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Swimming & Water Sports

Best Life Jacket

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.

Stohlquist Drifter Youth Lifejacket

The Drifter Youth made by Stohlquist has a unique design with a cross-chest harness that allows the vest to fit snugly lower on the child’s torso. The Drifter Youth is extremely comfortable by keeping the vest lower on the back and adjustable neoprene shoulder straps that allow maximum movement, all without sacrificing buoyancy. The mesh side panels make sure the jacket stays cool and dry during a full day of water sports. The Drifter Youth has front zip entry and hand shaped foam for a close fit that your child will be comfortable in all day on the water.

Liquid Force 2014 CGA Nemesis Youth Life Jacket

Liquid Force 2014 CGA Nemesis Youth Life Jacket

The Nemesis CGA by Liquid Force has two sizes for kids, a child vest that is rated for 30-50 pounds and a youth vest rated for 50-90 pounds. Both designs have extra large arm holes proved exceptional comfort and mobility, making the Nemesis a life jacket that your child will want to wear. The child’s vest has optional leg straps and a grab handle for added safety. The Nemesis is as durable as it is safe with a tough outer shell and heavy duty front zipper that can take years of wear and tear. The Nemesis CGA is the perfect kids life jacket for inland water sports.

NRS Vista Youth PFD Lifejacket

The NRS Vista Youth Personal Floatation Device (PFD) is an easy to use and reliable life jacket. Designed for children between 50-90 pounds, the NRS Vista has straps with seven adjustment points at the shoulders, sides and waist that make it easy to provide your child with the perfect fitting life jacket. Both the inner and outer shell is made from durable denier Nylon and contains ergonomically cut PVC-free foam, makes sure the NRS Vista Youth can withstand years of use. The two front Velcro pockets give your child room to store toys and snacks. This is the perfect vest for a day of fishing, boating or paddling.

O'Brien Youth Life Vest

The O’Brien Youth life jacket is the perfect personal floatation device for the child who is interested in water-skiing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding or any other water sport. Coast Guard approved for children weighing 50-90 pounds, the O’Brien Youth Life Jacket is easy to use and comfortable. A simple front zipper and two belts give your child a secure fit that will have them on the water in no time at all. The foam is covered with neoprene fabric that dries extremely fast and is mold and mildew resistant. The O’Brien Youth life jacket has wide arm holes for maximum mobility and comfort, whether your child is grabbing a tow line or casting a fishing pole.

Overtons Child BioLite Life Vest

The Overton’s Child BioLite Vest is a stylish, lightweight and comfortable life jacket for kids. The BioLite material is lighter and more environmentally friendly than neoprene, making it a fast-drying and extremely comfortable life vest that your child won’t mind wearing all day long. The Flex-fit V-back insert and large arm holes offer maximum mobility, while the three straps and zip closure offer a secure fit. US Coast Guard approved for children weighing 30-50 pounds with a 20-25 inch chest, this is a great jacket for any water activity from swim lessons to a day on the lake. The lighter fabric ensures that your child won’t be too hot and reduces chafing.

Extrasport Children's Type II Life Jacket

The Extrasport Children’s Type II Life Jacket is designed for children under 50 pounds who are learning to swim. Rated a Type II by the US Coast Guard, this life jacket will keep your child face up in a pool or calm inland waters. Extrasport uses Gaia foam, which is much PVC-free and eco-friendly. The head pillow will keep your child’s head comfortably above water while the leg strap and cross chest buckle keep the jacket securely in place, even when you are pulling them out of the water. The Extrasport Children’s Type II life jackets are brightly colored and have plenty of reflective tape for exceptional visibility day or night.

MTI Child Life Jacket with Collar

The MTI Adventurewear Child Life Jacket with Collar is made for toddlers that have some swimming skills. US Coast Guard Type III approved for children weighing between 30-50 pounds, this life jacket is perfect for any type of inland water sports. The padded collar provides extra head support in the water for them and peace of mind for you, without getting in their way during hours of activity. The grab loop on the collar is reinforced and is made to hold the weight of a child being pulled out of the water. The vest is easily secured using a single zipper down the front, a single strap across the chest and another strap between the legs.

Stohlquist Child & Infant Nemo Life Vest

The Stohlquist Unisex Infant/Toddler Nemo Life Jacket is a perfect life jacket for a child who is learning to swim. The Infant Nemo Life Jacket is a US Coast Guard Approved Type II personal floatation device designed to keep your child face up in the water. Stohlquist makes the Nemo in sizes ranging from under 30 pounds to 30-50 pounds; these adjustable jackets can grow with your child as they progress as swimmers. The Nemo is easy to secure, with quick release buckles, adjustable strap between the legs and a centerline zipper. You can rest assured that even a curious child will not be able to remove this life jacket. Stohlquist uses a 200 Denier oxford shell and liner with a neoprene cover, making the Nemo one of the lightest, most comfortable toddler life jackets on the market.

Hyperlite Unite Toddler Life Jacket

The 2014 Hyperlite Unite Toddler Life Jacket is one that your child with not want to take off. The Unite Toddler Life Jacket features brightly colored designs that your child will love. The vest is secured using a front zipper, one cross chest buckles and a strap between the legs that ensures the vest stays put when lifting your child out of the water using the convenient handle behind the neck. The Unite Toddler Life Jacket is designed to fit children weighing between 30-50 pounds and is US Coast Guard Type II approved. This life jacket is ideal for your toddler if your family trips include anything from trips to the pool to inland water sports.

Liquid Force 2014 Star Classic Toddler Life Jacket

Liquid Force 2014 Star Classic Toddler Life Jacket

The Star CGA made by Liquid Force is a life jacket designed for to provide a stylish and secure fit for your little star. Made to support a child under 30 pounds, the Star CGA life jacket is ergonomically designed to give your child maximum mobility without sacrificing safety. With oversized arm holes, your child’s movement will in no way be restricted. A heavy duty zipper, buckles and leg straps ensure a secure hold. The Star CGA is one of the most comfortable vests on the market; your child will appreciate the extra space to move their arms and you’ll appreciate the secure fit.

Ruffwear K-9 Float Coat

The K-9 Float Coat is the ideal dog life jacket if your dog likes to tag along with you while kayaking, river rafting, power boating or any other water sport. Designed for maximum buoyancy in a natural swimming position, the K-9 float coat is comfortable enough for your dog to wear all day long. A heavy duty lift handle with a low profile will help you lift your dog out to the water with ease. This dog life jacket is highly visible with reflective trim and a light loop for attaching an optional Scotchlite for additional visibility at night. All of the buckles are tucked away to ensure that they stay in place no matter what. Your dog won’t mind wearing it and you will have peace of mind with the K-9 Float Coat.

Paws Aboard Doggy Life Jacket

Designer Doggy Life Jackets by Pets Aboard come in a wide variety of colors and patterns so your dog’s personality can shine all while being safe on the water. The bright colors and reflective strips on Designer Doggy Life Jackets ensure that your dog is highly visible at all times. All six sizes feature adjustable nylon straps with quick release buckles and heavy duty Velcro under the belly and around the neck provide an extra secure and comfortable fit. Your dog will be comfortable wearing this life jacket all day long because of the mesh underbelly that dries quickly and guarantees air flow to keep your dog dry and cool.

Water Doggy Fluorescent Orange Dog Life Jacket

Water Doggy Fluorescent Orange Dog Life Jacket

The Water Doggy Fluorescent Orange Dog Life Jacket is exactly what you might imagine a dog PFD (Personal Floatation Device) to look like. This bright orange jacket has reflective stripes on the sides to ensure that you can see your dog in the water, day or night. The jacket is lightweight and has a mesh underbelly that is designed to drain quickly, keeping your dog comfortable on even the longest day on the water. The Water Doggy Fluorescent Orange Dog Life Jacket has a sturdy handle that makes it easy to pull your dog out of the water. This jacket that is easily secured with black buckles and straps around the neck and chest comes in one of the widest varieties of sizes on the market. The Water Doggy Life Jacket also has a reinforced loop where you can fasten a leash, making it perfect for the beach.

MTI Adventurewear UnderDog Canine Life Jacket

The UnderDOG, made by MTI Adventurewear, is a unique design that places the majority of the floatation underneath the dog’s chest and neck. This design completely supports the natural swimming posture of the dog by freeing the hind legs and supporting the head above the water line. The UnderDOG fastens over your dog’s back using two nylon straps and quick release buckles. Another adjustable strap is located around the chest to make sure the UnderDOG life jacket has a snug fit. Two nylon lift handles are also located on the back for easy rescue.

EzyDog Doggy Floation Vest

The EzyDog Doggy Floatation Vest is one of the most durable and comfortable dog life jackets on the market. This dog life jacket is made with nylon over extra foam that can endure years of wear and tear on the water. The adjustable neoprene straps and padded neckline ensure a safe and secure, but comfortable fit for your dog that allows natural movement. The EzyDog Doggy Floatation Vest comes in a variety of colors and designs that all include reflective stripes for increased safety. You can even attach a leash to the nylon D-ring on this life vest.

Mustang Universal Fit PFD Vest

While it looks like your typical red life jacket, Mustang Survival has a 45 year history of making the best personal flotation devices on the market, including for military and professional use. The Universal Fit PFD is out of Mustang Survival’s recreational line and is an extremely durable and versatile life jacket. Just as the name implies, the Universal Fit is a one-size-fits-all life jacket. The combination of three adjustable belts and the open-sided design makes the Universal Fit a flexible and comfortable life vest for any passenger. The open neck makes this jacket comfortable enough for a day of sailing, fishing or paddling.

Cabela's Ultimate Full-Motion Life Vest

Cabela’s Ultimate Full-Motion Life Vest delivers unmatched comfort. The unique design includes adjustable neoprene shoulder straps that move with you and allow full range of motion. The cut of the foam inserts assure unrestricted arm movement. The overall design combined with the two front pockets makes this a great jacket for fishing. As durable as it is comfortable, Cabela’s Ultimate Full-Motion Life Vest is made from Cordura nylon and 420 denier nylon that dries fast and is lightweight. This vest is easy to secure, with a front zipper and an adjustable waist belt. Rated a Type III Personal Flotation Device by the US Coast Guard, this jacket is perfect for inland water sports and fishing.

Quiksilver Escape Life Jacket

Quiksilver Escape Life Jacket

The Escape Life Jacket by Quiksilver will keep you safe and in style. The Escape is designed for comfortable and all-day use for use in inland waters. With segmented cut foam and flat lock stitching, this vest is designed to take a beating. The foam inserts are placed perfectly to absorb the impact of a fall and keep you safely afloat. The simple design with a center zipper and dual waist straps make the Escape adjustable and easy to use. Rated as a US Coast Guard Type III personal floatation device, the Escape is the perfect life jacket for waterskiing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding and wakeskating.

Connelly Prophecy Life Jacket

Connelly Prophecy Life Jacket

It’s no small wonder that the Connelly Ski Company would make an exceptionally comfortable life vest. Ideal for water sports, the foam panels in the Prophecy Vest are designed to give you a maximum range of motion. The segmented panels are also designed to give you the most padding, making even the worst wipeout easy to endure. This lifejacket is comfortable, durable and lightweight. The Prophecy has a layer of neoprene on the inside and outside, making this lightweight vest dry exceptionally fast. The neoprene stretches easily to fit any body type and provides warmth in colder waters. The strap across the waist is partially hidden and has a front release buckle for quick release.

Onyx Elite Dual-Sized Life Vest

The Elite Dual-Sized Vest by Onyx is one of the most flexible life jackets on the market and is perfect for a day of fishing or kayaking. This life jacket has an open neck style and large arm holes that allow for a wide range of movement while paddling or casting. The comfortable collar contains soft fiber, instead of foam, to reduce abrasion on the neckline during day-long excursions. The front of the jacket has two large pockets for gear in addition to the D-ring at the bottom of the right pocket seam where you can clip your keys, pocket knife, small flashlight or any other small accessory. The Elite Dual-Sized Vest is a USCG Type III life jacket with a single zipper down the chest and easily adjustable belts to ensure a secure fit.

Buyer's Guide

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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