Life Jacket Guide

Craft control, sufficient knowledge of your surroundings, and wearing a life jacket are all simple and easy ways to practice safe boating on the water. A life jacket, in particular, is a major factor when it comes to protecting yourself and your passengers on board.

A common misconception is that only passengers under the age of 12 should wear a life jacket on or near the water. On the contrary, even good swimmers should wear a life jacket at all times. Age and skill level should not play a role in whether someone wears a life jacket.

Conditions like the tide, current, weather, and waves are not guaranteed. They are subject to change at any moment. As a result, a life jacket should be readily available and worn by every single passenger on board.   

Here’s what you need to know about life jackets and how they further ensure safety on the water. 

Picking the Right Life Jacket

Life jackets are comfortable, affordable, and should not restrict you during activities.

Still, your decision should not be based on aesthetics, but rather on practicality, fit, intended use, and whether or not the vest is approved by the Coast Guard.


Not all U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets perform in the same way. Each will vary in the way it functions. A breakdown of how different types of life jackets function will be further discussed later in this article.

Overall, the best life jackets will rotate you face up within a short period of time. The product description should outline specific functions, performance capabilities, and recommendations for inland or offshore use.

This should be thoroughly checked before purchasing. Additionally, read through reviews to ensure the vest’s effectiveness is accurately depicted.  


Make sure the life jacket fits properly. Life jackets are typically measured by weight. The manufacturer should have recommended sizing guidelines available for your reference.

Do not get something that could be grown into, especially if you’re buying a life jacket for a child. Life jackets that are too big will push up against the face, proving to be uncomfortable and unsafe. You’ll want to make sure it is snug, but not overly tight.

You can test whether a life jacket fits properly by raising your arms above your head. If the vest rides up over your face or chin, it does not fit. Rather, the vest should securely stay in place. There should be little to no excess room near the arm and neck openings.

On the other hand, if the vest is applying constant pressure and significantly restricting movement, it may be too small.

For optimal performance, the life jacket should fit just right. Anything too big or too small can prove to be counterproductive.

Who Should Wear a Life Jacket?

Anyone participating in boating or towed water sports, like water skiing and wakeboarding, should wear a life jacket. Full stop. Age and swimming abilities do not play a factor.

Always wearing a U.S Coast Guard-approved life jacket is the best way to ensure protection while recreational boating. Following recommended protective measures is a key component of water safety.

Many who participate in activities like boating, fishing, paddling, towed water sports, etc. may think a life jacket is unnecessary. Even if you’re not planning to get in the water or weather conditions are mild, there is no guarantee as to how the circumstances of the day will turn out.

Weather changes, an accident, or other adverse situations can occur in a matter of seconds. It’s best to be fully prepared in terms of safety measures at all times. Don’t leave yourself in a “woulda, coulda, shoulda” scenario.

The Different Types of Life Jackets

1. Off-Shore Life Jacket

An offshore life jacket is very buoyant and built to withstand the most extreme weather and wave conditions. It can be used on in any waterway, particularly in environments with open, rough, and isolated waters.

This type of life jacket has several, secure buckles and is designed to turn the user face-up in an emergency. It’s the safest, most effective option. Although the name indicates it should be used in offshore waters, we recommend using it for inland boating as well. You can never be too cautious on the water. 

2. Near-Shore Buoyant Vests

Near-shore vests are designed to be used in calmer, inland waters only. The assumption is that rescue services will not be far off.

They are also constructed to turn the wearer in a face-up position, just like the off-shore options. The difference, however, is that near-shore vests take longer to turn the user into the face up position. There are also less buckles, making it less secure.  

3. Inflatable Life Jackets

Once inflated, the performance of an inflatable jacket is quite similar to the near-shore buoyant vests.

They work to turn the person face-up. Same with the near-shore options, it does not meet the efficient timeline offered by the off-shore vests.

Inflatable jackets are designed with a front belt, helping the user inflate the vest with ease. When not inflated, these vests are quite comfortable and pleasant to wear all day long.

4. Flotation Aids

Flotation aids are also meant to be used in tranquil, inland waters. However, they do not function as well as inflatable life jackets or near-shore buoyant vests.

In an emergency situation, where the wearer is unconscious, this life jacket will have trouble getting this person into the face-up position. To remain face-up, the user must keep their head tilted back, which is a near impossible task if the person is unconscious.

Additionally, it has a minimum buoyancy level like the inland vests, with the expectation that rescue teams are nearby.

Overall, flotation devices should be used as a last resort, as there are much more effective life jackets available to use.

5. Throwable Devices

A throwable flotation device can be used anywhere, in both offshore and inland waters. They are meant to be thrown to someone in the water, who will then grab onto the device and be pulled back into the vessel.

It is not meant to be worn and should not be used as a replacement to a life jacket. It is an extra precaution for hazardous situations.



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