Coastguard Wayne Harrison in front of a trailer of discarded and worn-out lifejackets as part of Coastguard's annual Old4New campaign. Photo: Erin Bradnock.

Trading lifejackets and saving lives


Nelson Coastguard Wayne Harrison warns that a lifejacket that is no longer fit for purpose could cost you your life.

Coastguard New Zealand’s annual summer campaign Old4New hit Nelson on Sunday. It is a national campaign where water adventurers can trade in old lifejackets for a new one at a discounted rate.

By the day’s end Old4New had sold 86 jackets with a pile of about 120 discarded jackets.

“People aren’t often told when they buy their lifejackets that they have a lifespan and there’s things to check to make sure they’re water ready,” says Wayne.

He says lifejackets typically have a lifespan of 15 years if treated well but there are easy ways to check if your lifejacket is still water ready.

“Contamination is the big thing. Sunlight and seawater are the main killers so proper storage and cleaning is really important.”

He says lifejackets as old as 50 years get dropped off to Old4New all too regularly, which is always concerning to the Coastguard team.

“These older jackets are typically filled with something called ‘kapok’ and when the thin plastic lining inevitably tears and the kapok gets wet your lifejacket effectively turns into a deadweight,” he says.

Maritime New Zealand has labelled lifejackets with kapok fillings and those with cotton straps as ‘likely to fail when used and should be destroyed’.

Wayne and fellow coastguard Hilary Tear have been road tripping the South Island this month with a total of 24 stops coming to a finish this Sunday.

One lifejacket dropped off this weekend at Akersten Boat Ramp Nelson was more than 20 years old, with its metal cylinder so corroded that the jacket burst and broke when tested by Hilary.

“You have to check the cylinders to see if they’re tight enough. Any sign of corrosion or if it’s been ignited before, you have to get it replaced,” says Wayne.

For those hitting the water this summer period, the Coastguard’s advice includes having two forms of communication onboard in a waterproof container, to check the weather and to always wear your lifejacket.

“If you’re on the water, wear your lifejacket. It’s a lifesaver,” Wayne says.