Best Life Jacket

Life jacket or life vest (also known as Personal Floating Device – PDF) is a lifesaving equipment that helps the wearer to keep afloat in water regardless of him/her being conscious or unconscious. Always equip yourself and everybody around you with the best life jacket. It is an essential piece of equipment for any water related activities like. Kids and babies should never go in the water without a life jacket.

Although the terms Personal Floating Device (PDF) and life jackets are used interchangeably, they are not the same. There is a significant difference between the two. One major difference is life jackets have the ability to keep the head of the wearer above water even if he or she is unconscious. On the other hand, personal floating device just keeps a person afloat and does not straighten automatically.

It doesn’t matter if you are racing, paddling, waterskiing, cruising, angling or hunting on or near water, life jacket is a must for everybody.

Why you Need Life Jacket

Life jackets are designed to prevent unintentional drowning and everybody should wear one when in water regardless of the activity or age. You should wear one even if you are a very good swimmers – you never know when you might get knocked unconscious.

Some facts of Unintentional Drowning

  • An estimated 372,000 drowning related deaths per year occur worldwide, which is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional deaths.
  • Annually there are approximately 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings in the US – about 10 deaths per day.
  • According to CDC, in the US, one in every 5 deaths related to drowning are children 14 and younger. Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in children of this age group.
  • Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death of adolescents between the ages of 15-24.
  • Men are twice more likely to drown than women for very obvious reasons – they do more water related activities than women and also maybe women are more careful than men.
  • Drownings of children of the age 1 and 4 years occur in residential swimming pools. (source: https://www.infantswim.com/assets/docs/NationalDrowningStatistics2011.pdf )

The Economics of Drowning

According to Frontier Economics, global cost of drowning is at about $146bn each year. Although low income countries have a disproportionately high cost of drowning, high income country like the US also has to pay very high price:

In the US, 45% of drowning deaths are among the most economically active segment of the population. Coastal drowning in the United States alone accounts for US$ 273 million each year in direct and indirect costs.

Source: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs347/en/

But on an individual scale, nobody wants to lose a loved one just because you ignored to buy a life jacket. The most important reasons you will need life jacket:

  1. Life jacket saves lives under all circumstances
  2. Even if you are an expert swimmer, you may be knocked unconscious and the life jacket will automatically turn you right side up.
  3. Life jacket will keep you warm.
  4. If you are on a boat, fishing and drinking at the same time, it is easy to lose control and fall overboard. Life jacket will save lives.
  5. Accidents can happen anywhere and anytime.

Which is the Best Life Jacket?

US Coast Guard requires different types of life jackets for different circumstances. There are 5 classifications of life jacket types or Personal Floating Device also known as life vest.

Types of Life Jacket

TypeImageMin. buoyancyDescription
Type IType I life jacket22 lbsOff-shore life jacket
• Provides highest buoyancy.
• Designed for extended survival in rough open water.
• Best for off-shore and remote location
• Turns unconscious wearer right side up
• It floats the best
• For commercial vessels, not recreational vessels
• Mostly brightly colored with reflective strips
• Bulky and Uncomfortable
Type IIType II life jacket15.5 lbsNear-shore buoyancy vest
• Less buoyant than Type I
• For use in calm water close to shore
• Suitable for boating, sailing and fishing
• Turns unconscious wearer right side up for children – may not do the same for adults of certain weight
• Comfortable to wear and less bulky than Type I
• Usually inexpensive
• Not suitable for rough waters
Type IIIType III life jacket15.5lbsFloating aid
• Same buoyancy as the Type II
• For use in calm water with rescue very close by
• It will not turn unconscious wearer face up
• The most popular type of floating device due to the number of styles available
• Best suitable for wakeboarders, kayakers, canoeing, boating and most watersports
• Very comfortable to wear
• Not suitable for rough waters
Type IVType IV life jacket16.5lbs
Throwable device: Ring Buoy, Boat Cushion
• Not really lifejacket – these are designed to be thrown overboard
• Mostly ring buoy, seat cushion or horseshoe shaped buoy
• Designed for people in trouble but able to grab on to the device
• For boats 16 feet and longer
• Not suitable for unconscious people and non-swimmers
• Not suitable for rough waters
• Not Designed to be worn – a backup device to be supplemented by wearable jacket
Type VType V life jacket15.5 - 22lbsSpecialty use device
• Intended for specific activities
• Each are designed for different purpose
• Have to check the label for the limits of the device
• Usage include windsurfing, deck suit, paddling vest, float coat, water skiing, commercial white water vest, kayaking etc.
Inflatable life jacketType V life jacket7.5lbs -22lbsInflatable life jacket or inflatable live vest or USCG Type V PDF
• Is a Type V life jacket
• Intended for specific activities
• Usually can be used only once
• Automatic inflation or hybrid inflation (automatic and manual)

As you see there are a few different life jacket types, categorized based on their location of usage and the targeted user.

Most people need some 7-11 pounds of additional buoyancy to keep their head above water. But if you are not a swimmer or for rough sea, go with a life jacket with buoyancy equal or higher than 22lbs. Above all,  get a  coast guard approved life jacket and wear it all the time when on or near water on any water related activities.

Snorkeling Vests

snorkelingSnorkeling is a fun and rewarding activities with it’s own sets of dangers and drowning is one. Even strong swimmers get tired or get cramps after swimming for a long time with all the scuba or snorkeling gears. Although not meant to be used as life jackets or vests, the snorkeling vest can save life. For more please read more on the 5 best snorkeling vest here.

Life Jackets for Hunting

Hunting life jacketLife jackets for hunting are a bit different for the ones  mentioned here. Almost  all the life jackets are brightly colored, not the life vest for hunting. They have to blend in with the environment you are hunting in. It has to be camouflaged – you don’t want your game spot you. Also, the jacket has to be comfortable enough to be worn for a long, has to be warm and water proof.

The ONYX Flotation Jacket is one such jacket. It is a USCG approved Type III life jacket. It’s like a regular everyday jacket with the safety of a life jacket. It provides better hypothermia protection than most other life jackets, perfect for early and late season boating, fishing and sailing.

If hunting is your passion and you are looking for a rangefinder then checkout the best rangefinder review.

Choosing the Right Life Jacket


The most commonly used materials used to make life jackets are Nylon and Neoprene for the outer shell with buoyant materials sewn inside. Nylon is relatively cheap and lighter, whereas Neoprene although slightly more expensive has more buoyancy, comfortable and offers warmth in water. Neoprene life vests are by far the most comfortable vests in my opinion. They are very soft and form fitting.

There are 3 types of buoyant materials used inside life jackets: inherently buoyant, inflatable and hybrid. Inherently or naturally buoyant materials such as cork and balsa wood were used for the inside of the inherently buoyant life jackets. But nowadays plastic foams are used.

Life Jacket – One Size Does Not Fit All

Life jackets are not “one size fits all”. Type I through Type V defines only the minimum requirement and usage by USCG. Life vest size is a different matter and extremely important. If the size is too small it will not fit and will restrict movement. If it is too big, the life vest will not stay in place and may come off; the wearer will have to work hard just to keep it on. Proper fit will allow free movement. There are life jackets for infants, toddlers, children, adults and dogs. Amount of buoyancy required for one person to stay afloat is different from another.

One life jacket does not fit all situation. There are jackets that are suitable for certain situations like life jacket for sailing, fishing, kayaking, sailing etc. Let’s get a bit into   the different categories of life jackets.

Infants, toddlers, children and youth life jacket sizes are based on their weight and are one size fits all for that particular weight range.

  • Infant and toddlers – 8 to 30 lbs.
  • Children – 30 to 50 lbs.
  • Youth – 50 to 90 lbs.

For adult men and women the size of the vest is measured by chest sizes. It’s not similar to the t-shirt sizes. Simply measure your chest size and pick the life jacket which fits that particular size.

Note: One note of caution when you buy a life jacket, not all the life jackets of the same model are of the same Type. A different colored life jacket of a particular model may be of different Type.

Best Life Jackets

Most of the life vests used for our racing, paddling, waterskiing, cruising, angling etc fall into 3 main Types; the Type I, Type Type III and Type V. But these types are divided into several categories based on their user, size and use. For instance life jacket for infants and toddlers are different from youths. Kids wear a different type of jacket when they learn to swim. There a jackets for different water sports and activities for adults. Listed below are some of the categories of life vest. Please click on each category to read a full description and review of the best life jackets in respective category.

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I did my bachelor's degree in Computer Science from Mississippi State University. Now, I am a proud father of a beautiful and sweet daughter. And she loves water and pools. I did a lot of research before buying my first pool about 2 summers ago. Planning for a replacement pool soon. My experience with my first pool made me research further and I gained some knowledge in the process. I thought I should create a web site to share my knowledge. So here it is.

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Cathryn - January 22, 2017

I must say you have high quality posts here. Your page should go viral.

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