD with pockets that I've resorted to once again. It doesn't support the head but it always works!

Bruce Ross
Passage ~ SR-FK ~ C25 #5032

Port Captain Stratford & Milford, CT
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OLarryR
Master Marine Consultant

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3126 Posts

Response Posted - 04/16/2018 :  04:00:36  Show Profile  Visit OLarryR's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Bruce, It is unsettling to hear the issues you have had with the auto-inflatable PFDs. I have two of these PFDs - One an old West Marine PFD that has the pill that dissolves in water and then I have a Mustang PFD with the hydrostatic valve that goes off in approximately 4" or more water pressure.

The West Marine one, I replaced the pill mechanism after a few years - Those pills are supposed to be replaced every 1-3 years depending on directions. Before I replaced the pill, I filled up my bathtub with water and tested it with the old pill and it did work satisfactorily. The Mustang with the hydrostatic valve, I am pretty sure I tested that as well since I replaced the hydrostatic valve mechanism a couple of years ago. The PFDs with the hydrostatic valves have the expiration date stamped on them and if you buy it brand new, it should have at least 4 years until expiration unless the store is elling old stock.

In any case, I thought the inflatable PFDs were pretty reliable but of course your posting throws some doubt on that. The thing is that the inflatables PFDs are no big deal to wear and it becomes habit forming, whereas, the non-inflatable PFDs, I never wore them.

I do recall that many years ago, there was a report of a defective inflatable PFD valve mechanism but I forget the mfr. Years ago, even the West Marine inflatable PFDs had various mfrs for the valve mechanisms based on PFD style or price range. I believe there are less mfrs for those valves at present....Not sure if that is a good thing or not.

I guess we need to hear from many others if we are to form any opinions regarding reliability, though, I must admit if I had a bad experience then probably my own experience would be enough to form an opinion.

Larry
'89 Robin's Nest#5820, Potomac River/Wash DC http://catalina25.homestead.com/olarryr.html
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dasreboot
Admiral

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675 Posts

Response Posted - 04/16/2018 :  07:19:04  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Ive had the pills go off when they just touched water. Had my hydrostatic go off accidentally when the cord caught on something while trying to clear crabpots off the rudder. ive had two accidental inflations in 20 years, and both times worked.

Ive removed all the pills, and those pfds are now manual. I leaktest them every season , by manually inflating and leaving them (away from the cat!) overnight.

Todd Lewis
Eowyn 87 TR/WK C25 #5656
ARWEN 84 TR/SK C25 #4031
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Dave5041
Former Mainsheet Editor

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3693 Posts

Response Posted - 04/16/2018 :  19:08:18  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I jump into the water when service time approaches and have yet to have a failure. I usually yank one or two manuals each year for good measure. Nothing is foolproof, these things have had a lot of repetitions in testing, approval, real use and I'm ok with them. I'll take my chances with one I wear rather than one I can reach. Whatever you're comfortable with and wear. Nobody can fault KISS.


Dave B. aboard Pearl
1982 TR/SK/Trad. #3399
Lake Erie/Florida Panhandle
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OLarryR
Master Marine Consultant

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3126 Posts

Response Posted - 04/17/2018 :  03:31:26  Show Profile  Visit OLarryR's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Dave, agree with you except the KISS part. I mean that wearing a PFD versus only accessible - then you are right - Keep it simple by wearing one and the inflatables are more commonly worn. But as far as construction goes, the inflatable PFDs are more complex. They only work reliably if the pill or hydrostatic valve operates as designed, the CO2 cartridge was assemble/installed correctly and releases with a full charge when triggered and that the inflatable has no leaks. The regular old style non-inflatable PFDs are of the simplest construction - Just a piece of foam material that floats. But as you indicated and I and most others would heartily agree - wearing a PFD is far more desirable and effective than reaching for one ! Inflatables are more frequently worn and the non-inflatables much more frequently just onboard, accessible and may be within reach.


Anyway, both of our experiences support the reliability of these style PFDs (inflatables). Hopefully, the majority find that is the case as well. I would expect that most would find them reliable otherwise, one would think the Coast Guard would not approve them for use equal to the other non-inflatable PFDs.

Larry
'89 Robin's Nest#5820, Potomac River/Wash DC http://catalina25.homestead.com/olarryr.html

Edited by - OLarryR on 04/17/2018 03:45:14
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Voyager
Master Marine Consultant

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3923 Posts

Response Posted - 04/17/2018 :  05:18:48  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I could have just had bad luck with them but I still always wear them on the dock while working around the boat and while sailing. Maybe it ainít perfect but itís something. You can always blow them up manually.
I took the WM unit back to the store and complained about the malfunction so the manager provided a rearming kit at no charge.
I have two more that I purchased new about two years ago, but never armed them. Iíll try those this season.

Bruce Ross
Passage ~ SR-FK ~ C25 #5032

Port Captain Stratford & Milford, CT
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Voyager
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3923 Posts

Response Posted - 04/17/2018 :  05:23:51  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hereís the Angler PFD that I have. Itís pretty lightweight and thereís nothing much at the shoulders to get in your way.
https://www.cabelas.com/product/COMFORT-MESH-PFD/2387806.uts

Bruce Ross
Passage ~ SR-FK ~ C25 #5032

Port Captain Stratford & Milford, CT
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Stinkpotter
Master Marine Consultant

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Djibouti
7755 Posts

Response Posted - 04/17/2018 :  06:36:57  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Voyager

Hereís the Angler PFD that I have...
I hope yours isn't one of those camo colors. And WM and others should be ashamed for selling "value packs" of medium-dark blue life jackets. If I'm wearing one for the possibility of ending up in the water or putting it on just before going in, I might want to wear something that enhances the probability of being found there. Fortunately, the inflatables generally have yellow bladders that pop out of their more stylish covers.

Dave Bristle
Association "Port Captain" for Mystic, CT
PO of 1985 C-25 SR/FK #5032 Passage
Now on Eastern 27 Sarge (but still sailing when I can).

Passage, Mystic, and Sarge--click to enlarge.

Edited by - Stinkpotter on 04/17/2018 06:38:16
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Steve Milby
Past Commodore

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5073 Posts

Response Posted - 04/17/2018 :  07:27:19  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Anything that relies on a mechanism to work is inherently less reliable than something with no moving parts, but there's value in comfort, because many people are reluctant to use something all day that is hot, sweaty and rubs their skin raw. I can put on my inflatable when it's hot or rainy and hardly know I'm wearing it, and it doesn't restrict my movement or snag on things nearby. If it's comfortable and easy to use, you're more likely to wear it and to have it on when you need it. It's a compromise that you can make, or not.

If it fails to deploy automatically, you can either pull the rip cord or inflate it with your lungs. Inflatables aren't perfect, but they're a choice.

Mustang voluntarily recalled two models of inflatable pfds in 2015. They were manufactured in Canada between September 2014 and September 2015, and some were sold in the US. No other Mustang models were recalled. If anyone still has one that was recalled, they can probably exchange it for a new one. I'm fairly certain I bought mine before 2014, but I'm going to check it to be sure.

Steve Milby C&C 35 Landfall ("Captiva Wind"); Cal 25 ("FahrvergnŁgen")
Past Commodore
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OLarryR
Master Marine Consultant

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3126 Posts

Response Posted - 04/17/2018 :  11:49:59  Show Profile  Visit OLarryR's Homepage  Reply with Quote
I'll have to check on the Mustang recall and see what model number I have. I forget exactly when I bought it. Thanks for info !

Larry
'89 Robin's Nest#5820, Potomac River/Wash DC http://catalina25.homestead.com/olarryr.html
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Voyager
Master Marine Consultant

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3923 Posts

Response Posted - 04/17/2018 :  13:09:24  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
My Cabelas PFD is older and is purple, cranberry and lime so no problem seeing me in the water. I liked the mauve with bright school bus yellow.

Bruce Ross
Passage ~ SR-FK ~ C25 #5032

Port Captain Stratford & Milford, CT
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Dave5041
Former Mainsheet Editor

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3693 Posts

Response Posted - 04/19/2018 :  17:26:18  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
My KISS comment was regarding the simplest design, no reference to wear or reach. A well cared for, foam filled pfd is certainly the most reliable, but you do need to wear it for it to be effective. The risk of my having it within reach is much greater that the risk of the inflatable I'm wearing fail. If you always wear a standard pfd, then you can say it is more reliable. I always wear an inflatable when I cast off lines. I confess that I usually put on a foam vest if conditions deteriorate primarily because a wrap around foam conserves a little body heat.


Dave B. aboard Pearl
1982 TR/SK/Trad. #3399
Lake Erie/Florida Panhandle
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GaryB
Master Marine Consultant

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3929 Posts

Response Posted - 04/19/2018 :  20:04:28  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Glad we're discussing these. I've got a Mustang MD3084 auto-inflating PFD. Mfg. date is 2008. Didn't think I'd had it that long.

I've never replaced the inflator but it still shows green. Turns out it's supposed to be replaced every 3 years. Guess what I'll be ordering tomorrow!
Luckily I haven't been out on the boat in 2 years except to take it around the corner to get a bottom job last month.

I have two separate flashing strobes that are attached to my vest. I bought both around the same time as the vest.

One is an ACR Rapidfire that automatically activates when it hits the water. Checked it and it still works perfectly.
https://www.acrartex.com/products/catalog/legacy-products/rapidfire-strobe-light/#sthash.YsRAwfSj.dpbs

The 2nd is an ACR C-Lite with c-clip. Would not operate when tested. Opened it up and pulled the battery out. It had some kind of slimy liquid all over the battery. Took me washing my hands 10 times to get this stuff off. I'm assuming the battery leaked lithium out of it. Hopefully it won't kill me.
https://www.acrartex.com/products/catalog/legacy-products/c-light-with-c-clip/#sthash.MZMkANy9.dpbs


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GaryB
Andiamo
'89 SR/WK #5862
Kemah,TX

Edited by - GaryB on 04/19/2018 20:05:04
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OLarryR
Master Marine Consultant

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3126 Posts

Response Posted - 04/20/2018 :  03:46:30  Show Profile  Visit OLarryR's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Yeah, I thought about those strobes - Attach it to the PFD. But all I did was think about it - Didn't take any action. I will rethink buying one or two of them. The thing is that on the Potomac River, I have heard of people going overboard and then they can't find them. The Potomac River is not always that clear. It has a muddy bottom and oftentimes after a rain storm, the water can take on a brown, muddy appearance which may last from a day to possibly 3 days. A strobe could only be of benefit.

In regards to the auto-inflatables, my plan was to re-arm my original WM auto-inflate that utilizes a pill...which I did. Then I wanted to buy a new one (Mustang) that had a hydrostatic valve and it's expiration was a lot longer/extended with the valve style...and so I did that as well. Then my thought was that my spouse could then utilize the WM PFD, since she never wears a PFD when onboard and the inflatables are not bulky, you get used to wearing them. But this plan fell through ! My spouse still does not want to wear a PFD. Anyway, I like the Mustang, it is a bit more comfortable than my older WM PFD. The WM PFD, unfortunately, is just wasting away in the cabin. I think I had one or two guests that did use it...so that was sort of useful.

Larry
'89 Robin's Nest#5820, Potomac River/Wash DC http://catalina25.homestead.com/olarryr.html
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GaryB
Master Marine Consultant

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Response Posted - 04/20/2018 :  09:06:45  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I've thought all along mine had the hydrostatic valve but in researching it last night it uses a bobbin which is water activated.


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GaryB
Andiamo
'89 SR/WK #5862
Kemah,TX
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JohnP
Master Marine Consultant

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1460 Posts

Response Posted - 04/20/2018 :  12:28:45  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I will be testing my old and my older inflatable PFDs this weekend. I would not be surprised if they both fail. I'll let you know!

JohnP
1978 C25 SR/FK "Gypsy"
Mill Creek off the Magothy River, Chesapeake Bay
Port Captain, northern Chesapeake Bay
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islander
Master Marine Consultant

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3165 Posts

Response Posted - 04/20/2018 :  14:37:31  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
quote:
I would not be surprised if they both fail. I'll let you know!

Or maybe not?

Scott-"IMPULSE"87'C25/SR/WK/Din.#5688
Sailing out of Glen Cove,L.I Sound


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Voyager
Master Marine Consultant

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3923 Posts

Response Posted - 04/20/2018 :  18:01:22  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
For those up north starting a new season itís good to renew maintenance items like PFD inflatables, flares, fire extinguishers and fuels. For those living in eternal summer (FL,CA or tropical locations) you have to be more disciplined with periodic maintenance.
For something as critical as a PFD that can save your life, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to check your gear to make sure youíll be there for the spouse, the kids and grandkids. And think of your grief if your equipment failed for your family and guests!

Bruce Ross
Passage ~ SR-FK ~ C25 #5032

Port Captain Stratford & Milford, CT
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bigelowp
Master Marine Consultant

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USA
1263 Posts

Response Posted - 04/21/2018 :  19:18:15  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I have an inflatable West PFD, but rarely use it. My preferences is a traditional, non inflatable PFD for two reasons. First, they weigh less, and second they do not require "inflation". I only use the inflatable one if all others are used by passengers/crew. Even a traditional PFD for kayak or day-sailing use is, in my opinion, better than one that requires inflation dunked in water. Others may diary, but I have experienced what Bruce has described when testing the newer, inflatable variations.

Peter Bigelow
C-25 TR/FK #2092 Limerick
Rowayton, Ct
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