What Should You Do if a PFD has a Tear in the Outer Fabric?

If you spend much time on the water, your PFD will inevitably show some wear and tear.  This article will discuss what you should do if a PFD has a tear in the outer fabric.

Personal flotation devices (PFD) are a necessity for anyone who spends time enjoying watersports.  A PFD can help to keep you afloat if you end up in the water unexpectedly.  Your life jacket must be in good condition so it can do the job it’s designed for. 

If your PFD has a tear, you should replace it as soon as possible

If the outer fabric is ripped, the flotation material can come out, making the PFD unsafe. When you are ready to replace your PFD, check out this article for a complete list of life jackets.

But, if you are in a pinch like you are on a camping trip, there are a couple of short-term options you might be able to try.

What should you do if a PFD has a tear in the outer fabric?

If you can’t immediately replace the life jacket, there are a few options when a PFD has a tear in the fabric. You can fix the tear with a patch or use tape to cover the tear and make the life jacket usable again.  Let’s discuss these options in more detail next.

Patch it

If you can’t immediately replace the PFD, one way to fix a tear in the fabric is to use a fabric patch kit. This is a temporary fix that might help you get through until you can replace the life jacket. 

Tape it

Another temporary fix is to use duct tape or another tape that you might have handy. This is not ideal, but it might be able to you through until you can replace the damaged PFD.

Replace it

If your PFD has a tear in the fabric, you should replace it as soon as possible

US Coast Guard Approved

If your PFD is USCG approved, it needs to be in good shape to uphold this requirement. Even if you are not required to wear a life jacket, the PFD you have on your boat must be in good condition to meet the USCG approval rating.

Inspect your PFD

To ensure that your PFD is in top shape, you should inspect your life jacket regularly. Here are some ways to see if your PFD is ready for your next outing.


Check the webbing to make sure it doesn’t have any rips or tears.  Otherwise, you need to replace your PFD. Also, check for any rotting, molding, or other damage in the webbing.

Check out the hardware

Be sure to check the zippers, straps, buckles, etc., for any damage.  If any of these items are damaged or look like they might not work, it’s time to replace your PFD.  Make sure the straps on your PFD can withstand the pressure by pulling hard on them.

Checking these components is a simple way to help ensure your PFD operates correctly, so it will do its job when you need it the most.

Look for other warning signs

Check the fabric inside and out for any signs of weakness.  If the fabric is faded, that can indicate the material is weak, and the PFD might need to be replaced. If the foam inside the jacket feels brittle, the PFD should be replaced.

How to store your PFD

Storing your personal flotation device the right way can help prevent damage and keep it from tearing.  If you take care of your PFD, it will continue functioning for a long time. Here are some tips on how to store a PFD.

Avoid direct sunlight

When you store your PFD, keep it out of direct sunlight. You can hang it up in a closet or whatever works for you, but don’t leave it in the sun. Direct sunlight can cause the fabric to fade and deteriorate over time.

Of course, your jacket will be exposed to the sun when you are on the water. But if you have a chance to take your jacket off during the day, try to keep it out of the sun.

Clean your PFD

If you use your PFD in salt water, rinse the life jacket off and let it dry before you store it.  Likewise, if your life jacket has mud, sand, or other grime, rinse it and dry it before you put it away for good.

Hang it up when you are not using it

After you have cleaned your PFD, hang it up (not in direct sunlight) to drip dry, preferably on a hanger. If you toss your PFD on the floor, it’s more likely to be kicked or stepped on and rip.

If you own a dog or cat, it’s even more important to hang your life jacket up out of the way. If you toss your PFD aside somewhere, you never know what critters might decide to take up residence.

Keep the PFD well ventilated

It’s best to store your PFD in an area that is ventilated (out of the direct sun) to help keep it fresh and free from mold or mildew.

Taking good care of your PFD is a great way to keep the life jacket functioning properly for years to come.

Conclusion – How to fix a tear in your life jacket

What to do if a PFD has a tear - PFD hanging upPin

First and foremost, if your PFD has a tear in the outer fabric, you need to replace it as soon as possible. The “fixes” in this article may potentially help if you are in a pinch.  If your life jacket is damaged, you risk losing the material that keeps you afloat.

Life jackets are an essential piece of equipment in watersports. If you take good care of your life jacket, it will serve you well when you need it most. 

Let us know if you have any questions. Paddle on!

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About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.