When Should You Replace the CO2 Cylinder in an Inflatable PFD?

Inflatable PFDs rely on CO2 cylinders to inflate.

But when should you replace the CO2 cylinder in an inflatable PFD?

Replace the CO2 Cylinder in an Inflatable PFD when it shows signs like corrosion or dents. Shelf life is 3-5 years. Conduct weight and inflation tests regularly. Replace after any inflation event. Failure to do so can result in PFD malfunction and possible legal consequences.

This comprehensive guide will explain everything you need to know about CO2 cylinder replacements.

How Long Do Lifejacket CO2 Cartridges Last?

(This post may have affiliate links. Please see my disclosure)

Digital image of a lifejacket - When Should You Replace the CO2 Cylinder in an Inflatable PFD
I made this image – When Should You Replace the CO2 Cylinder in an Inflatable PFD?

Safety should be your top priority when out on the water.

And nothing guarantees your safety more than a well-functioning personal flotation device (PFD).

But how long do they really last?

Shelf Life of CO2 Cartridges

CO2 cartridges that come with inflatable PFDs usually have a shelf life ranging from 3 to 5 years.

However, this isn’t a uniform rule for all brands or types.

Always read the manufacturer’s information that comes with your PFD for specific guidance on shelf life.

The shelf life will also depend on how the cartridges are stored.

Exposure to extreme temperatures or moisture can considerably shorten their lifespan.

A good practice is to jot down the purchase date on the cartridge itself as a reminder.

Operational Life of CO2 Cartridges

Although the shelf life gives you an estimate, the real question is the cartridge’s operational life.

If you’ve stored the CO2 cartridge in ideal conditions, its longevity could very well stretch to its maximum shelf life.

However, real-world conditions like variations in temperature, exposure to sea air, or even accidental moisture contact can have a substantial impact on the cartridge.

Because of these factors, even an unused cartridge may need to be replaced earlier than its stated shelf life.

Signs You Need To Replace Your CO2 Cartridge

You should be on the lookout for specific signs tha tyou need to replace your CO2 cartridge.

To help you, I’ve compiled some of the most important signs below.

Visual Inspection

A routine visual inspection should be your first step in evaluating the health of your CO2 cartridge.

Look for obvious signs like corrosion, rust, or dents.

Minor surface blemishes might not pose an immediate problem, but more extensive damage can render the cartridge unreliable.

Physical damage to the cylinder can cause it to rupture or malfunction when you need it the most.

Weight Check

Another recommended method is the weight test.

Take a small scale and weigh your CO2 cartridge, then compare this with the manufacturer’s specified weight, which can usually be found on the packaging or the manual.

If you notice even a slight discrepancy, it’s a strong indicator that the cartridge has a leak.

Any leakage will compromise its ability to inflate your PFD fully.

Failed Inflation Test

Periodically, you should manually activate your PFD in a controlled environment to check its functionality.

If the PFD does not fully inflate, or if it inflates but quickly loses air, this is a critical sign that the CO2 cartridge must be replaced.

Sometimes, a cartridge might still have gas but not enough to achieve full inflation.

Which is equally dangerous in an emergency.

Check the Indicator

Modern PFDs often come with a convenient status indicator window.

Typically, a green indicator implies that the cartridge is in good condition, while red means that it requires immediate replacement.

It’s a quick and simple way to judge the status of your CO2 cartridge.

Although it should not replace other checks like weight and visual inspection.

How Often Should the Inflator and Cylinder on an Inflatable PFD Be Checked?

When it comes to checking your CO2 Cylinder (and inflator), there are typically two types of checks.

There are regular checks and seasonal checks.

Let’s talk about it.

Regular Checks

Checking your PFD and its CO2 cylinder before each outing is a habit that can save lives.

If you’re going out on the water frequently, these checks may seem cumbersome but are indispensable for your safety.

It only takes a few minutes to conduct a visual and weight check.

Seasonal Checks

For those who are seasonal boaters or fishermen, doing a thorough check at the beginning and end of your active months is vital.

This is an excellent time to also check other safety gear like fire extinguishers, flares, and emergency rations.

Think of it as a comprehensive safety audit that includes your PFDs and CO2 cartridges.

What Happens If You Don’t Replace Your CO2 Cartridge?

If you’re thinking “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” if you don’t replace your CO2 cartridge, then this section may be for you.

While safety isn’t usually fun or entertaining, it’s crucial.

Here’s why.

Risk of Malfunction

The most severe consequence of not replacing a faulty CO2 cartridge is the risk of a PFD malfunction.

Imagine being in an emergency situation and discovering that your PFD won’t inflate properly.

Such a failure could be disastrous, especially in harsh weather conditions or if you’re far from shore.

Legal Consequences

In many areas, maritime laws require all boaters to have functional PFDs on board.

Authorities may carry out checks, and failing to meet the requirements can result in hefty fines or even legal action.

This is in addition to the safety risks involved, making it doubly important to keep your PFD in good condition.

Necessary disclaimer: As I’m not a lawyer or legal expert, always check with one before taking any action.

How to Extend the Life of an Inflatable PFD CO2 Cartridge

You can extend the life of an inflatable PDF CO2 Cartridge.

The most important methods include:

  • Proper storage
  • Regular maintenance

Proper Storage

Storing your CO2 cartridge and PFD in a cool, dry place is the simplest way to extend their life.

Moisture and high temperatures can accelerate corrosion and degrade the cartridge’s structural integrity.

If you’re keeping them onboard, make sure they’re in a dry compartment with some ventilation.

Regular Maintenance

The environment you expose your PFD to can significantly affect the CO2 cartridge’s lifespan.

Saltwater, for example, can be corrosive.

Always rinse your PFD with fresh water after use and allow it to air dry. Check the CO2 cartridge and its housing for any signs of salt buildup or corrosion and clean them regularly.

How to Replace a CO2 Cartridge

When you need to replace your CO2 cartidge, follow these steps.

Identifying the Correct Replacement

Before you proceed with the replacement, ensure that you have the correct cartridge as specified by the manufacturer.

Using an incompatible cartridge can result in malfunction, putting your safety at risk.

Always double-check the specifications, including weight and size.

Steps for Replacement

The replacement process is usually straightforward, but it’s essential to follow the steps diligently:

  1. Unscrew the used or expired CO2 cartridge from the inflator mechanism.
  2. Examine the inflator mechanism for any visible damage or wear.
  3. Insert the new CO2 cartridge into the inflator.
  4. Secure it tightly to make sure it’s properly seated.
  5. Conduct a manual inflation test to confirm that everything is functioning correctly.

Here is a good video about how to service and replace the CO2 cartridge of a PFD:

YouTube Video by Dangar Marine – When Should You Replace the CO2 Cylinder in an Inflatable PFD?

Can You Reuse a CO2 Cartridge?

No, you should not reuse a CO2 cartridge.

Mostly because of their intended usage and very real safety risks.

One-Time Use

CO2 cartridges are generally engineered for a single use.

Once punctured, they can’t be refilled or reused.

This is why it’s crucial to replace the cartridge after any inflation event, whether accidental or intentional.

Safety Risks

Attempts to refill or reuse a punctured CO2 cartridge can be risky.

The cartridge may not seal correctly, leading to leaks or incomplete inflation during an emergency.

Your safety isn’t worth cutting corners—always use new, compatible cartridges.

Common Myths About CO2 Cartridge Replacement

I couldn’t leave this article before addressing some of the common myths surrounding CO2 Cylinder replacement.

Especially when it comes to inflatable PFDs.

“I Haven’t Used It, So It’s Fine”

A prevalent myth is that an unused CO2 cartridge will last indefinitely.

Even if a cartridge is unused, age and environmental conditions can degrade its performance.

It’s crucial to consider both the age and condition of the cartridge, rather than assuming it will last forever because it’s unused.

“Visual Inspection Is Enough”

Visual inspection is valuable but should not be the sole criterion for judging a cartridge’s health.

Many people think that if the cartridge looks good, it must be okay.

However, internal factors like minor leaks or corrosion can escape visual detection.

Comprehensive checks involving weight tests and manual inflation tests are essential.

“It’s Just a Backup, So It Doesn’t Matter”

Some people treat their inflatable PFDs as backup safety devices, relying mainly on their boat’s inherent safety or their swimming skills.

They believe that the CO2 cartridge’s condition isn’t crucial because they don’t expect to use the PFD.

This mindset is risky.

In an emergency, your inflatable PFD may be your primary or only means of staying afloat, making it vital for the CO2 cartridge to be in excellent condition.

“It Passed the Manual Test, So It’s Good Forever”

Another common myth is that once a CO2 cartridge passes a manual inflation test, it’s good indefinitely.

This is not true.

Passing a manual test is an indicator of current functionality but not a guarantee of future performance.

Wear and tear, as well as environmental factors, continue to affect the CO2 cartridge.

Therefore, regular checks and adherence to the cartridge’s shelf life are crucial.

Inflatable PFD CO2 Cylinder Replacement FAQs

In this section, I’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about replacing CO2 Cylinders in inflatable PFDs.

How Do I Know if My CO2 Cartridge Is Empty?

Determining if your CO2 cartridge is empty involves a multi-step process.

First, a visual inspection can reveal signs of wear or damage such as dents, corrosion, or rust.

These indicators may not confirm that a cartridge is empty, but they do suggest it should be replaced.

Second, weighing the cartridge on a small scale and comparing it to the manufacturer’s specifications can reveal any discrepancies.

An underweight cartridge is likely empty or leaking.

Some modern PFDs also feature a status indicator window, usually showing green for good and red for replacement.

Additionally, you should conduct a manual inflation test in a controlled environment.

If the PFD fails to inflate fully or loses air quickly, this is a definitive sign that your cartridge is empty or faulty.

Are CO2 Cartridges for PFDs Universal?

CO2 cartridges for Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) are not universally interchangeable.

Different PFDs may require cartridges with specific weights, sizes, and threading patterns.

Using an incompatible cartridge can lead to incomplete inflation or even malfunction of the PFD, compromising your safety.

Always refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines for cartridge specifications, and double-check these specifications before purchasing a replacement.

It is essential to use only approved cartridges to ensure that your inflatable PFD functions correctly in emergency situations.

How Do I Dispose of Used or Expired CO2 Cartridges?

Disposal methods for used or expired CO2 cartridges can vary by location and local regulations.

Generally, CO2 cartridges are considered hazardous waste and should not be thrown in regular trash bins.

Some recycling centers accept empty cartridges, and there are specialized disposal services for hazardous materials.

Additionally, some marine or outdoor stores that sell PFDs and CO2 cartridges may offer disposal services or recycling programs.

It’s essential to check local regulations and available services to ensure proper disposal.

What Are the Best Brands for PFD CO2 Cartridges?

Popular brands for PFD CO2 cartridges include Mustang Survival, Onyx, Leland, and Halkey-Roberts.

These brands are widely recognized for their quality, reliability, and adherence to safety standards.

When selecting a brand, always consider compatibility with your specific PFD model.

Also, ensure the brand you choose complies with any maritime safety regulations or certifications relevant to your boating activities.

Are There Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Traditional CO2 Cartridges?

Eco-friendly alternatives to traditional CO2 cartridges for inflatable PFDs are limited.

Some companies are exploring the use of more sustainable materials and manufacturing processes.

But these are not widely available yet.

Some reusable inflation systems that use compressed air cylinders are available.

However, these are not always directly interchangeable with single-use CO2 cartridges.

If eco-friendliness is a priority, manual inflatable PFDs that can be inflated through oral inflation tubes provide a more sustainable alternative.

Though they may not be as convenient or as quick to inflate in an emergency.

What Is the Cost of a Replacement CO2 Cartridge for an Inflatable PFD?

The cost of a replacement CO2 cartridge for an inflatable PFD can vary widely based on the brand, size, and type.

Generally, prices range from $15 to $40 per cartridge.

Bulk purchases or kits that include additional components like bobbin replacements can offer cost savings.

It’s essential to factor in the cost of cartridges when considering the overall expense of owning an inflatable PFD.

Opting for a cheaper, incompatible cartridge can lead to malfunctions and is not recommended.

Always prioritize compatibility and quality over cost.

Can I Replace the CO2 Cartridge Myself, or Should It Be Done by a Professional?

Replacing the CO2 cartridge in an inflatable PFD is generally a straightforward process that most users can perform themselves.

After purchasing the correct replacement cartridge specified by your PFD manufacturer, you can unscrew the used or expired cartridge and screw in the new one.

Always read the manufacturer’s instructions and conduct a manual inflation test after the replacement.

The process is not complicated.

Howerver, if you are unsure or uncomfortable performing this task yourself, consulting a professional is advisable for your safety.

Final Thoughts: When Should You Replace the CO2 Cylinder in an Inflatable PFD?

Ensuring that your inflatable PFD and its CO2 cartridge are in top condition is crucial for your safety while on the water.

Regular inspections, understanding the signs of wear, and timely replacements can make the difference between life and death in emergency situations.

Treat your safety gear with the care it deserves, and it will take care of you when you need it most.

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