Find the Best Life Jacket for You

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The best life jacket is the one you’ll wear all the time. Using common sense while operating your boat safely includes wearing a personal flotation device before leaving the dock and asking everyone on board to do the same.

Annual studies of recreational boater fatalities consistently show marginal success for putting on a life jacket in an emergency. Conditions change too quickly. Even in calm conditions, it’s almost impossible to put one on in the water because of its buoyancy.

Life jacket requirements

Federal and state regulations require recreational boats to carry at least one wearable personal flotation devices for each person on board. Jackets should be readily accessible, of the proper type and size, and in serviceable condition.

Additionally, all boats over 16 feet long must carry an immediately accessible throwable flotation aid. (Some human-powered boats are exempted.)

Most states mandate wearing USCG-approved life jackets by water skiers, tubers, personal watercraft operators and riders, and when participating in similar high-speed water activity.

Selecting the proper jacket

Choose a life jacket approved by the U.S. Coast Guard for your intended type of boating. For example, life jackets for paddle boaters have large arm openings to facilitate paddling. Those for high-speed watersports require more straps and buckles with less bulk. These design features keep the jacket on if the boater falls into the water at high speeds.

All personal flotation devices should have a whistle and light attached. They should be made of high-visibility material to speed recovery operations. Open water jackets should have reflective tape to help with night recovery.

Try on your life jacket to see if it fits comfortably snug. Fasten all zippers, belts, and snaps. Pull up on the jacket shoulders to ensure that it doesn’t ride up and interfere with movement or breathing. Test it in shallow water to see how it handles.

Inspect your jacket before every outing. Check for rips or tears, intact seams and properly working fasteners. Adjust the fit, and label your jacket with your name for easy identification.