Best Life Jacket

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Whether you’re boating, paddling, water skiing or engaged in any other activity on the water, life jackets are a critical piece of gear to have. Whether you are planning on hitting up your local pool or spending the day on the water, ensure that you and everyone around you is protected by the best life jacket possible. Fortunately, the past few years have seen life jackets transition away from being bulky and uncomfortable and bulky towards sleek, form fitting designs. A helpful life jacket buyer’s guide is provided below with enough information to narrow down your search.

Best Life Jacket Overall:

Whether you are spending the day water skiing, fishing, kayaking or any other water activity, having the best life jacket will keep you safe while youre having fun. There are a few main things to keep in mind when choosing the right life jacket for you. Life vests come in a wide range of designs, depending on the intended use. The US Coast Guard classifications are helpful in finding the right Personal Floatation Device (PFD) for the right water conditions. A Type I PFD is your standard offshore life jacket, while a Type II is designed for calmer, near shore waters. Type III is by far the most common for continuous wear in calm, inland waters. Once it's determined the class of PFD that meets your needs, view this list for vests that were chosen because they are is easy to put on, comfortable and durable. With the right fit, you will be ready for countless hours on the water.

Mustang Universal Fit PFD Vest

The Universal Fit PFD by Mustang Survival is one of the most versatile life jackets on the market. Whether you are sailing, kayaking, fishing, boating or waterskiing, the Universal Fit is the perfect addition to your gear because it can be easily adjusted to fit almost any passenger on board. Read Full Review

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    Mustang Universal Fit PFD Vest

    Cabela's Ultimate Full-Motion Life Vest

    The Cabelas Ultimate Full-Motion Life Vest gives you the widest range of motion for casting or paddling of any life vest available. Rated as a US Coast Guard approved Type III personal flotation device, the Ultimate full-Motion Life Vest is ideal for the avid sportsman who wants a comfortable and durable life jacket. Read Full Review

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      Cabela's Ultimate Full-Motion Life Vest

      Quiksilver Escape Life Jacket

      Quiksilvers Escape Life Jacket will have you out riding the wake of a motorboat safely, all while looking good. The Escape is designed for comfort with segmented foam inserts and stitching that reduces chafing. Made for water sports, the Ratrace dries quickly and is lightweight enough that you will barely notice you are wearing a life jacket. Read Full Review

      Quiksilver Escape Life Jacket

      Connelly Prophecy Life Jacket

      Ergonomically designed to increase your freedom of movement, the Prophecy by Connelly is a life jacket that is made for water sports. The Prophecy will keep you safe and sustain some of the impact of a fall because of the segmented foam padding. A center zipper and single adjustable strap will have you out on the water in no time. Read Full Review

      Connelly Prophecy Life Jacket

      Onyx Elite Dual-Sized Life Vest

      The Onyx Elite Dual-Sized Vest is a versatile jacket that is comfortable enough to wear all day long. Designed for maximum range of motion, with wide arm holes, the Elite is the ideal vest for in-shore water sports. Complete with pockets for gear, this Type III PFD is the safe and comfortable choice for the active sportsman. Read Full Review

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        Onyx Elite Dual-Sized Life Vest

        Best Kids Life Jacket:

        Safety first is the motto every parent teaches their child on the water; it is also the measure of the best life jacket. If you are going to have a fun and relaxing day on the water, you are going to want to know that your child is wearing the best life jacket available. From the pool to the open ocean, there are many different styles of life jackets for a wide range of water activities. You are going to want to choose a life jacket that fits the intended use. The kids life jackets on this list were chosen because they are going to be highly visible, easy to put on, comfortable and extremely buoyant. You are also going to want to make sure you review the manufacturer's recommended weight and size range before you purchase a life jacket for your kid. The right fit will give you the peace of mind that you need to enjoy a day of family fun on the water.

        Stohlquist Drifter Youth Lifejacket

        The Drifter Youth by Stohlquist is one of the most durable and comfortable kids life jackets on the market. Made with PVF-free Gaia foam, rugged Condura shell and non-corroding zippers, the Drifter Youth is made for years of fun on the water. The Drifter Youth has highly reflective details to ensure visibility day and night. Read Full Review

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          Stohlquist Drifter Youth Lifejacket

          Liquid Force 2014 CGA Nemesis Youth Life Jacket

          The Nemesis CGA is the best life jacket for the kid who loves water sports. Designed for maximum buoyancy with ergonomically shaped foam pads, this kids life jacket will keep your child safe and comfortable. The Nemesis by CGA allows full mobility thanks to the extra arm room, without sacrificing safety. Read Full Review

          Liquid Force 2014 CGA Nemesis Youth Life Jacket

          NRS Vista Youth PFD Lifejacket

          The ideal vest for the child who is interested in exploring inland waters, the NRS Vista PFD Youth life vest is durable and provides a secure fit. The snag resistant nylon and durable front zipper make this a life vets that will endure any adventure. With a US Coast Guard Type III rating, you can have confidence in these brightly colored kids life jackets. Read Full Review

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            NRS Vista Youth PFD Lifejacket

            O'Brien Youth Life Vest

            The OBrien Youth Life Jacket is made from environmentally friendly materials that is lighter and dries exceptionally fast. The OBrien Youth Life Jacket is the ideal PFD for the child who is interested in active water sports. It is safe, buoyant, stylish and comfortable enough for endless family fun on the water. Read Full Review

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              O'Brien Youth Life Vest

              Overtons Child BioLite Life Vest

              The Overtons Child BioLite Vest is an elegant design that your child wont mind wearing all day. A grab handle and a between the leg strap ensure a secure fit that won slip as you safely pull your child from the water. The Child BioLite vest has an ergonomically fit back insert to give your child the most comfortable fit possible. Read Full Review

              Overtons Child BioLite Life Vest

              Best Toddler Life Jacket:

              Whether you are teaching your child to swim or taking them out on the open ocean, a life jacket is an essential piece of equipment to have handy. There is a lot to take into consideration when choosing the best life jacket for your toddler. Every manufacturer will have a recommended weight and size chart that can help you determine the right size life jacket. You are going to want to find the right sized vest that is brightly colored, easy to adjust and can be secured in a way that a curious toddler cannot unbuckle. The use of lightweight, fast-drying materials is another quality to look for in a life jacket. The life jackets on this list were chosen because they meet all of these requirements. Once you have the best life jacket for your toddler, you will have peace of mind that they are safe and comfortable and the whole family will be ready for a day of fun on the water.

              Extrasport Children's Type II Life Jacket

              Extremely buoyant and comfortable, your child will not mind wearing this life jacket all day long. The Childrens Type II Life Jacket by Extraport has a collar that contains ergonomically segmented foam to keep your childs head comfortably above water and has a reinforced loop for pulling your child to safety. Read Full Review

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                Extrasport Children's Type II Life Jacket

                MTI Child Life Jacket with Collar

                The MTI Adventurewear Child Life Jacket with Collar comes in two bright color combinations that your child will love and that you will be able to see day or night. This toddler life jacket is extremely soft and made from quality fabric to reduce chafing. The MTI Adventurewear Child Life Jacket is durable and can endure years of wear and tear. Read Full Review

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                  MTI Child Life Jacket with Collar

                  Stohlquist Child & Infant Nemo Life Vest

                  Light weight and versatile, the Stohlquist Unisex Infant/Toddler Nemo Life Jacket is the ideal life jacket for the pool or calm inland waters. Made from easy to clean and durable materials, the Nemo will resist years of wear and tear. Your toddler will love the fun designs and colors and you will love the secure and comfortable fit. Read Full Review

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                    Stohlquist Child & Infant Nemo Life Vest

                    Hyperlite Unite Toddler Life Jacket

                    Made from lightweight nylon, Hyperlites Unite Toddler Life Jacket is fast drying and easy to clean. It is the perfect life jacket for the toddler who has some swimming knowledge. Your toddler wont mind spending all day in this fun and comfortable life vest, whether you are at the pool or on the lake. Read Full Review

                    Hyperlite Unite Toddler Life Jacket

                    Liquid Force 2014 Star Classic Toddler Life Jacket

                    Leave it to Liquid Force to make a stylish life jacket for a toddler. US Coast Guard approved, the Star CGA is the next line of Liquid Forces extremely buoyant child life jackets. With added safety features for infants and toddlers, like a safety grab handle and extra leg strap, you cant go wrong with the CGA Star Toddler life jacket. Read Full Review

                    Liquid Force 2014 Star Classic Toddler Life Jacket

                    Best Dog Life Jacket:

                    When it comes to having your dog out on the water, it is just as important to provide for their safety as it is for your other passengers. While most breeds of dogs can instinctively swim, they tire after long periods of treading water. If your dog were to accidentally go overboard, the best life jacket could help you make a speedy rescue. The size and fit of a dog lifejacket is essential. It is important that you properly measure your dog and check the manufacturers sizing charts before buying a life jacket. You will need measurements of the dogs neck and chest at their widest points. This will go a long way in helping you identify the right life jacket. The dog life jackets on this list were chosen because they are durable, light weight, dry quickly and have a sturdy lift handle.

                    Ruffwear K-9 Float Coat

                    The K-9 Float Coat is highly visible dog life jacket that you can have confidence in. The Float Coat is durable with sturdy straps and a strong lift handle. Full foam along the back, sides and neck make this an incredibly buoyant life vest. With six different sizes to choose from, you will easily find the right fit for your dog. Read Full Review

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                      Ruffwear K-9 Float Coat

                      Paws Aboard Doggy Life Jacket

                      Pets Aboard Designer Doggy Life Jackets are extremely buoyant to keep your dog in a natural swimming position while in the water. An ergonomic grab handle on the back makes it easy to handle your dog in and out of the water. Your dog wont mind wearing this dog life jacket because of its ergonomic design and breathable fabrics. Read Full Review

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                        Paws Aboard Doggy Life Jacket

                        Water Doggy Fluorescent Orange Dog Life Jacket

                        Water Doggy Life Jackets come in a wide variety of colors, but the most visible is the Water Doggy Fluorescent Orange Dog Life Jacket. This life jacket has a sturdy handle, strong Velcro straps and buckles and under the chin foam padding to make water rescues a breeze for you and comfortable for your dog. Read Full Review

                        Water Doggy Fluorescent Orange Dog Life Jacket

                        MTI Adventurewear UnderDog Canine Life Jacket

                        MTI Adventurewears UnderDOG is a revolutionary design that will keep your dog comfortable all day on the water. Made with highly durable materials, this life vest is designed to last. The UnderDOG comes in two highly visible designs and colors and in five different sizes for just about any breed of dog. Read Full Review

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                          MTI Adventurewear UnderDog Canine Life Jacket

                          EzyDog Doggy Floation Vest

                          The Doggy Floatation vest by EzyDog is built to last and easy to use. A handle on top of the jacket makes it easy to pull your dog out of the water. With highly visible designs and colors, your dog can spend the day on the water safely and in style with the EzyDog Floatation Vest. Read Full Review

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                            EzyDog Doggy Floation Vest
                             

                            Life Jacket Buyer's Guide

                            A good life jacket is an essential piece of safety gear to have when you’re out on the water. Having a properly fitted life jacket will keep you safe while you’re out having fun boating, fishing, paddling, or engaging in any other water sport whether indoors as well as outdoors. 

                            The US Coast Guard defines portable flotation devices that are wearable in three main types, based on the pounds of floatation offered by the design. If you are planning a lot of time off shore, a Type I Off-Shore life jacket is recommended. Type II life jackets are suitable for boating inland waterways and near shore. Life Jackets that are USCG rated as “floatation aids” are designed for water skiing and other activities where immersion is possible.  

                            You need to determine where the life jacket will be used the most and what type of activities you’ll primarily need it for. If you are boating, life jacket requirements depend on the size and type of vessel.  The United States Coast Guard (USCG) requires a USCG-approved, properly fitted life jacket must be on board a vessel for every passenger, easy to access, and of course in good condition. In addition to Coast Guard requirements, you will also want to check the Personal Flotation Device (PFD) regulations for your state. 

                            Life Jacket Construction and Features

                            Life jackets are available in three main designs which include foam, inflatable, and hybrid which is a combination of foam and inflatable. Foam life jackets are the most reliable and made to be worn by both swimmers and non swimmers. Inflatable life jackets are very compact and typically worn during snorkeling, fishing, paddling, or other activities where the user can inflate the jacket as needed. Hybrids have some buoyancy and have the ability to either manually or self-inflate. 

                            The majority of life jackets are made of neoprene or nylon shells. Nylon is the least expensive option and dries fast. Lifejackets made with Neoprene will be more expensive, but this material offers a sleeker, comfortable fit for water sports use.

                            Life Jacket Types

                            Type I PFD Offshore Life Jacket
                            Type I life jackets are the bulkiest of the three types but provide the most buoyancy with 22 pounds of floatation and designed to turn most unconscious wearers face up when in the water. These life jackets are also more than a floatation device s the additional foam provides insulation which can keep the wearer from losing body heat when in the water for extended periods of time. Type I life jackets are highly recommended if you’re boating in offshore or remote locations where rescue may be delayed. Type I jackets are available in foam only to provide the wearer with maximum buoyancy in the event of an emergency.

                            Type II PFD Near Shore Life Jacket
                            A Type II Life Jacket is designed for use in inland waterways or near the shore where a fast rescue is possible. While these jackets have the capability of turning an unconscious boater face-up, the certainty is not as great as it is with the Type I vest.  Foam versions of the Type II have 15.5 pounds of floatation where the inflatable jackets have 33.5 pounds of floatation.
                             
                            Type III PFD Floatation Aid
                            Type III Life Jackets are the most comfortable of the three types.  These life jackets offer the most variety in color and sizing.  They are designed so that a conscious wearer can remain upright in calm waters where a speedy rescue is possible.  Foam versions have 15.5 pounds of floatation.  Inflatable Type III jackets have 22.5 pounds of floatation.

                            Sizes and Proper Fitting

                            A life jacket is designed primarily to keep your head above water when afloat. To make sure the life jacket is the right size, you should first check the life jackets label for size and weight restrictions.  Sizing guides will vary from one manufacturer to another based on the design of each vest.

                            Generally, the sizes for children’s life jackets follow these weight ranges:

                            Infant: 0-30 pounds
                            Child: 30-60 pounds
                            Youth: 60-90 pounds. 

                            Adult sizes are usually measured in chest diameter and can range in size from Extra Small (28-32 inches) to 3X (52-56 inches).

                            Once your life jacket is appropriately sized, put it on and properly secure all the fasteners which are typically buckles and/or zippers down the front of the vest. Once secure, have a friend or family member grasp the top of the jacket and gently pull up; if properly fitted, the life jacket should not rise above your chin. It’s highly recommended the life jacket be tested in shallow water or a pool to ensure a proper fit.
                             

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