Boating season is just around the corner, but the water can still be pretty cold. A fall overboard can get serious quickly, and wearing a life jacket could give you extra time to survive.

While many boaters have traditional flotation-filled life jackets, more and more people have switched to the more modern inflatable life jackets, which can require a bit more preparation each year. If you haven’t inspected your inflatable life jacket yet, now’s probably a good time to take a look before the season starts.

Here’s really simple four-step check for your inflatable life jacket from the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water:

1. Open it up and look. Carefully open the life jacket, and remember the steps involved in how you do it because repacking it is essentially the reverse of this process. Inside you’re going to find a thin-walled bladder, and this is what keeps your head above water when it becomes inflated, so take your time  when you’re looking for any tears or  possible rough spots. Be sure to check to that the waist strap and all the buckles are in good working order, too.

2. Remove the cartridge. Unscrew the CO2 cartridge and make sure that it hasn’t been discharged; sometimes you can tell this by a  looking for a small puncture in the center of the threaded end. Some inflators will have a green “ready-to-go” indicator. Inspect the cartridge and the inflation mechanism for any form of corrosion. Some inflation mechanisms have a little “pill” or “bobbin” that dissolves in water allowing for automatic inflation. If these aren’t good shape, buy a rearming kit before using it.

3. Test for leaks. With your mouth, blow up the life jacket using the manual inflation tube that’s found on the upper left front of the life jacket (this tube can also be used as a back up to fill the jacket with air in case of emergency, so make sure you know how it works.) Leave the life jacket fully inflated for 24 hours so it can be tested for leaks.

4. Repack. When the 24 hour test time is up and the life jacket is still holding air,  it’s okay to deflate it, but make sure that you repack it exactly according to the instructions (these usually can be found on an inside flap.) Now, get ready to get out there and have some fun!

For more information on the care of your life jackets, go to To find which life jacket is the best one for you, here’s a good video: