As a water sports enthusiast, a reliable life jacket is the best investment you can make to protect your life while on the water. Life jackets have saved countless lives since they were invented in 1854. Back then, they were made of cork and were very uncomfortable to wear. However, personal flotation devices (PFDs) have come a long way since then and the best life jackets available today are lightweight, flexible, and comfortable to wear.
Choosing the best life vest comes down to the kind of water activities you enjoy. To help you find the right vest, our life jacket reviews take a look at the top 10 options on the market, while the buying guide explains the features and specs to pay attention to when evaluating your options. Read on to find the best life jacket to equip yourself with when heading out in a boat, canoe, kayak, or paddleboard.
How To Choose A Life Jacket – Buying Guide
There are five different types of life jackets: Type 1, Type II, Type III, Type IV, and Type IV. Types III and V life jackets are the best personal floatation devices for recreational water activities such as swimming, boating, and water sports as they provide maximum comfort and full mobility. While type 3 floatation aids are suitable for all kinds of watersports, type V PFDs are designed for specific activities such as water skiing, whitewater, or river rescue.
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For kids and non-swimmers in calm inland waters, Type II life vests are ideal as they can flip the wearer face-up. As for the other types, type 1 life jackets are emergency life jackets found on commercial boats that venture far offshore. They are the most buoyant lifejackets but too bulky and uncomfortable to wear while having fun. Finally, type IV PFDs are the rings and cushions thrown into the water in emergencies.
When it comes to life jackets, proper fit is essential for proper function. A life vest should fit snug around the body but it shouldn’t be too tight that it restricts movement. Getting a properly-fitting lifejacket starts with ordering the right size.
To determine the right size for you, measure around the widest part of your chest and pick the corresponding size on the provided size chart. Furthermore, life vests are equipped with adjustable straps to make it easy to achieve a secure yet comfortable fit.
When it comes to material, you have three options to consider. Nylon and polyester are lightweight, water-resistant, and fast-drying. High-denier ripstop nylon or polyester can also resist abrasion well and last long in good condition. The third material is neoprene; the same material wetsuits are made of. It’s highly buoyant and stretches to provide a superb fit and all-day comfort. It also has some insulating property and can help keep you warm in the water.
Each life jacket is designed to support a certain amount of weight in the water. For this reason, it’s important to consider the weight range the life vest you’re considering is rated for. This will help you choose the right life jacket for your weight range.
Generally, life jackets for infants are designed for 0-30lbs., while life jacket kids are rated for 30 to 50lbs. Youth life jackets usually have 50-90lbs. weight capacity, while adult life jackets are designed to support 90 pounds and above. Most manufacturers make oversize versions for plus size water sports enthusiasts.
With life vests, bright, high visibility colors are ideal. Not only does a bright hue help keep you cool when having fun in the hot summer sun. Most importantly, it makes sure that rescuers can spot you if you ever find yourself in a rescue situation. Great colors for visibility in the water include orange, red, and yellow. If you’ll be fishing in low-light conditions, having a life jacket with reflective accents is a good idea.
Last but certainly not least, be sure to find out the buoyancy lift a life vest is designed to provide. This will make sure that you pick a life jacket capable of keeping your chin and your mouth above water. For reference, adults need 7- 12 pounds of buoyancy to stay afloat.
All the options in our life jacket reviews are USCG approved and boast buoyancy rating way above 12 pounds. Once you’ve bought a life jacket, it’s also smart to try it out in a controlled environment such as a pool or a calm lake. This way, you will find out whether the jacket is capable of keeping your head completely out of the water when you’re in a relaxed position
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Q: What Age Do You Have To Wear A Life Jacket?
The law requires children under the age of 13 years to wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket while on a boat. The only exemptions to this requirement are if the child is harnessed to the sailboat or is below the deck or in an enclosed cabin.
It’s also mandatory for adults onboard PWCs or engaging in tow sports to wear USCG approved life vests. For safety in the water, though, it’s prudent for everyone to wear a life jacket while on the water, regardless of their age.
Q: What Is Life Jacket?
A life jacket is a sleeveless vest equipped with a flotation medium such as foam or inflatable air chamber and worn by a person while in the water to keep them afloat should they accidentally end up in the water. By keeping your face above water, a lifejacket helps prevent drowning and can be a lifesaver.
Q: How To Tell If A Life Jacket Is Coast Guard Approved?
A Coast Guard approved life jacket will have the Coast Guard logo and the phrase `USCG Approved’ or `Coast Guard Approved’ displayed on the tag at the back of the jacket, as well as on the packaging. When shopping online, you will find this information on the description and specification page on the retailer’s or manufacturer’s website. All the life vests we’ve reviewed here are approved by the United States Coast Guard.
Q: What Are The Different Types Of Life Jackets
Life jackets are available in inherently buoyant (foam) and inflatable designs. Further, both foam and inflatable personal flotation devices fall under five different USCG classifications. Type I life jackets are designed for emergency and offshore use, while Type II life jackets are designed for near-shore use.
Type III flotation aids provide comfort, mobility, and buoyancy aid for people engaging in water sports and recreational water activities, while Type V life jackets are made for specific water activities such as waterskiing. Finally, Type IV flotation devices are the rings and cushions designed to be thrown to a person in the water.
Q: Is There An Expiry Date On Life Jackets?
No, life jackets don’t have an expiry date on them. However, life vests do have a limited lifespan as the constant wear and tear causes them to lose their effectiveness over time. Specifically, foam life jackets have a maximum lifespan of ten years after which they need to be replaced. As for inflatable life jackets, the bobbins and CO2 cartridges do have an expiry date. While they can last as long as three years, experts recommend replacing them after one year.
Q: What Is The Difference Between Life Jacket And Life Vest?
There’s no difference between these two terms. Life jackets and life vests are both names for the personal flotation device (PFD) a person wears to stay afloat in the water. A PFD is also referred to as a life preserver, life belt, Mae West, or buoyancy aid.
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We all know how fun being on the water can be, but we also know how dangerous it can be as well. Wearing a life jacket will give you peace of mind knowing that you will be safe if you accidentally find yourself in the water. Besides providing adequate buoyancy to keep your afloat in the water, a life vest should be comfortable and non-restrictive so you can enjoy your favorite activities fully. Hopefully, our guide to the best life jackets has made it easy to find the best personal flotation device based on the water activities you enjoy.
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