When it comes to comfort and freedom of movement, the best inflatable life jacket beats a regular foam life vest hands down. As long as you’re a strong swimmer aged 16 years and above, you can enjoy maximum comfort and mobility without compromising safety by opting for an inflatable life jacket.  

Finding the best inflatable life vest you can rely on to keep you safe requires paying attention to such things as ease of use and material quality. To help you find a good one, our inflatable life jacket reviews present the very best top rated inflatable life vests, while our buying guide offers tips on how to make the right choice.

How To Choose An Inflatable Life Jacket – Buying Guide


Type of activity

Of course, the best inflatable life jacket to go for will depend on the type of activity you want it for. For performance kayaking where the life jacket is bound to get wet, a manual PFD inflatable is ideal. Automatic life jackets are ideal for sailing and other types of boating activities. For swimming, free diving, and snorkeling, you will need a specially designed inflatable snorkel vest designed to help you float with your head in the water.

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The inflated life jacket should provide adequate floatation in order to keep your head out of the water and your airways clear. The industry standard for these types of life jackets are 22 pounds of buoyancy, and this should be more than enough to keep you afloat. In rough seas, however, you will need an inflatable PFD with a minimum of 33 pounds of buoyancy lift.  

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Automatic or Manual inflate

While most inflating PFDs have both automatic and manual inflation, some are automatic inflation only or manual only inflatables. Which type of inflatable life vest is the right choice will depend on the activity. For sailing, boating, and paddling activities on calm waters, you can opt for a self inflating life jacket. Where you will have a lot of contact with water, manual only inflation is ideal, as it will prevent accidental inflation.


Having a harness gives you added peace of mind that it’ll be easier for the rescue team to pull you out of the water in the event of an emergency. Not a lot of life vests come with a built-in harness, but it’s a good idea to purchase one separately. The importance of having a harness increases the further away you are from the shore.


Comfort is the hallmark of inflatable life vests. With their low profile design, they allow you a full range of motion and ensure you stay cool in hot conditions. To ensure the particular life vest you get will be comfortable, it’s important to choose one equipped with a soft neckline made of neoprene, and an adjustable belt for a custom fit.  

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Q: Are Inflatable Life Vests Safe?


Yes, inflatable life vests are safe for strong swimmers aged 16 years and above. Some of them are approved by the US Coast Guard while some boast CE certification.

Q: Are Inflatable Life Jackets USCG Approved?


Some inflatable life jackets are approved by the US Coast Guard while some are not. However, it’s important to note that the Coast Guard requires inflatable PFDs to be worn while underway.

Q: How Long Does An Inflatable Life Jacket Last?


Inflatable life vests have a ten-year lifespan. This is because they are made of tough materials that can resist tears and punctures, and the CO2 cylinders are replaceable. However, they require maintenance as often as every two to three months. 

Q: Why Are Inflatable Life Jackets Not Recommended For Non Swimmers?


Inflatable life jackets are not recommended for non-swimmers or weak swimmers because they are not inherently buoyant. It takes several seconds before they can inflate and provide flotation. In the case of a manual inflatable life vest, the wearer has to pull the cord or blow air to inflate the jacket. For these reasons, inflatable life jackets are only approved for strong swimmers 16 years and older.  

Q: How Often Should You Replace The CO2 Cylinder In An Inflatable PFD?


The CO2 cartridge should be replaced every time the inflatable PFD is activated. Without activation, each bobbin has a specified life span, which can be as long as three years. To be on the safe side, however, experts recommend replacing the bobbin and CO2 cartridge yearly, regardless of use. 

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An auto inflatable life vest is a great alternative to the traditional life jacket. A self inflating life jacket has a low profile design, but is much bigger than a foam life jacket when activated. This means that a CO2 life vest is much more comfortable to wear and also provides extra buoyancy in the water. Hopefully, this guide to inflatable PFD helps you find the best inflatable life jacket for your needs.  

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