Monday, March 11, 2013

Kayaker spring tune-up, floating out tip #1

Okay, fair-weather paddlers, Northern California temps are headed toward 80. Time to blow the dust off that kayak, check under the cockpit cover for critters -- so that’s where the cat went – and hit the water. Not quite so fast. Here’s the first in a series of spring tune-up tips. 

R-e-s-p-e-c-t, show me how to treat PFDs

You always wear a PFD, but when was the last time you replaced it? Sure, Styrofoam seems to bob forever in our oceans. But in a life preserver, it becomes less buoyant over time, though you may not notice until you're in rough water -- when you need it most.
New PFD at left, identical model 5 years later...ewww, brown stuff?
Consider replacing a PFD every four to five years – maybe sooner, depending on use and abuse, says Stacey Johnson at Outdoorplay, a leading kayak gear dealer. Saltwater, sun exposure and cleaning methods all contribute to a PFD’s demise. So can rats or mice that slip into storage areas. They’re not picky, and foam looks a lot like a rice cake. Tastes better, too.
“One general rule to tell if your PFD is ready to be replaced is to look at the printed language-certifications-UL listing on the inside back of the lifejacket,” says Stacey. “When you can no longer read it, then chances are it's time to replace.” And if you're paddling a river where gear must be approved by guides or park rangers (like the Grand Canyon), a worn-out label will keep you off the water, added Stacey.
My label looked fine. But when I compared the PFD to a friend’s identical new life jacket, I suddenly realized why the bathroom scale disagreed with my seemingly trim appearance.
“The foam tends to compress, depending on how you’ve treated it,” says Stacey. “For example, if you use it as a seat cushion.” (Uh-oh.) Other no-no’s include washing in a bathtub with household detergents or scrubbing in the washing machine. No, the delicate cycle won’t help -- Stacey gets that question all the time.
If you’ve been paddling in saltwater, or just plain funky water, rinse well with a hose. “But the main thing is, don’t ever put the PFD back in storage until it’s absolutely dry,” says Stacey, because mold and fabric rot flourish in the dark and damp.
© Glenn Brank 2013