How to Choose the Right Life Jacket

Life jackets are mandatory on fishing boats, so pick the one that works for you.

Life jackets are life savers. United States Coast Guard statistics from the last decade reveal that recreational boating deaths are mostly the result of drowning. And of those drownings, a majority of the victims were not wearing life jackets. Wearing a life jacket while boating significantly increases your chances of survival if something catastrophic were to happen.

Life jackets, by law, are required to be on your boat, so check state regulations for the exact regulations. Some styles of life jackets must be worn to be considered legal, not just stored in a hatch on the boat. So never feel pressure not to wear a jacket because it doesn’t feel cool; wearing a life jacket is self-preservation from that unexpected on-the-water emergency. Even kayakers and paddleboarders should wear a personal flotation device in their shallow-water excursions.

Life jackets are rated in different classifications or types. When researching to buy your next life jacket, knowing what a life jacket is rated helps to understand how it will handle in an emergency situation. Type I life jackets are offshore jackets, with over 22 pounds of buoyancy, meant for survival conditions where rescue times may be slow. They will flip an unconscious person face up. Type II life jackets are meant for coastal applications, with over 15.5 pounds of buoyancy. Many will flip an unconscious boat face up. Type III life jackets are comfortable to wear when boating or fishing, but most will not flip an unconscious person face up in the water. Type IV life jackets are throwable flotation devices. Type V life jackets are often used in work setting on the water and must be worn while on the water.

The Classic Orange Life Jacket

AIRHEAD Type II Adult Keyhole, Orange
Designed to flip an unconscious boater face up.Absolute Outdoor

The Airhead Type II Adult Keyhole life jacket is the classic-style, boxy life jacket that’s a great option if you need something reliable but don’t plan to wear it regularly. The bright orange life jacket is inexpensive and is designed specifically to provide minimum buoyancy and turn an unconscious person face up. The life jacket is made for anyone who weighs more than 90 pounds.

Inflatable jackets are growing in popularity too, as they are lightweight and allow you to do things like a cast a reel or drop anchor without noticing you’re wearing the device.

Inflatable Vest Jackets

Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket Life Vest Basic Manual
Two suspenders and a belt strap make up this lightweight style of life jacket.Eyson

The Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket Vest Preserver manually inflates when you pull the handle, opening to full size in about 3 seconds. On the left side of the jacket, you can blow up the jacket via tube if something were to happen to the inflator. This type of jacket is a great option for anglers who need the ability to move around a boat cockpit.

Inflatable Belt Jackets

Onyx M Series Belt Pack Manual Inflatable Life Jacket
Belt-style personal flotation devices are comfortable to wear the entire day.Onyx

The Onyx M Series Belt inflatable life jacket is extremely low profile. The 1-inch buckle and body belt is made from 200 denier nylon. The Type V life jacket has Type III performance, says the company, approved for persons at least 16 years old and over 80 pounds. This type of personal life jacket is the kind you can wear all day and forget it’s even there.