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Those helmets on top of the heads of football players must be pretty tough to take the vicious, repeated pounding each game. New fans have to wonder about just how long they can hold out? Do helmets break?
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individual football helmets should not be used for more than 10 years from the date it was manufactured.
That is the maximum length of a helmet’s lifespan, and many factors can cut it short. Intensity of play, number of games, environments in which it was used, maintenance, and more determine how long a football helmet can be used safely.
So it’s not a question of how long will football helmets last for use in play; it’s a matter of how long they are allowed to be used, at least legally in contests.
Few fans may be aware that American football helmets must be recertified after 2 years of use, and then every year after that, to ensure the warranty is not invalidated. Also, the safety regulating agency for football helmets also requires the recertifications.
The 10-year limit is not a football league rule, nor even a standard set by the organization the NFL and other leagues turn to for helmet certifications, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE). A logo containing the NOCSAE acronym should be affixed to all helmets, in the very rear center, during games.
This nonprofit organization, independent from influence from football leagues, is dedicated to setting standards for sports equipment. The organization sets safety performance standards, then relies on a third party to actually inspect and certify helmets ~ the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI).
Neither of those organizations (NOCSAE and SEI) forbids use of football helmets after a decade. That distinction belongs with NAERA, the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association. Safety in football helmets is so paramount that almost every league has requirements to have them reconditioned, and recertified.
And NAERA, the organization that certifies reconditionings, will not consider recertifying helmets older than 10 years.
Strangely, the ability for NAERA to be the recertifying authority for football comes from … licensing by NOCSAE. Go figure.
Players (and parents) new to football should be aware that helmets come with very important instructions for care and maintenance. These instructions should be retained and stored properly, for easy reference.
The reason is, football helmets require recertification after 2 years, and then every other year, in order to keep warranties valid. And warranties are important for a sporting gear item that gets bashed repeatedly and consistently. Football helmets are tough, but they do fail sometimes.
This is all part of the effort to adhere to the most current helmet safety standards for the best football helmets.
Recertifying does not mean simply taking it to the place where you bought it to get a new sticker, or just cleaning it up yourself. Helmets must be sent to professional reconditioners which are members of NAERA mentioned above.
The process of reconditioning is not complicated. It’s a matter of cleaning and sanitizing an item that gets grimy, and also testing elements of the helmet to ensure it performs as expected.
Things like integrity of the outer shell (looking carefully for cracks, knocking hard on helmets to hear imperfections); attachment points for the face mask and chin straps; and other items like interior pads are inspected as part of this process.
Any football helmet brand new or used should have the recertification label, along with a date code, interior warning, a model label, a warning label on the outside, sticker indicating its initial season sticker, and the NOCSAE logo sticker.
While most league rules allow skipping a year for recertifications, many coaches recommend the lids to be recertified and reconditioned after every season.
Major football helmet manufacturers recommend annual reconditioning, to boost the longevity of the helmet’s usefulness.
There are over 20 authorized reconditioner recertifying entities that belong to the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association (NAERA).
It is important to note that most players prefer to get new helmets much sooner than 10 years. With technology adding more and more safety features to athletic equipment, it behooves players to upgrade their protective gear fairly often.
Question: Is the 10-year lifespan of a football helmet set in stone?
Answer: No. In fact, many modern football helmets probably could be used well beyond the 10-year mark. However, those would not be legal for games, because they cannot be certified to be reconditioned. Really old football helmets may be useful for practicing, as long as the coaches or league permits it.
Q.: Has the 10-year thing been around for a while?
A.: Not really. It wasn’t until 2012 that NAERA members were forbidden to recondition/recertify any helmet. This applies to the helmets the organization certifies for football, softball, baseball, and lacrosse.
Q.: What is this NAERA?
A.: NAERA is an association of athletic equipment reconditioners (members) who work to increase acceptance of the reconditioning / recertification of quality athletic equipment. The goal is to reduce the risk for injury during athletic events.