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Keeping your auto-inflating life vests operational

By Joe Vigil 11:44 AM June 27, 2017

The Alaska Office of Boating Safety received calls about auto-inflating life vests after a deadly canoeing accident on Finger Lake.

Authorities say the inflating life vests that two men were wearing didn’t inflate after their canoe tipped over.

Police say 30-year-old Gary Curtis made it ashore alive, but 67-year-old Edgar Curtis did not. His body was later recovered from the lake.

People called the boating safety office wanting to know more about how the vests work. KTVA 11 wanted to know, too, so we reached out for more information.

“If you are going to be depending your life on something, it is very important that you’re very familiar with your equipment,” Kelli Toth said.

She’s a spokesperson for the Alaska Office of Boating Safety. Toth wants people to know the vests include mechanical parts and says people need to know what those parts do. A carbon dioxide cartridge inflates the vest but needs to be changed from time to time. Your life vest manual will tell you when. Other parts have expiration dates and need to be replaced, too. Some vests have a service indicator. If the indicator shows a red color it means the vest may not inflate properly.

Toth recommends testing your vest.

“Being fully clothed, get in the water with it, have it open up, understand how your equipment operates so that you have confidence and skill in how this is going to perform for you.”

Toth pointed KTVA to a training video from Prince of Wales Island. A man who owned an inflatable vest allowed someone else to try it on. It was not an auto-inflate vest; the user had to pull a handle to inflate it. After a couple pulls, the vest did not inflate as it was supposed to. Toth inspected it and says a CO2 tank was loose from the base. It needed to be screwed in tighter. A simple fix for a potentially deadly problem. That is why Toth says self-inflating vest inspections are so important. People are also advised to check for possible tears in the fabric or loose or damaged straps or buckles so the vests don’t fall off in the water.

The Alaska Office of Boating Safety says it’s happy to answer questions from the public about auto inflating life jackets. The office number is (907) 269-8706.


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