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How Life Jackets are Made

Wearing a life jacket could save your life—how are they made?

A day out on a boat, relaxing and laughing with friends and family, can be a great way to enjoy the summer sun without the blistering heat. And taking proper safety precautions like wearing a life jacket can make the outing relaxing and carefree. But how do these brightly colored vests protect us from the watery depths?

friends on a lifeboat wearing life jackets

Typically the interior of a life vest is made in three different classifications: inflatable, inherently buoyant, and hybrid. For the inherently buoyant life jackets, the interior is typically made of a plastic foam such as polyvinyl chloride or polyethylene. Though, previously, these were made using cork, balsa wood, or kapok which is a material from a tropical tree. The ‘naturally buoyant’ classification means that a person doesn’t need to do anything to activate the flotation, these life jackets have the flotation power built-in.

The inflatable life jackets, as you could likely guess, need to be filled with air. These models are filled with cartridges of carbon dioxide gas which are activated in a few different ways. Some will release the gas automatically when the device is submerged in water using a water-soluble stopper which dissolves to activate the gas. Others will require the user to pull a tab, which punctures the canister of carbon dioxide and inflates the jacket.

man giving a life jacket on a child

Finally, there are the hybrid options that involve both natural buoyancy and manual inflation. The outer shell of the life jacket is typically made of a nylon or vinyl material. The manufacturing process typically consists of first cutting the pattern in the nylon, then cutting the foam (depending on the model), and finally assembling the pieces by sewing them together. After any reflective straps or labels are sewn on, you’re ready for a day out on the boat.

Learn more about the World of Production, and discover how swimsuits, sunglasses, and game controllers are made.

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