Surprising as it may seem, February is not a busy boating month in Iowa. But it is a good time to clean and inspect important boating equipment – lifejackets – so its ready to go when the snow and ice finally disappear.

Susan Stocker, boating law administrator and education coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said it’s important to regularly examining lifejackets for wear and tear.

“Lifejackets get tossed around, spend time in the water and sun, and are stuffed under seats and in other available storage. They get dirty and beat up. This is a good time of year to get them out and give them a little TLC,” she said.

She recommended each lifejacket be visually inspected for any rips or tears and ensure all straps and buckles work properly and not frayed. Inflatable lifejackets should be free of any cracks or pin holes in the plastic bladder, the CO2 cartridge sealed and stored in temperatures above freezing.

“All lifejackets should be stored in a cool, dry location to prevent mold or mildew,” Stocker said.

Cleaning

To clean and disinfect inherently buoyant lifejackets, toss them in a front-loading washing machine with liquid detergent and run gentle cycle with cold water. Make sure all flaps and straps are fastened before washing to avoid damage. Hang to dry in a well-ventilated area.

To clean and disinfect inflatable lifejackets – first, ensure the inflator is disarmed. Do not dry clean, use chlorine bleach or apply heat. Do not machine launder inflatables – hand wash or sponge down in soapy water near 140 degrees or as hot as you can stand. Be careful of burns when hand washing, taking care not to submerge the inflator. Rinse in clean water and hang to dry on a plastic coat hanger.

Mild over the counter spray disinfectants may also be used on both types of lifejackets. The material used in lifejackets is consistent with most sports equipment so surface sprays that do not saturate fabrics may be used. Always store fully dried lifejackets in warm, dry well ventilated places out of direct sunlight.

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