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It’s important to have a full safety checklist at-the-ready before you cast off from the shore, and with that, you need the best life jackets for sailing in your safety arsenal. Not just any PFD (personal flotation device) is going to do the trick.
From pound ratings to reflectiveness and buoyancy, there’s a lot to consider, and we’ve cut out the guesswork for you to premier the best of the best, and make your preparations for that upcoming venture a little bit easier.
Our Reviews Of The Best Sailing Life Jacket
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest
For children, teenagers and adults, Onyx simply provides the best life jacket to feel safe in.
Not only do they provide an aesthetic design that won’t have you itching to get it off, but they also make it exceptionally breathable (so there’s no literal itch, either).
With a mesh back panel for maximum ventilation and comfort, you’ll forget that you’re wearing this after a short amount of time.
Nobody wants to feel the life jacket on themselves, which is why Onyx made this multifunctional so you can’t deny its usefulness.
Utilize the zippered pockets along the exterior for storing small items and tools that you may need on-the-go, and take advantage of the rear whistle fastening strap.
Thanks to their uniquely-designed bubble foam, you won’t have as big a physical weight as many other life jackets.
Where most models try to act as an independent flotation device, Onyx and their lightweight build work with your natural buoyancy better to provide a more reliable sense of floating.
Choose your style and select from the long list of sizes, each of which are made of 200D nylon ripstop.
This not only makes them impeccably waterproof, but also promises that you’ll have these for years to come.
Ripstop is one of the strongest weaving methods available for anything, and this ultra-durable life jacket utilizes every aspect of it.
For a life jacket that you won’t have to bug the kids to keep on (or yourself for that matter), Onyx has your back… and your front.
- Dimensions: 26” x 23” x 3.5”
- Weight: 1 lbs
- Material: 200D nylon ripstop
- Type: 3
- Attached Whistle: Yes
Lixada Fly Fishing Vest
Lixada has the optimal secondary option if you’re not looking for anything luxurious, but still effective.
This inexpensive option is actually a dual-action vest: built for life preserving, as well as a fly fishing vest, meaning it comes with a ton of additional pockets and storage spaces.
Even though they aimed to have this serve a double purpose, they kept things of the same caliber that you’d expect on any quality life jacket.
Ripstop polyester makes up most of the shell, while a dense layer of EPE foam fills the interior. There’s a little bit of added weight due to the metal of the zippers, making this just under two pounds.
With a mesh backing for added ventilation, and comfortable straps that come across your shoulders, this is something you actually won’t want to wait to hop into.
Most life jackets get itchy and aggravating, but this comes with everything you need. Make sure you select the foam option, and understand that this doesn’t have any reflective tape on the shell.
- Dimensions: 25” x 22” x 3.5”
- Weight: 1.7 lbs
- Material: Ripstop polyester, EPE foam
- Type: 3
- Attached Whistle: No
Astral V-Eight Life Jacket
As our alternative option for the runner-up spot, the Astral V-Eight comes in at a slightly bigger weight of 2.3 lbs, but included absolutely no PVC during construction.
While PVC may be durable and reliable, it’s also terrible for the environment to produce. They didn’t let that slow them down though, which is why they made this out of everlasting 400D ripstop nylon.
This type 3 life jacket doesn’t have many features apart from a simple double miniature pocket in the front, and a comfortable ventilated mesh panel towards the back.
Everything comes pre-shaped to fit most body types, and self-locking vision teeth technology to make fastening your life jacket an absolute breeze.
- Dimensions: 20” x 20” x 7”
- Weight: 2.3 lbs
- Material: 400D ripstop nylon, no PVC
- Type: 3
- Attached Whistle: No
Stohlquist Women’s Flo Life Jacket
Women’s life jackets are designed differently to cradle the mid to lower section better.
Stohlquist built this out of durable 400D ripstop nylon for a more durable exterior, even with the large dual side pockets on either end of the central zipper: everything here is fortified.
If comfort is a major concern for you, there’s a neoprene lining along the waistband area to add some extra padding. It requires a longer drying time, but works well in the moment.
Because this is made in China, it has a slightly shorter lifespan than other brands, giving you about seven years of use before it should be switched out.
This is because the foam interior goes closer to your waistband, which ends up getting slightly worn down from where you fasten it.
They have a narrow sizing chart, which can be a bit of an issue. While they are still viable type 3 flotation devices, it pulls you upwards from the midsection instead of the chest.
- Dimensions: 20” x 20” x 6”
- Weight: 1 lbs
- Material: 400D ripstop nylon, neoprene
- Type: 3
- Attached Whistle: No
Stohlquist Child Drifter
Last but not least, the little tyke on board needs a quality life jacket as well. Stohlquist has a perfect solution for the little ones, one that fits most children up to the age of fourteen.
This type 3 flotation device has a small pocket along the front, which doesn’t interfere with the internal foam padding plates in the least.
Stohlquist put a hefty dedication towards making this as comfortable as can be.
They know that children aren’t going to exactly be happy with wearing a life jacket, so they make the design as comfortable and ergonomic as possible so they won’t even remember they’re wearing it after a while.
Stohlquist is known for the longevity of their products, and this is no exception.
Understanding that there will be additional wear and tear with a little one wearing this, you can still get seven years out of it—that’s enough time for them to go from seven to fourteen with the same life jacket, while still being safe.
Last but not least, this acts as a type 3 life jacket, complying with all Coast Guard rules and regulations. This offers full peace of mind for your children while sailing.
- Dimensions: 19” x 16” x 6”
- Weight: 1 lbs
- Material: PVC-free foam
- Type: 3
- Attached Whistle: No
Introduction of Life Jackets for Sailing
Life jackets are a form of personal flotation devices, or more commonly referred to as PFDs.
These utilize buoyancy laws to assist you in the event of going overboard or taking on water, by helping your body stay afloat with your face aimed towards the sky.
You might see people use these at water parks, on the shore or the pond, but it serves a different purpose out in the middle of the ocean.
They’re life preservers, first and foremost. Personal flotation devices are there to offer assistance, and come in many different ratings and designs.
Some come with more functional styles to them, still offering the life-saving benefits and features, but having slightly lower sides and more comfortable shoulder straps to offer a free range of mobility, which you’re definitely going to need all day long while managing the sailboat.
While on-deck, life jackets cannot be in their original packaging: you need to remove this before you set sail.
As a safety requirement, they must also be accessible to all passengers, crew, and additional personnel while you are operating the boat.
If your boat is longer than sixteen feet, (which is more than likely), you must also carry throwable PFDs on board with you.
Certain state requirements deem that children must wear life jackets at all times while on a boat.
This rule usually applies to minors under the age of thirteen, but depending on your state, these laws may be extended up to the age of eighteen.
It is not always unlawful to operate a sailboat without a life jacket, but it is certainly ill-advised to proceed without one.
Life jackets come in a variety of sizes and flotation ratings. If a life jacket isn’t properly fastened to you, then it simply won’t work.
Your body needs to hug onto the life jacket to provide proper buoyancy. Think of a life jacket as a necessary article of clothing that actually expands your body’s natural buoyancy, because that’s essentially what it’s doing.
Lastly, it’s also required to wear a life jacket while out at sea if you’re performing in any water sports.
That can mean jeet skis, water skiing, kayaking or canoeing, or anything in between that doesn’t have an underwater element to it.
While diving or swimming off the shore of the boat, it is important to h8ave a throwable PFD deployed at all times in the vicinity of those in the water.
Sailing Life jackets FAQ
How do I Have to Store My Life Jacket?
Your sailing PFD is prone to a lot of damage, and perhaps the most surprising of those damages is sun exposure.
Even though you’re wearing these on deck at all times (presumably), prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can damage your life jacket.
If you leave it in one spot in direct light while the boat is anchored, you could cause some serious damage. Since you’re moving around all the time while wearing it, the heat doesn’t focus the same way.
The foam on the interior of your life jacket is prone to rapid expansion from the heat.
When that foam expands, it breaks through the shells holding it in place, and can eventually make micro ruptures in the laminated exterior of the life jacket, which will allow water to seep inside.
If that doesn’t happen, expansion can still cause the flotation device to become less effective, or lopsided to one side, which will interfere with the belly-up mechanism that most life jackets have.
Store your life jacket in a cool, dry place at all times when not in use.
If it’s nighttime and you’ve set anchor to get some rest below deck, keep your life jackets indoors so that they won’t endure sun exposure in the morning.
While wearing them, step into the shaded areas of the boat as often as possible when not carrying out a task that is imperative to the boat’s function. That’s relief for you, and for your life jacket.
Is One Obliged to Have One’s Lifejacket serviced?
Any PFD for sailing should be serviced at least once a year.
This preserves the lamination on the exterior, which is what you rely on for the life jacket to displace water, and offer buoyancy.
Without that layer, it would just soak through the foam, and add a lot of weight to you, increasing your mass and potentially making you sink.
Even if you get the best PFD for sailing per our recommendation, degradation can happen with mishandling and lack of care.
You should have one maintenance scheduled per year for every PFD in your boat’s arsenal.
If you regularly captain a vessel and bring passengers out (this can be family, friends, anyone in large parties), this is an excellent opportunity to have all flotation devices inspected at the same time.
What Purpose Does the Back Mesh Part Serve?
The best life jackets for sailing also come with a considerable amount of comfort, because you are expected to wear them all day long.
There’s no point during your trip where you should just say, “Oh, I don’t need this anymore,” and store it under a bench for the remainder of the trip.
Slips happen, even if you have a quality pair of boat shoes on and recently installed grip strips on deck. If you’re expected to wear them all day, wouldn’t you want them to be comfortable?
Back mesh panels give a bit more flexibility to the wearer, while keeping things ventilated to prevent sweat from building up.
Anyone brand could just say “You need a life jacket, take this one,” but that wouldn’t be solving the problems that we all face while wearing them.
Mesh is also parallel to the buoyancy of the foam, which is primarily located towards the front of the life jacket.
The reason it’s located in the front is because life jackets are designed to flip you belly-up if you were to fall unconscious.
How Long is the Lifetime of a Life Jacket?
You can look up just about any sailing PFD reviews, and you’re going to find a lot of misinformation about these lasting for your entire lifetime.
The truth is, there’s more than just foam that keeps you floating in these life jackets.
You’ll be able to feel multiple foam panels separate while wearing a life jacket if you shift your shoulders around, because there are discs along the inside of the life jacket to keep things where they should be.
Touching on our previous section on servicing your life jacket, you definitely need to have it serviced, and the reasons behind it are the prevention of the laminated exterior failing you.
Without that water resistance, the foam will get wet, and will drag you down.
We all know the numerous reports of how long it takes foam to break down in the environment and all, but that’s not the problem. The foam will last forever, it’s just that the rest of the life jacket won’t.
You can help prevent the degradation of your life jacket by using approved waterproof or water repellent coating or spray.
Proper storage (as previously mentioned) is also important to prevent damage to the lamination on the exterior. Mold and mildew deteriorate lamination at rapid rates.
How Much Buoyancy do I Need in a Life Jacket?
It depends on what you’re.
While we know there’s a likelihood that you’ll be sailing, there are different life jackets designed for different maritime and water sport activities.
The best life jacket for sailing will have a 22 lb buoyancy rating, which is the highest rating available without custom orders.
Buoyancy has laws that dictate water displacement, called Archimedes’ principle. It means that the mass of the object in the water will float in proportion to the amount of water that it is displacing.
If you were to float in the water without struggling, the buoyancy from the water you displace would naturally leave you in a state where most of your body was above the water.
Those who are overweight or obese may run into problems with max rated life jackets, and require custom life jackets to be ordered from an authorized manufacturer.
As a rule of thumb, the highest rated life jacket (22 lb buoyancy rating) is what you should have for your boat if you plan on travelling past the shores by any considerable distance.
You can go with a type 2 life jacket, which has 16.5 lbs of buoyancy, if you’re planning on being within a half-mile of the shore.
Can You Drown With a Life Jacket On?
It is possible, but also entirely preventable.
If you were to put the life jacket on backwards, with loose straps and have one that’s designed for a child when you are an adult, then you’re doing everything wrong, and drowning is a possibility.
Even if you have the best inflatable life vest for sailing, there is still human error. We measure the life jackets in this buying guide based on their individual capabilities to aid you, but if you don’t know what you’re doing in the first place, then it’s not going to do you much good.
There are different types of personal flotation devices, which come in three different types.
These are designed to be the most durable and offer the most buoyancy, so much so that they have the possibility of turning an unconscious person in the water face up to prevent drowning.
These are usually life preservers that are used on boats.
Designed for use near the shore with about 75% of the buoyancy of type 1 life jackets.
These are a great option if the wearer in question does not know how to swim and requires massive assistance while paddling through the water.
This is just seen as an aid to flotation, while also using the body’s natural buoyancy and water displacement as an effective measure to prevent drowning.
These have similar buoyancy ratings to type 2 life jackets, but may offer more mobility depending on the design.
Optimizing Your Safety, One Piece at a Time
Grabbing a sailing life vest isn’t just a recommendation, it’s a requirement by the United States Coast Guard if you’re going to be operating a vessel out at sea.
With the very best life jackets on the market to choose from, your top options are laid out in front of you with informative coverage to accompany it.
You’ll need a lot of safety gear for your boat, and getting a head start with the best PFDs is a good place to begin. When you’re prepared for come-what-may, nothing can hold you back.
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