What to Consider When Buying a Life Jacket

Life jackets save lives and are required by law, so pick the right model for you.

Life jackets are literal life savers for fishermen on boats, kayaks and standup paddleboards. Life jackets, also known as personal flotation devices (PFDs), are also required by law in the United States, so check what’s required in your state. When an emergency happens on the water you want to know where your life jackets are stored, that they’re in good condition, and how to use them properly. For some life jackets, the law requires boaters to wear the life jackets, not simply have them onboard.

A Practical Life Jacket Choice

Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest
Don’t get caught in an emergency situation on the water without a life jacket.Courtesy Stearns

A popular, inexpensive life jacket that’s Coast Guard approved is the Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest. The no-frills PFD comes with webbed 1-inch straps, a durable nylon shell and PE foam inside. It can handle fishing and water sports, but is not the most comfortable option available today. This type of jacket you might keep close by on the boat when fishing, but won’t wear it all day.

Life jackets are broken down into different categories. Type I life jackets are heavy-duty jackets, with over 22 pounds of buoyancy, meant for survival conditions. They’re for offshore waters and will flip an unconscious person face up. Type II life jackets are meant for nearshore applications, with over 15.5 pounds of buoyancy. More comfortable, but less buoyant than Type I, the Type II life jacket is good for conditions with immediate rescue is expected closer to shore. Type III life jackets are common with different boating activities and water sports today. They offer 15.5 pounds of buoyancy but won’t flip an unconscious person face up. Popular inflatable life jackets, manual and automatic, are usually classified as Type III, depending on their buoyancy ratings.

Less Cumbersome Life Jacket Options

ONYX MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest, Orange, X-Small/Small
Kayakers might find this style of life jacket comfortable, with plenty of freedom and flexibility to paddle.Courtesy Onyx

The Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Vest is a Type III U.S. Coast Guard approved jacket. Built with nylon fabric, comfortable mesh and neoprene comfort pads, this jacket can be worn without causing much discomfort. The SOLAS grade reflective material increases visibility if you need to be spotted or found in the water.

Type IV life jackets are throwable flotation devices. Type V life jackets are the special-use jackets that must be worn in order to count as a life jacket. Often used in work settings, simply having this type of PFD on board will not meet the U.S. Coast Guard requirements.

Inflate on Demand Life Jackets

ABSOLUTE OUTDOOR Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket
Growing in popularity, some life jackets inflate with help from a CO2 cartridge when activated by a cord or submerged underwater.Courtesy Absolute Outdoor

The Onyx A/M-24 Inflatable Life Jacket is a Type V with Type III Performance. Anglers must wear this jacket when on the water. The slim vest inflates manually by pulling a simple T-cord attachment, or automatically when immersed in water, says the company. For most fishermen and boaters, Type II or II life jackets are all that’s necessary for the waters they’ll be fishing and boating. As always, make sure to pick the proper life jacket for your style of fishing.