Here's a sobering fact: the USCG estimates that over 80% of the victims of fatal drowning incidents could have been saved by simply wearing the appropriate life jacket. So simple yet so effective at what they're designed to do, it's really no surprise that life jackets are mandated by law.
Any activity that takes you out on the water calls for the responsible use of a life jacket. But they're not all made for the same water sports and activities. So if you're into sailing, make sure you've got the right life jacket by checking our list of the best life jackets for sailing.
The Best Life Jackets for Sailing
Designed with mesh panels along the lower back, the Absolute Outdoor Onyx MoveVent Dynamic life vest provides maximum breathability for sweat-inducing sports. The pliable padding and narrow shoulder straps also help to improve freedom of movement, allowing sailors to move with little restriction. This makes the life jacket a favorite among users interested in active water sports.
Aside from comfort, breathability, and mobility, the Absolute Outdoor Onyx MoveVent Dynamic also considers practicality. Complete with SOLAS grade reflective material and an expandable zippered pocket, this life jacket uses a combination of 200 denier nylon ripstop and nylon oxford to provide maximum durability.
This type III life jacket touts USCG approval, making it a solid choice for meeting local regulations. It incorporates a coated nylon outer shell that extends durability while keeping the jacket lightweight. This also improves movement, allowing you to navigate the waters with safety and mastery.
Inside the outer shell, the life jacket conceals anatomically cut closed cell marine foam panels that comfortably rest against the contours of your body's shape. This doesn't only provide a perfect fit but also maintains excellent comfort for extended hours of sailing.
Considered one of the best sailing life jackets, the Stohlquist Adult Life Jacket is a no-frills choice that just gets the job done. The high mobility design features maximum movement capacity and ensures proper fit with its easily adjustable straps. The contoured, curved edges rest comfortably against the skin, reducing friction during use.
Lightweight at just 0.7lbs a piece, these jackets make wearing a vest feel effortless and easy. And to make sure you won't have to worry about buying a replacement too soon, the durable design incorporates box-stitched webbing across all of its reinforced panels for years of usability.
Another candidate for the best life jacket, the XGEAR Adult USCG Life Jacket features a whopping set of four buckled straps that keep the design secured against your body even in the midst of high impact water activity. Offering a snug fit, this jacket touts a high dynamic strength rating that works best for daring sailors who enjoy the thrill of speed.
Using lightweight EPE foam, this full-torso PFD features a whistle in one pocket to improve your chances of being found in case you fall into low light conditions. It also has a separate velcro pocket that keeps a few essentials securely on your person during high energy sailing events.
Available in a range of colors, this type III jacket for sailing uses a combination of nylon and EPE high density buoyancy cotton. Considered one of the best day sailing life jackets, the choice provides comfortable safety that you can wear for hours without a fuss.
The coast guard approved life jacket also features an embedded adjustable buckle design that guarantees a snug fit without sacrificing freedom of movement.
Suitable for a wide range of activities and sports, the life vest from Zeraty comes with a zippered front pocket and heavy duty stitching that keep the vest secure even after a high impact fall. With side pulls for easy adjustment, this sailing vest works great for offshore sailing.
The ultra lightweight inflatable Spinlock Deckvest LITE Plus Lifejacket might not be USCG approved, but it's considered one of the best inflatable life jackets for sailing nevertheless. The inflatable vest uses an automatic inflation feature that easily and effortlessly prepares the model for use once activated. It features crotch straps and a harness that keep the design secure against your body even during high impact, high speed sports.
Highly adjustable, this simplified flotation device incorporates reflective strips that improve visibility alongside its fluorescent fabric material. And because it does away with thick, bulky foam panels, the design improves movement dynamics for every kind of body shape and size, similar to the Onyx A M 24.
Last but certainly not least on our list of the best sailing life vests, the Astral YTV Life Jacket features USCG type V life vest approval, and was specifically designed for sailing. With 16.5 pounds of flotation, this life jacket can easily keep the average adult bobbing and floating in most water conditions without much trouble.
Boasting featherlight construction at just 1.76 lbs in weight, this life jacket features easy, lasting comfort for all day use. Complete with heavy duty hardware, zippers, and buckles, the vest also touts effortless donning and doffing with its overhead pullover silhouette.
With a zippered pocket on each breast, this adjustable vest also provides excellent space for keeping personal effects.
Why You Need a Life Jacket for Sailing
A personal flotation device (PFDs) or simply a life jacket keeps you buoyant in case you fall overboard into the water. Even people with exceptional swimming prowess stand to gain much from the use of a sailing life jacket. But exactly why do you need one?
It reduces the risk of fatalities
Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe die each year because of boating and swimming accidents. Surprisingly however, the USCG's data shows that over 80% of these fatalities could have been avoided if the victims had worn a sailing life jacket.
Unfortunately, some people think the life jacket is an optional piece of gear. But the USCG strongly advises in favor of the use of these lifesaving PFDs even if you feel confident in your swimming abilities.
Why? Not everyone remains conscious when they fall overboard. Some people lose consciousness on the way down as they hit their head, while others stay in the water long enough to lose energy and black out. In these cases, a life vest will continue to keep you afloat even after you stop paddling yourself.
It's required by the law
The laws that surround the availability and use of personal flotation devices on a boat vary from state to state. But what's certain is that every state has them.
Depending on the laws in the specific area you choose to take to the water, it's important that you familiarize yourself with existing regulations. Most often, you'll be required to have a type I, type II, or type III vest on board for every passenger. Depending on the kind of boat you're using, you may also have to have a throwable device on board.
It minimizes the chances of injury
That initial impact of falling into the water can cause dangerous injuries. Especially if you're sailing on rough water, falling overboard might not cause death but may spell out serious trouble requiring hospitalization.
A padded PFD can help reduce the impact of falling into the water, protecting your vital organs and torso from potentially lethal injury. So wearing a sailing life jacket won't only save your life, but may also eliminate the chances of breaking bones and sustaining injury.
Things to Look for When Buying a Sailing Life Jacket
If it's not comfortable, you won't wear it. That's just the basic truth about life vests. Although we all know how important they are, stuffy, tight, PFDs that limit mobility will make you want to wiggle out especially when you've got to adjust your sails and move around.
Stiff foam panels that prevent freedom of movement may make you feel restricted. So opt for a vest with pliable padding to maximize your movement even while it's on. Also consider the material. Rough fabric, itchy straps and tags, and hardware that digs against your body might cause sore spots after a day of wear.
Adjustable vest designs also make the best sailing jackets because they let you achieve a more personalized fit. For designs that require inflation, you might have to consider the manufacturer's unique fitting requirements and suggestions.
If you sail every chance you get, then your sailing life jackets are likely to undergo some serious wear and tear. Sailing is a pretty demanding activity, and constant tugging, pulling, donning, and doffing will inevitably cause damage to your PFD's. Read our article for information about what causes a PFD to wear out over time.
For that reason, it's important to buy a durable sailing life jacket. Anything that's too flimsy may give way even during use, spelling trouble for its wearer. On the upside, US Coast Guard approved life jackets will typically come with a lifespan of a decade.
Similar to the comfort issue, breathability might also affect your willingness to use your sailing life jacket. Things can get pretty hot on the high seas, and standing under direct sunlight can cause serious sweating underneath that buoyant padding. That's why choices like the Onyx A M 24 and the Spinlock Deckvest have become so popular.
Although every life jacket for sailing will cause you to sweat, others do a better job at attempting to keep you cool. Breathable mesh material like that found on the Onyx A M 24 and the MoveVent, combined with moisture wicking lining can help improve the feel of having a life jacket for sailing fitted against your body.
Sailing will inevitably expose you to direct sunlight. And when sunblock just doesn't seem like enough, a suitable life jacket might do you some good. It definitely won't protect every inch of your skin. But many life vests use UV resistant material that helps to provide a little extra coverage against harmful sun rays.
Other than that, UV protection keeps the life jacket itself safe from UV damage. Constant exposure to sunlight can make your lifejackets fade and crack. A UV protective coating helps reduce the damage the jacket sustains after constant use.
By rule of thumb, life vests should be bright in color. That's because bright colors like red, orange, and yellow produce the best contrast against the water, making it easier to spot the wearer even amid crashing waves.
When darkness starts to settle though, even that stark contrast between orange and blue might be hard to distinguish. That's why it helps to have reflective material sewn into the jackets for sailing. A single reflective stripe can help significantly improve visibility in dark, low light conditions.
Wearing an improperly fitted PFD is as good as not wearing one at all. People naturally raise their arms as they fall. So if you take a plunge into the water with your arms stretched over your head, the force of the water could push the jacket up and off of your body if it's too loose.
To check if an adjustable life vest fits you properly, try pulling up on the shoulder straps. If the jacket pushes against your chin and underarms, and if it threatens to slide off with a pull, then you might want to consider tightening the straps. If it's still too loose at the tightest adjustment, go for a smaller size all together.
Types of Life Jackets
There's a wide range of PFD's on the market. These include:
Type I - Offering 20 lbs of buoyancy, these bulky foam jackets provide the benefit of turning an unconscious user face up in the water. They're typically required for excursions far from the safety of the shore.
Type II - Also capable of turning its user face up, these jackets offer buoyancy ratings of up to 16.5 lbs. They're ideal for nearshore use and satisfy US Coast Guard approved regulations in most states.
Type III - Lightweight and providing greater mobility, type III jackets find purpose as a life vest for general passenger use and water sports. But because they can't turn a user face up, they're ideal only for conditions with imminent chance of rescue.
Type IV - Also called throwable PFD's or inflatable life savers, these are designed to be thrown from a vessel to provide rescue or relief to an individual in the water. Some may use padding for buoyancy while others call for automatic or manual inflation. Read our article to learn about the main advantages of a Type IV PFD.
Type V - Special use lifejackets or PFD's are designed and intended for specific conditions and uses. Some type V inflatable vest designs may stay deflated above water. But once activated, they can inflate and keep the sailor buoyant.
Dynamic Strength Testing
This essentially refers to the capacity of a life jacket to stay intact and effective even during high speed impact. If you enjoy sailing at high speeds and there's a risk of slamming into the water, a life jacket with a high dynamic strength rating should be for you.
The term 'freeboard' pertains to the distance between your mouth and the water level while wearing your life jacket. The USCG requires a freeboard of 3 inches for type III jackets for sailing to guarantee the safety of the wearer. But just to make choosing a little easier, any USCG approved life jacket you find will follow these freeboard standards.
This pertains to the amount of lift that a jacket's foam can provide to keep you afloat in the water. In calm conditions, a typical adult will need 7 to 12 pounds of buoyancy to stay floating. As a standard, type I, II, and III life jackets exceed this rating.
In some cases, a PFD may ditch the foam in favor of air. While others may come with a pump, others require manual inflation.
Read our article on how to check the buoyancy of a PFD.
Do you often sail in cold waters? Sailing life jackets with hypothermia protection might work best for safety. These designs incorporate foam insulation that helps prevent heat loss and reduce the risk of hypothermia as you await rescue. Typically, options that require inflation don't do much to protect against heat loss.
Manufacturers enjoy their liberty when it comes to designing their lifejackets especially in terms of other features whether for practicality or safety. A pocket on each breast let you keep certain personal effects on you even as you wear your life jacket. Others come with a variety of belts cords that let you hang your essentials off of your person, if that's what you prefer.
Many of the best sailing life jackets also come with a whistle and a strobe light in the front pocket to improve your chances of getting found in the water. These safety features can significantly enhance your odds of rescue even in dire conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best buoyancy aid for sailing?
The most common and most popular life jackets for sailing are type III life jackets. US Coast Guard approved type III jackets provide enough buoyancy and mobility for sailing, and meet all requirements for US sailing.
What is a requirement for the USCG Approved inflatable PFD's?
An inflatable life jacket or a type IV life vest should be free from tears and rips if it will be considered USCG approved. It should also have holding brackets and a harness that lets it float freely from the boat in case the vessel is sinking so as not to drag the PFD along with it.
Some of these inflatable PFD's also incorporate a manual inflation feature that even allows the user to restore lost air over extended periods of use. Then again, the standard foam throwable PFD's are still widely used today.
Ready to Set Sail?
The best life jackets for sailing won't only reduce the risk of injury but might also just save your life. Life vests are an essential for any sailor, providing a semblance of safety on even the most treacherous waters.
But not just any vest will work as a sailing life jacket. Before you buy a bunch of life vests, make sure they're right for the job. Check our list of the best life jackets to find the perfect PFD for your boat.