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Life Jacket buying guide

Love the thrill of cut-throat water activities? Beware! A single mishap can totally turn that fun into tears and sorrow. It is always better to take precautions rather than investing in the cure.

Life Jackets are a simple solution to protect yourself and your loved ones from fatal accidents during different water activities.

You can definitely understand the importance of the product as its name literally signifies a jacket for saving your life. Let us look into the benefits of the product.

What are life jackets or PFDs? Benefits of these jackets

PFD refers to a Personal Floating Device, which is also known as a life jacket. It will work as safety equipment when you go for different water activities, including sailing, wakeboarding, etc.

If you are operating your water vessel, you must wear the PFD to ensure the highest safety. People should always use life jackets for kayaking, rafting, jet skiing, tubing, etc. even if their states do not require any safety gear.

Life jackets are essential for several reasons such as—

  1. Life jackets are essential for different water-related activities because of their high visibility. Also, they are effective for highway safety during heavy rainfall.
  2. These jackets are used for construction activities. People working in construction sites wear these for easy identification.
  3. They are also useful for traffic activities. They are hugely used in high traffic areas.
  4. Emergency personnel typically wear blue life jackets when it comes to road accidents, fire, and several other emergencies.
  5. You can use a safety jacket in extreme weather conditions. These jackets are also good to protect people from fire danger.
  6. A high visibility safety jacket helps distinguish the employees working in a condition with a lack of lighting and, thus, ensuring overall safety.

Why is it necessary to read a buying guide before selecting a suitable Life Jacket?

You will never want to select a poor quality product as your life depends on the life jacket's quality. But do you know how to choose the right jacket?

A buying guide provides you with all the necessary information on all the aspects of the life jacket to make an informed decision while selecting a fantastic product and save you from being deceived by the market's pretenses.

Let us get detailed information on all the characteristics of the product.

USCG classification of life jackets

You will find five categories of safety life jackets that are classified by the United States Coast Guard. Though Type III and Type V are the favorites of the kayakers and canoers, you should know about all five types to pick up the right life jacket for you.

  1. Type I

This type of jacket is perfect for extreme situations. It comes up with the highest buoyancy so you can use this jacket for remote water. Unconscious people will get turned into the face-up direction by this jacket. These jackets are used in commercial vessels for open and rough water.

  1. Type II

If you are going fishing or near-shore, you will need this type of jacket. They are appropriate for calm waters. These jackets are designed with proper buoyancy, and they can turn some unconscious people in a face-up direction. They are a little bulky and good for adults as well as children.

  1. Type III

This type of jacket is ideal for recreational boating and fishing. These life jackets are not as bulky as the previous two types. They are either inherently buoyant or inflatable, so you can use these jackets in near-shore areas where you can be rescued swiftly. These are not appropriate to turn people into a face-up position.

  1. Type IV

These are not meant to be worn, but you can throw the devices to a person struggling in the water, and they work like a back up of life jackets. They have the shape like a ring, cushion, or horseshoe, which helps the person float in the water during the rescue.

  1. Type V

This type of safety jacket is designed, inherently buoyant, hybrid, or inflatable. These jackets are considered for some specific activities. According to USCG, you must wear these jackets as waterskiing, deck suits, windsurfing vests. These jackets do not turn people into a face-up position if they are unconscious.

Things to deem about while selecting an appropriate Life jacket

Types of life jackets

Commonly, the safety life jackets are available with three different types. If you are planning to buy a life jacket, you should know about three different types to make the right purchase.

  1. Standard

Standard PFDs are perfect for recreational fishing and kayaking. These jackets are made up of such materials which are buoyant in nature. Usually, foam is used as a flotation material to create better buoyancy. Standard jackets come into the USCG Type III category.

These jackets are easy to maintain and clean. Besides kayaking and canoeing, you are also allowed to use these jackets for paddle boarding and waterskiing. Standard jackets have pockets where you can store snacks, emergency gears, sunscreens, fishing tools, and more.

However, the major drawback of the standard jackets is their bulk. You may find them a little restrictive, especially for stand-up paddling. Moreover, they are very warm for the summer season.

  1. Inflatable

Inflatable jackets are used in commercial vessels. These jackets can be classified under all 5 categories determined by the USCG. Most of the inflated jackets are designed with a CO2 cartridge. If you pull the cord, it will inflate the jackets in the water.

These PFDs are not as bulky as foam PFDs. Because of their slim structure, they do not create any restrictions in your movement. Also, they do not cover your full body so you can comfortably use these jackets in summer and remain cool.

You have to inflate the jackets well to have proper flotation. Also, the CO2 cartridges should be replaced after each use for regular maintenance. It is better not to consider these PFDs for high impact activities like river rafting or waterskiing. These are not appropriate for children and non-swimmers.

  1. Hybrid

Hybrid PFDs are like the combination of both the standard and inflatable PFDs. These jackets come with the inherent buoyancy, and it is possible because of the solid foam materials that help in floating.

Furthermore, there is an extra air bladder, which is used to support additional flotation. Generally, this type of jacket belongs to the USCG Type III and Type V category. They have a compact design and provide maximum comfort while paddling. However, they are costlier than standard and inflated PFDs.

Right fit

While you are choosing a life jacket, you should not compromise with the right fit. Find out a jacket that fits tightly but helps you to move your hands comfortably. You can look for the manufacturer's sizing chart to pick up the most appropriate fit for you. It is better to have a safety jacket with adjustable straps to tighten them according to your comfort.

Make sure the vest you are choosing does not create any restrictions in your movement. A wide range of sizes is available in the market. So, if you know all the sizes in advance, it will not be difficult to search for the right fit for you. Check out the sizes below –

  1. Adults

For adults, the jackets are designed with large armholes so that they can sit and paddle without any discomfort. The size chart for adults starts with an extra small size, which has a chest of 28 to 32 inches, and it goes up to XXX large size chest ranges 52 to 56 inches.

  1. Kids

Usually, the kid's life jackets are designed with inherent buoyancy. Though these jackets are sized according to the weight, you can find some jackets that are available with a chest size with the weight. For infants, the weight limit is 8 to 30 lbs, and it increases up to 90 lbs for the youth. Also, most of the models have grab handles and crotch straps for maximum safety.

  1. Women

Life jackets for women are specially designed to fit their body. Therefore, these designs come with a shorter length in the torso, and they go well with the shape of a woman's body. They fit more snugly and help during a rescue. Moreover, these jackets come with in-built bust cups for more comfort.

  1. Tall people

There is some special design for taller and bigger people. These PFDs are designed with a larger size for the chest. Some jackets have expanding panels that allow the jacket to move with the wearers. There are several other features so you can customize the fit to accommodate a bigger and larger body.


Considering the high-quality material before choosing a life jacket has lots of benefits. Two types of materials are majorly used to build life jackets that include Nylon and Neoprene.

  1. Nylon

Nylon is lighter than any other available materials, so it does not make the jackets bulky. Though it does not provide maximum buoyancy, you can choose the material if you are strong enough to do your activities without any effort. According to quality, it may not reach your expectations, but it comes within a budget-friendly range.

Some people have a problem with the fit because the jackets made of Nylon do not fit the body tightly. However, you can wear a nylon jacket quickly without any hassles.

  1. Neoprene

Neoprene offers a tighter fit than Nylon. Also, it is appropriate for a higher buoyancy. When you zip the jacket, it will give you the snugly fit with comfort. Due to its stretchable feature, you can have more comfort than a nylon jacket.

Neoprene can retain the body heat so effectively that you can use the jackets for different water sports, including waterskiing, windsurfing, etc. Neoprene is more likely a rubber, which means it will relax after using a few times.


You must check the buoyancy of a life jacket before making a final decision to purchase. Buoyancy or floating helps to keep your head and chin above the water. Generally, 7 to 12-pound buoyancy is required for an adult to keep him afloat.

You should remember that body fat has more buoyancy than muscles so if you have less body fat you should choose a more buoyant jacket.

It is better to check the buoyancy of the jackets in advance. Also, if you have a chance, you can try the jacket before buying it. When you wear the jacket, make sure you are relaxed, and your head is completely above water.

Otherwise, you should not go for the jacket. Buoyancy is an essential factor that matters a lot for the PFDs. Therefore, you should never consider a jacket that does not meet all your requirements.

Weight capacity

Another important factor that you should not overlook while buying a life jacket is weight capacity. Not all life jackets have the same weight capacity, and they can carry a definite weight before going under the water.

Also, the weight capacity of a PFD depends on its size. But almost all the jackets can handle a different weight range effectively. Nevertheless, you should always check whether the jacket you have chosen can support your weight or not.

On the other hand, choosing a bigger jacket can bring restrictions to your movement. It means you should avoid a jacket that is too bulky and make sure it has covered all the required specifications.


Pockets are available in the standard life jackets, which are non-inflatable. You will see the pockets in front of those jackets. Having a PFD with pockets can be very beneficial for the wearers.

Especially if you are planning kayaking and boat fishing, these pockets will help you store small items within your reach. Depending on the size of the pockets, you can keep snacks, fishing equipment, emergency gears, tools that will not cover the deck space. Moreover, you can store a whistle in the pockets for safety.


People always love to wear their favorite colors when it comes to their life jackets. No matter what, you want to have a beautiful look even though you are in the water. So it is all about you and your personal choice of what color you would like to have for your life jacket.

You will find a wider variety of colors and styles so that you can choose the best from them. Some jackets have a solid black color, where the others are designed with vibrant colors.

Also, you should choose the color of your jacket carefully when you go into remote water. It is important because the brighter color will make it easier to identify you quickly in the water. In case you need help, it will ensure a swift rescue because you will be spotted easily.With a view to that, you can go for some luminescent colors and secure your additional safety.

Other important considerations


When you are paddling in the summer season or any hotter location, you will need to cool your body. Without having in-built vents in your PFD, it will be difficult to release your body heat properly.

Fishing features

You may find some life jackets that come up with several hangers for tools and loops for fishing poles. You can also have a drop-down table for the pocket that will help you in fishing effectively.

Lash points

Lash points are also very useful to attach different tools to your jacket. You can attach fishing gear, emergency whistle, compass, and other important things required for boat fishing and kayaking.

Mesh panels

Mesh panels are used in PFDs to enhance their comfort. A safety jacket that is equipped with mesh panels has better breathability, and you can wear them comfortably in hotter weather conditions.

Reflective tape

The main advantage of using reflective tape is that it provides better visibility in low-light situations. It helps to rescue quickly at night. Some PFDs have a brighter exterior to increase visibility in daylight.

How to get the right fit for life jackets or PFDs

You must check the fit of your life jacket before buying it. When you are about to buy a PFD, you have to consider several factors. But you must pay attention to the right fit over anything else. Do not go for a too large or too small jacket and check it does not have any tears or holes.

You can follow the given steps to make sure your PFD has a proper fit:

  1. At first, go through the company's labeling to know the weight and size appropriate for the jacket.
  2. After you find the right size, wear the jacket and tighten the buckles, zippers properly. Raise your arms over the head, and tell someone to grab the jacket top above the armholes and pull it upward.
  3. Make sure the jacket is not going above your chin. In case it reaches up to your years, it is large enough and may slip off after wearing. So you should look for a smaller size.
  4. A right-sized jacket should have a snugly fit, but that will be comfortable as well. Check that you can move your arm without any feeling of discomfort.
  5. When it comes to choosing a PFD for your children, you must prioritize the crotch straps. These straps assure that the jacket will not ride up your kid's head.

Extra tips to note

Here are some additional tips to get the proper fit of your PFDs:

  • It is better to put on the clothes you would like to wear for paddling while trying the jackets. It will give you the perfect fit.
  • You should make sure you can move comfortably after wearing the jacket. For the stand-up paddleboarders, it is suggested to hold a paddle and act like paddling to get the proper fit of your life jacket. The kayakers and cancers can do this with their boat. You will have a better understanding of your comfort so you can make your choice accordingly.
  • For the kayakers, it is very important to know whether your PFD is compatible with the seat or not. Make sure that the life jacket is not riding up. Otherwise, it will reduce the comfort for you. If you are a kayaker, look for a short jacket for more comfort.
  • You can test the jacket in shallow water to know that it works well. You must be careful that when you are floating in a relaxing way, the jacket should not slip over the mouth.
  • More straps mean better adjustability. Therefore, search for a PFD with more straps to customize the fit.
  • If you choose a PFD specifically designed for women, you should check the contoured cups and make sure it does not go over the torso length.


1. How can I know about the exact fit for myself?

The best way to know that a life jacket fits you comfortably is to try it once before you easily wear it. It helps you know the exact size and protects you while you get caught in some accident. Thus, you can go with the one that you think will fit you the best!

2. How can you maintain a life jacket?

Always look for any type of leaks or lump before you wear the life jacket. Also, ensure that there is no tearing of the material from anywhere. Besides, you should check the USCG label that is readable to know that the life jacket is perfect for wearing.

3. What are the steps to keep a life jacket clean?

The process of keeping life jackets clean is quite easy, just like you wash your clothes. Pour some water on the jacket and apply a little cleaner. If there is some accumulated dirt, you may use a soft brush to remove it. Then, rinse the jacket and let it dry.

4. Is sunlight good for life jackets?

No, exposure to direct sunlight for a long time is not right for a life jacket. Not only does its color fade away, but the fabric also starts to become thin with time. This paves the way to direct exposure to the floatation material, which is not at all good!

Summing Up

Surfing, fishing, and other water activities are very enjoyable, but things can gravitate towards unpleasant conditions in a blink of an eye. So, it is always beneficial to prepare for the worst. Efficient life jackets or PFDs can become an integral part in saving the day for yourself and your family.

In this comprehensive guide, we have put together all the necessary elements to watch out while selecting the best product. Go through it and select an elite jacket. / - © Copyright 2020