WARNING! Inflatable Life Jacket Surprise!

After having our Mustang Inflatable harness suspenders for 10 years, we decided we were probably overdue for replacing the inflatable cartridge.  Since they were an older model, we asked at the Mustang booth at the Annapolis Boat Show about which re-arm kit we needed.    We were somewhat shocked to find out that ours were so old that Mustang no longer sold the type of re-arm kit that works for our life vests.   Turns out they did us a favor, but …

SOAPBOX WARNING!  If you don’t want to listen to me whine, stop now!

Planned obsolescence?   It’s expensive to equip a cruising sailboat, so why is it lots of overpriced marine stuff is  outdated almost immediately?  Last year I was on a roll whining about Garmin & not being able to get Bahamas updated charts for our Garmin GPSMap 176C, this year it’s these dang inflatable Mustang life jackets.

Manually inflating the suspender life vests.

Maybe I’m being unreasonable, but it seems to me that something that costs over $200 each should last  — especially  when only used for very short periods of time and always stored indoors out of the UV.  We only used them for bluewater or overnight passages, and usually only at night unless the weather was different than the forecast.   If high quality life vests were made to last longer, then why wouldn’t they continue to make re-arm kits available for those models?   I guess we could have done without them and worn our kayak PFD’s overnight, but they’re much bulkier and the inflatables are more comfortable for extended periods of time aboard.

I know PFD’s need to be replaced every few years – and for normal marine use, that makes sense.   Our “regular” life jackets get replaced more often, but they’re used continually and deteriorate much quicker… they also don’t cost the same as the Mustang suspenders.

Of course, I complained to the good Mustang folks in the boat show booth, but they told us before we did anything to go back to the boat and blow the vests up manually to make sure they still held air.   STILL HELD AIR???   Why WOULDN’T something that cost over $200, treated humanely, never exposed to extended UV, hung in the dry wetlocker when not in use, not stuffed in a damp lazarette…  still hold air?

So back at the boat, using the manual inflation tubes, we blew up the inflatable life vests and waited.  Sure enough an hour later, mine was definitely losing air.  David’s held air just fine.  So I would have drowned and David might have survived, but only if he could have blown it up manually because we’re not sure the auto-inflation kits would have worked.

Needless to say, we’re replacing our Mustang inflatable life vests.  And needless to say, even though it may be the same with every manufacturer, the new ones will not be Mustang, I don’t care if they are the premier brand.   It’s just the principle.

P.S.  We ordered new Revere PDF’s with harnesses built in based on Practical Sailors testing a few years ago.  They’re very comfortable and we’ll see if they last longer or allow us to buy re-arm kits a few years from now.

So please tell me it’s just me and that I’m crazy and need to get a new outlook….   or maybe the entire marine industry needs to rethink things like not updating charts on chips that fit a few year old GPS or making life preservers durable enough that they will still hold air …. what, will my expensive Avon life raft not hold air either?  After all, there was no place to get it “factory authorized” re-certified while we were cruising outside the USA.  Grumble….


  1. I completely agree with you. Something this expensive and vital to safety needs to be built to last, and have serviceability to match. Our “best” PFD’s are the Mustang auto-inflatables also, and it just never occurred to me that they might not hold air. I bought what I thought was the best, thinking that by doing so, I had a near guarantee that they’d work when I needed them to.
    I’ll also look somewhere else next time if this is the way Mustang operates.

  2. Be aware that many of the integrated harness designs have minimum height requirements for safety reasons, but the minimum height requirements are always clearly marked or well known.

    For instance, the West Marine 4000 Series off-shore sailing PFDs with integrated harnesses are not safe for people who are shorter than 5′ 8″ or so, since the harness will rest on the floating ribs and can cause serious internal injuries if the person fall against the harness.

    The best integrated harness PFDs I have found are the Spinlock ones, like the DeckVest and Deckware Pro. However, they are not USCG approved last I checked, so you need to carry USCG approved ones to make up the count. 🙂 They have a height-adjustment on the harness portion (at least on the Deckware Pro I have).

  3. We and all crew on board wear PFD’s every time the boat is under way and on deck. I also check the auto system every 3 years by jumping into the water (whlie at anchor and water is warm). I make sure I have at least 2 re-arm kits on board before doing this.
    John Boor

    • John — that’s funny — that was our plan – get the appropriate re-arm kit & then jump in the water with our Mustang auto inflation life jackets just for fun to see what would happen. BUT the plan went awry… 🙁

  4. Martin Hamel says:

    I have to agree with you that safety equipment comes at a premium.

    But on the other hand, are you willing to bet your life on the equipment not working right the next, and probably only, time you’ll need it?

    I do inspections on SAR equipment, for pilots and rescuers, and I would feel so bad if some of their equipment wouldn’t work in a time that they most need it!!

    Just my ,02…

    Have a nice windy day… God speed!

    • Exactly why we bought brand new Revere Inflatable suspender life jackets after finding out that the Mustang’s leaked. But still disappointing construction from a well regarded company. THANKS Martin for your comment! Cheers — Jan

  5. I recently read an article (practical sailor?) where they did a test. And, it’s absolutely true that most of the PFDs out there are dangerous. The one’s that really work, have a strap that goes between the legs and holds it down, so it doesn’t get pulled over your head. The other thing I’ve heard of is people wearing it during a big blow, and the self arming part is activated, giving everyone sitting there are numb, one hellofva shock. For that reason, I have a manually inflated one. I personally think that the main benefit is not to stay afloat, but to keep you on the boat in the first place, so that’s where the harness and tether come into play. I think that part of the PFD is somewhat more important than needing to float, lifeguard training will teach you how to float with simply clothing. And, lastly, don’t skimp on the shackle. Get a tether that has two straps in one, one that is a bungy that stays out of the way, the other to use constantly, and use the two of them in tandem when going to the bow and switching from side to side, switching jacklines. You’re better off with a snap shackle too because try this some time. Put everything on, attach the end to a halyard, pull yourself up until there’s tension on everything, now try to undo your harness. If it’s not a snap shackle, you won’t be able to. Now, think about the boat rolling over and staying that way or going down suddenly, with you attached. I know it sounds like a lot, and might seem scary, but that’s what has been discussed on several of the docks I’ve spent time on, over the past 20+ yrs. But, the good thing, is we never know it all, please don’t take my word for it, check with others, be analytical yourself, and life with your own decisions. Now get out there…….
    s/v Renasci

  6. Claus Jensen says:

    We are also disappointed with Mustang – as we have discovered they are now “Made in China”!

    Why would anyone trust their lives to a product made in China???

    We also had a snap shackle rated for 1000lbs break while hoisting our dinghy – wevdiscovered that it was also made in China with chinese “pretend steel”!

    The hell with greedy American CEOs outsourcing their products….

    Pissed off Sailor

  7. I too was looking at a Mustang product, but after seeing the large expense and refill cost plus made in China it’s a big NO!
    Now it’s Revere USA made or Onyx also USA made.fore me.

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