Vintage Life Jackets. Are They Safe?

The boatress and Woody sport'n some vintage life jackets?

The boatress and Woody sport’n some vintage life jackets?

First, i always feel when it comes to safety, the newest latest technology is the best. Period. So on board are fresh fire extinguishers, Fresh new life jackets and flairs. The basics. BUT, I also like my vintage cushions. NOS by the way and some fun life jackets, the type from the 60’s.

Or are they just cool as boat show props?

Or are they just cool as boat show props?

The two pictured are solid and not ratty and from the 60’s-70’s. The question is. Are they safe? Could they be used? If the coast guard pulled me over, would these pass inspection as life jackets?

21 replies
    • matt
      matt says:

      No kapok on these. The issue is, are these gonna float. I may do a test once the water gets warm

  1. Chad
    Chad says:

    Not sure those would even qualify as a type II PFD by today’s standards, but they sure look great! Perhaps if you paired them with a matching ski belt of the same era.

  2. Jim Staib
    Jim Staib says:

    When I get pulled over they look for “USCG Approved” on the device. That’s what passes here. Usually get chastised for keeping them in the front hatch on my U-22. “They have to be accessible!

  3. Alex
    Alex says:

    Lifejackets are the single most important life saving device on your boat, bar none. Just like the seat belt is to a car. So buy new and buy quality and keep the vintage ones on board as back ups and for decoration.

    I recommend you wear self inflating vests (at all times!). They’re light weight, less restrictive, and cooler on hot days. After several outings you forget you’re wearing one. Just as it is with a car seat belt.

    Doubt they come in plaid, burnt orange, avacado green, or paisley, but nothing’s stopping you from sporting an ascot of that design.

  4. Grant Stanfield
    Grant Stanfield says:

    “Remember: It is better to look good than to feel good…and you look…MARVELOUS!”


    • matt
      matt says:

      See, thats all i was looking for. Fernando is right, its why we own these dang boats anyway.

  5. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    When I “GO BOATING” I am often stopped by the local coast guard guys…since I am usually the only one out there and my slip is almost within sight of their station. I let them do their thing as I know they value training. I have never been ticketed

    Life Jackets are prime targets, they always “feel mine up”, the old squeeze test.
    One thing we have to remember, at least here in Va. is that when on a small boat like a whirlwind you have to have the “throwable” within reach….and if you use the cushion type like I do….you CAN NOT be sitting on it when they pull you. I have the inflatable lifevest on board, but am ashambed to say I have never taken it out of the wrapper. I have a buddy that chastises me for this all the time. He is right. HEY MATT: the math is getting tougher…but I have a calculator so you can’t ditch me with the math test! Ha!
    John in Va.

  6. matt
    matt says:

    I also have one of inflatables, I know exactly were it is at all times. On the garage wall. I need to fix that. I swear I am always scouting out what beach or dock I will need to jump to. The one thing that struck me was a radio ad here in DC. Folks fall overboard and get caught in the grass under water. OUCH.. I am an excilent swimmer and for life guard, but I should think about getting my head banged or getting stuck, not a slow sinking

  7. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    The reason you give the vintage vest to the mother-in-law is the lead filled one would be too obvious.

    The issue isn’t just an old design, you are dealing with old materials. Foams break down with age, and some of the closed cells may now be open and absorbent. It may float, but how well and for how long? I’ll stick to something less than a decade old.

  8. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    If you want the vintage look with functionality, why not take the vintage life jacket or floatation device and cut the stitching and replace the foam with new from a CG approved model. Steal the label and resew it to the vintage. Viola – you look marvelous.

    • Syd
      Syd says:

      All Life jackets must be readily accessible (not in plastic bags), USCG approved,(must be able to read the approval number) proper size, and in good serviceable condition. Meaning no rips or tear of any kind and the foam is in good condition. All inflatable life jackets must be worn to be counted. The best life jacket is the one that the person will wear. If you use inflatables, make sure to buy a rearming kit for them and also manually inflate them once in awhile to make sure they did not develop a leak.

      • matt
        matt says:

        OK, Syd sounds like the smartest of all us. Either that or he is the guy thats gonna pull me over sport’n my vintage crap. Thanks Syd. Thats what i call a ruling on the play. I did not know some of this stuff.

  9. Randy Rush Captain Grumpy
    Randy Rush Captain Grumpy says:

    I have a bunch of vintage ones for show but never go! If I see a fray or rip, they become boat bumpers.

  10. Slats
    Slats says:

    Spot on Syd. Two things to add to it, 1) Make sure it’s USCG approved. Believe it or not, but some of the big box retailers sell non-USCG approved PFD’s. The reason you need them to be USCG approved is because they test them vigorously. 2) The definition of readily accessible is vague. I teach a boating safety course and I tell the class that if they can’t get their PFD on within 15 secs, it’s not readily accessible. Take it out from under the seat, strap it to the Bimini or the midship cleat. If you can’t, put it under your feet, your sit upon, or something light so they won’t fly away when you pick up speed. The best way of course is to have it on. We’ve all read, heard about, or even seen boating emergencies. They can happen a helluva lot quicker than a paint or varnish job. Boat safe. Boat smart. Boat woody.

  11. Syd
    Syd says:

    Stopped a boat one day on the St. Lawrence river for an inspection and he got real mad at me when I told him he had to remove his life jackets from the plastic bags they came in or he would get a fine and have to go moor the boat up. His response was “But they will get dirty”. We know where his priorities were. He did remove them but was not happy with me.
    Also make sure that what you are using is speed impact rated for what you are using them on.

  12. Syd
    Syd says:

    If it is rated it will be on the label and it means that if you wipe out or go overboard up to that speed, the life jacket should stay intact on your body and keep you afloat.

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