3 Types of Life Vests You Should Know About

In this post I’ll go over 3 types of life vests you should know about if you’re thinking about making a new PFD purchase.

Please note that this post is on styles of live jacket design, not United States Coast Guard approval ratings. Click here to read about the different USCG life jacket types.

3 Types of Life Vests

sexy_life_jacketTraditional Foam Life Jackets

The first type of life vest you should know about (and hopefully one you are already aware of) are the traditional foam life jackets.

These life jackets are your stereotypical, bulky vests that are found in almost every commercial vessel and many recreational boats as well.

The traditional foam vests have a lot of advantages. The two most important are that they’re usually cheap and come in universal or near-universal sizes and include adjustable straps. This is what makes them such a popular option for any commercial vessel that takes on a variety of different passengers.

Traditionally, these vests have also been perceived as the most secure option, but with advancements in flotation technology that is not necessarily the case. Foam life jackets continue to dominate the USCG Type I and Type II life jacket categories.

See more on the Delta Offshore or Stearns Merchant Mate for excellent foam options.

mustang_survival_auto_hydrostatic_inflatableInflatable Life Vests

Inflatable vests are an increasingly common option for individuals with private recreational crafts. They are often Type II or Type III approved for recreational use, and Type V approved for commercial use.

The number 1 benefit of having an inflatable vest is that they are both extremely comfortable and provide for excellent range of motion. Their smaller size means that you can more easily maneuver around the boat and the comfort element makes them practical for spending a full day out on the water.

The biggest downside of inflatable vests is the higher price tag for the better brands, like Mustang Survival, MTI, or Onyx, but when it comes to safety, that’s ok in my book.

Read more about whether or not an inflatable life vest is worth the cost.

hyperlite_mens_indy_neoprene_all_colorsFitted and Neoprene Vests

Finally, the third type of life vest you should know about are fitted and neoprene vests. While not all fitted vests are neoprene and not all neoprene vests are fitted, the two often go hand in hand.

These vests are usually designed for a tight fit around the torso, which means that if you purchase one you’re more likely to purchase it for a specific person rather than an extra accessory to have on board just in case.

Fitted vests are comfortable if you like a snug feel, and are sized more like clothing than traditional life vests. This means that the right size vest should feel tight but also allow for plenty of room to maneuver easily.

These vests are extremely popular with competitive and high-impact sports where submersion in the water is likely. Some of the top choices are: O’NeillHyperlite and Billabong Faderade.

I hope this post helps to give you a brief overview of the different types of life vests you might consider. You can click here to browse more life vest options and see my recommended brands and models.


Lightweight Life Jackets: What To Look For Before Buying

lightweight_life_jacketsLightweight life jackets are becoming increasingly popular among boaters. The idea is that purchasing a lightweight vest can increase mobility and comfort while on baord, making you more likely to wear your vest.

There are a lot of reasons why you might want to purchase a lightweight life jacket, which I cover in more detail in my post on the pros and cons of buying a lightweight life vest.

In this post I focus on what characteristics you should look for in your lightweight life jacket before buying. Read more on choosing a life jacket.

What to Look for in Lightweight Life Jackets

USCG Approval

First and foremost, you should always consider the USCG approval rating for any life jacket you’re considering purchasing. Many lightweight life jackets are USCG approved for Types II and III, but it’s much harder to find a lightweight jacket approved for offshore use.

For most purposes, a type 2 or 3 life vest is sufficient for your needs, and are indications that these vests are designed for inland or near shore waters.

Quality of the Material

Most of the lightweight life jackets on the market today are premium, high end vests. These vests use advanced technology to create ultra-light fabrics that are as durable and effective as thicker material. See more on the Mustang Survival HIT for one example of this feature.

There are some budget vests, however, that attempt to create a lightweight feel by reducing the core components used in the vest, such as by adding less (not better) foam. While these vests must still meet minimum USCG requirements in order to be approved, it’s important to note what materials are used before purchasing.

Maneuverability and Comfort

One of the main reasons to get a lightweight vest is for increased comfort and maneuverability on board. This means that many of the lightweight vests cater to a minimalistic, open-arm design that allows for a full range of motion, regardless of whether you’re in the cockpit or up on the foredeck.

Check the design and structure of the vest to determine which implementation is used in order to ensure maximum comfort for the vest.

Performance When Wet

Finally, it’s important to consider a life jacket’s weight when dry and when wet. Some things to look for include how the vest deals with low, moderate, and high volume submersion situations, to account for everything from a simple splash to a dive overboard.

Some vests are better than other for shirking water and maintaining a lightweight feel even after submersion in water. Mustang Survival MIT 100, Billabong Faderade, and Hyperlite Indy vests are all great examples of lightweight vests both in water and out.

Click here to find an adult life jacket that’s right for you.


Why A Type 1 Life Vest Is Better Than The Rest

NYT2009030219055384CUnderstanding the complex world of US Coast Guard regulations and approval ratings can be difficult if you’re not accustomed to it.

It’s easy to get that some life vests are better than others and that type 1 is the only type approved for long range, offshore boating, but what, exactly, makes a type 1 life vest safer for ocean waters than the others?

In this post I’ll explain why a type 1 life vest is better than the rest.

A Type 1 Life Vest Is More Buoyant Than Types II or III

The first and perhaps most important quality that makes a type 1 life vest far more secure than its inland counterparts is the higher buoyancy.

Type 1 life jackets have a minimum of 22 lbs of buoyancy (and many have much more than that) which means that they’re designed to keep a person afloat regardless of weather and sea conditions.

Not only that, but this additional buoyancy, couple with the design standards, ensures that a type 1 life vest will be able to turn an unconscious person face up in the water.

This factor is extremely important for any situation when it is not easy to immediately rescue the person in the water. Keeping the person face up and their airway open can be the difference between life and death.

Type 1 Vests Are Designed for Longer Submersion

delta_offshore_life_jacket_with_harnessBecause they are designed for ocean passages, it is not clear that rescue will be imminent for any voyage requiring the use of a type 1 life jacket. This means that the vests are designed not only to withstand more difficult currents and rougher weather, but that the person will be able to stay afloat longer.

This feature is essential in scenarios where the primary ship has been incapacitated and there is no coast guard vessel nearby; on the open ocean the nearest ship might be hours or even days away from the location of an accident.

A Type 1 Life Vest Makes Rescue Easy

Finally, type 1 vests are designed for working utility. Most vests are equipped with some sort of harness that allows an individual to easily strap into the boat, but as importantly the type 1 life vests are often equipped with easy access rings that make a rescue feasible in rough weather.

These rings allow a rescuing individual, ship, or aircraft to hook onto the vest with an attaching line and haul them on board. This level of access becomes important when the individual in the water is unconscious and/or when high seas and storms make the rescue effort more difficult.

Type 1 Life Vests to Consider

If you’re planning to take a trip offshore, you might want to consider one of the following type 1 life vests. Click the links below to read a review of each vest:


3 Inflatable Life Jackets Adults Will Love

There are tons of great options for inflatable life jackets on the market, but precisely because there are so many good choices it can be difficult to make a decision about which to buy.

In this post I’ll provide a brief overview of 3 inflatable life jackets adults will love, regardless of what type of boat or intensity of activity you want to engage in.

It’s important to remember that for each of these is an excellent inflatable life jacket for adults. Youth and children 16 years of age and younger are not allowed to wear inflatable life vests, according to the US Coast Guard.

Inflatable Life Jackets Adults Will Love

Each of the following is USCG approved.

mustang_mit_100_life_jacketMustang Survival MIT 100

The MIT 100 lives up to the high expectations you’ve come to expect from Mustang Survival.

This brand consistently develops top of the line vests that go well beyond the security standards set forth by the Coast Guard and provide stylish, comfortable, and durable options for a variety of on-water needs.

The MIT 100 is constructed using membrane inflatable technology, a cutting edge technique that uses a high tech, adaptable fabric that keeps the vest light and comfortable even when wet.

Read the full Mustang Survival MIT 100 review.

mti_helios_inflatable_vestMTI Helios Inflatable Life Jacket

Another high quality option for your next inflatable life jacket is the MTI Helios. The Helios, by Marine Technologies International (aka: MTI Adventurewear) is a manual inflatable vest ideal for small craft operating on coastal or inland waters.

The vest comes in a single, universal size designed to accommodate a wide range of adult sizes, from 30″”-52″. This is a great vest for anyone looking for a recreational, inland inflatable option.

Read the full MTI Helios review.

onyx_am_24_deluxe_life_jacketOnyx A/M-24 Deluxe Inflatable Vest

The Onyx A/M-24 Deluxe is a premium inflatable life jacket for adults.

The vest is built with an eye to both comfort and security, and provides a full range of motion that won’t inhibit any movement around the boat, regardless of the level of agility or speed required.

This effect is achieved through an open-arm design and the careful placement of the foam lining, providing smooth contours to improve motion.

Read the full Onyx A/M-24 Deluxe review.

Each of the vests presented in this list of inflatable life jackets adults will love is an excellent option to cover any inland or calm near shore boating activities. To see more adult life jackets, click here.


Type 3 Life Jacket Design and Recommendations

life_jacket_comfortMore practical than the type 2 or type 1 life jacket alternatives, the type 3 life jacket is the perfect balance between security, comfort, and practicality.

While technically categorized as a flotation aid rather than a traditional life jacket, type 3 life vests are USCG approved for calm, inland activities where imminent rescue is highly likely.

These vests make excellent day to day life vests for both recreational and commercial boaters. Read about other life jacket types here.

About The Type 3 Life Jacket

Like the Type 2 Life Jacket, type 3 vests are approved for a minimum of 15.5 lbs of buoyancy and are intended for inland waters under circumstances in which a water rescue is likely to occur fairly quickly.

Type III vests make up the majority of the life jackets available on the market today, as they provide the most flexibility in terms of individual design choice while meeting the strict USCG standards.

This means that most inflatable and fitted vests are likely to be type 3 vests. One of the main distinctions is that unlike the type 2 or type 1 options, these vests are less likely to right an unconscious person. Whether or not a type 3 vest can turn an individual face up is subject to the specific brand in question, and should be assessed on a case by case basis.

Recommended Type 3 Life Jackets

Because the Type 3 life jacket is a versatile option for many boaters, there are a wide range of possibilities to consider, including both fitted neoprene and manual and automatic inflatable options. Here is a short selection of a few recommended Type III vests.


Mustang Survival MIT 100

The Mustang Survival MIT 100 is a leading option for Type 3 performance life jackets.

The Membrane Inflatable Technology uses a state of the art fabric system that allows for an expandable, adaptable fabric that uses less fabric than other vests on the market today.

Built with an eye towards security, utility, and fashion, the MIT 100 is perhaps the most stylish life jacket available that continue to provide a flexible, comfortable range of motion to handle a wide variety of activities. This is the top of the line Type 3 life jacket and is perfect for any near shore or inland boating scenario.

Read the full Mustang Survival MIT 100 review.



Onyx A/M-24 Deluxe Inflatable Vest

The Onyx Deluxe Inflatable Vest come is an excellent choice for many recreational boaters.

With either manual or automatic options, the life jacket uses a universal size design that is accessible to a wide range of adults, featuring a nylon oxford fabric with adjustable belts to allow any individual to adjust the straps for a perfect fit.

The Onyx design is built for both practicality and utility, offering a comfortable, secure option with a wide range of motion, as well as a few practical advantages, including a mesh fiber pocket for accessible storage while in use.

The Onyx A/M-24 is USCG Type V approved for commercial with Type III performance for recreational use.

Read the full Onyx A/M-24 Deluxe Inflatable Vest review.


Type 2 Life Jacket Information for Recreational Boaters

The Type 2 life jacket is one of the most secure USCG life jacket types and is a more common and comfortable alternative to the offshore type 1 life jacket.

The type 2 vest is approved for inland and near shore coastal waters, and may be used for either commercial or recreational purposes. After the type 3 life jacket, this is one of the most widely used life jackets on the market.

About The Type 2 Life Jacket

One of the reasons that the type II life jacket is so popular is because it provides an excellent combination of utility and comfort.

Whereas type I life jackets are for heavy duty, rough water conditions, type 2 life jackets are for the everyday boater. The design focuses on providing a wider range of motion than that of most type 1 options, while still providing a secure 15.5 lbs of buoyancy capable of turning most unconscious people face up in the water.

This motility allows for a wide range of uses, from low-impact recreational outings to more rigorous near shore races and other competitive events.

Recommended Type 2 Life Jackets

There are a number of high quality type 2 life jacket options available on the market, with an ability to meet most design and use specifications demanded by a range of boaters. Here are some of the top type 2 life vests available today.


Mustang Survival Auto Hydrostatic Inflatable PFD

The Mustang Survival Hydrostatic Inflatable PFD is the premium life vest for all levels of boaters.

The vest is USCG Type II approved for recreational uses, and incorporates state of the art hydrostatic inflation technology that keeps the comfort and performance of the vest leaps and bounds ahead of its competition.

Unlike other inflatable vests, the advanced HIT implementation prevents the vest from inflating when splashed or drenched, needing full immersion to trigger the automatic inflation, allowing for high range of motion and weather scenarios without triggering an unintended response.

This vest is designed for comfort, speed, and agility and is an excellent option for any serious boater. Read the full Mustang Survival HIT Review here.


Stearns Type II Life Jacket: Heads Up Vest

The Stearns Heads Up Life Jacket is the best Type II life jacket designed specifically for infants, children, and youth.

The vest USCG Type II approved for inland and near coastal waters, for either commercial or recreational uses. It comes equipped with a durable nylon shell, PE floatation foam, and high visibility reflector trim that makes in water rescue as easy and accessible as possible.

Read the full Stearns Heads Up Life Jacket review.





Type 1 Life Jacket Information Boaters Need to Know

type_1_life_jacketThe Type 1 life jacket is a heavy duty offshore life jacket intended for rough water use. It is one of the main life jacket types according to the United States Coast Guard approval and rating system.

While not as comfortable as a type 2 or type 3 life jacket, Type 1 life jackets are approved for both commercial and recreational use and are perfect for high demand, high security functions.

About the Type 1 Life Jacket

Type I life jackets are wearable PFDs that are USCG approved for offshore use. They are hardy, durable, and secure, with safety and longevity given a higher design priority than comfort or range of motion.

Their use is approved not only for long range distances, but also for rough water, storm, and shipwreck scenarios in which rescue possibilities are limited and the individual is likely to be stranded in the water for a significant period of time.

The Type 1 life jacket is approved for a minimum of 22 lbs of buoyancy, which is enough to turn most unconscious people face up in the water, even in rough conditions. This greatly increases an individual’s chance of survival until rescue by ensuring air flow even after an individual has sustained a serious blow to their body.

Recommended Type 1 Life Jackets


Delta Off Shore Life Jacket

The Delta offshore life jacket is one of the best rated rough water vests available on the market. The vest is intended for severe ocean weather and comes with an attachable harness to secure directly onto the boat.

This is a practical, comfortable option for a secure Type 1 life jacket for either commercial or recreational use.

Read the full review of the Delta Off Shore Type 1 Life Jacket.

Stearns Type 1 Merchant Mate

stearns_type_1_life_jacket_merchant_mateThe Stearns Merchant Mate is one the best offshore life jackets in a more modest price range. These vests are USCG Type 1 approved for rough water boating, including extended functional use in the event of a delayed rescue.

The Merchant Mate Type 1 life jacket is approved for 22.5 lbs of buoyancy and comes equipped with a foam filled collar and hinged back panel, allowing for easy capture during rescue.

Read the full review of the Stearns Type 1 Merchant Mate Life Jacket.




Additional USCG PFD Types

additional_uscg_pfd_types_type_ivIn the last post I gave an overview of the three primary life jacket types according to the US Coast Guard approval rating system.

While those vests are primarily wearable life jackets designed for normal, everyday use, there are two additional USCG PFD types you should also be aware of.

USCG PFD Types IV and V

Type IV: Throwable Device

The fourth USCG PFD type is not a life jacket or vest, but rather a throwable device. These types most commonly provide between 16.5 lbs and 18 lbs of buoyancy, depending on the design (seat cushions often provide more buoyancy than ring buoys and horseshoe buoys).

These devices are designed for calm, inland waters when a rescue is imminent. Most commonly, these PFDs are thrown from shore or a boat deck to individuals who have fallen into the water. The individual must then grab the flotation device in order to utilize it.


Type IV PFDs will not right a person in the water, nor are they intended for use with unconscious individuals.

Read more about Type IV PFDs.

Type V: Special Use PFD

Type V PFDs come in a variety of styles, each of which is designed for a special case scenario. Examples of Type V PFDs include:

  • Work vests
  • Deck suits
  • Hybrid vests
  • Inflatable belts

Generally, these vests are not recommended for every day use, unless the use is specifically tailored to match the design specifications and intended use of the vest in question.

Individual should always consult the owner’s or instruction manual before decided whether a Type V vest is appropriate for their purposes.

You can find more information on Type V vest types and uses here.

If you’re in the process of purchasing a PFD, you may wish to read this article on choosing adult life jackets, or browse life jackets here.


Life Jacket Types: What the Coast Guard Life Vest Ratings Mean for You

If you’re familiar with the US Coast Guard laws, you know that all boats are required to carry life jackets that are USCG approved.

What you might not know is that there are actually five life jacket types that mark levels of standard life vest approval measured by the Coast Guard. Three of these are traditional life jackets, while two are additional types of PFDs.

In this post I’ll give an overview of the three primary life jacket types and their intended uses.


Type I: Offshore

Type I life jackets are the most durable and most buoyant of all the different life jacket types. Designed to assist with 22 lbs of buoyancy, these vests are approved for extended activity on the open ocean and in rough water conditions. They are able to right an unconscious person to be face up in the water.

These life jackets are usually designed with a “security first, comfort second” mindset, which is appropriate for their intended use, in which rescue may be slow coming.

Read more about the best Type I life jackets.

Type II: Near Shore

Type II life jackets are designed for near shore coastal or inland waterways.

These vests are the most common type of life jacket for most recreational uses, and are equipped with 15.5 lbs of buoyancy that, like Type I vests, are capable of right most adults and children face-up in the water in the event they are unconscious.

Type II vests are generally less expensive and also less bulky than their offshore counterparts, which makes them far more attractive to the average boater.

Type II vests are not intended for offshore boating or situations in which a rescue is not forthcoming.

Read more about Type II life jackets.

Type III: Wearable Flotation Aid

Flotations aids are intended for use in calm inland waters, such as a lake, inlet, or cove. These vests are approved for 15.5 lbs of buoyancy, but are not designed to turn an unconscious wearer face up in the water.

This means that Type III vests are intended for low-risk activities, such as calm water kayaking or small craft boating, in which the chance of an impact-related accident is low.

Type III vests are not intended for situations in which a water rescue will have significant delays.

Read more about Type III life jackets.

Life Jacket Types: Uses and Recommendations

See the following chart to determine when to use each of the different life jacket types, according to craft size and location.


Additional Life Jacket Types

In this post I’ve covered the 3 primary life jacket types according to the USCG approval rating system. In the next post I’ll cover additional USCG PFD types, Type IV and Type V PFDs, which are not life jackets, but personal flotation types. Click here to read more about these PFDs.

If you’re looking to purchase a life jacket for your boat, you may want to read more about how to choose an adult life jacket or browse adult life jackets here.


Choosing an Adult Life Jacket: 5 Points to Consider

adult_life_jacket_choicesChoosing an adult life jacket can often feel like a big decision. You want to make sure you get a comfortable vest that will last you for years and will be a vest that you actually wear on board your boat.

Here are 5 points to consider when choosing an adult life jacket.

USCG Approval Rating

The United States Coast Guard has a five-tier approval rating system that ensures the safety of the vest under various conditions. All watercraft, regardless of size, are required to carry one USCG approved life jacket for every person on board.

Most life jackets are USCG approved, but there are some sport vests that are not, so be sure to check the approval rating before you buy.

Here’s a brief summary of the types of vests:

  • Type I: Offshore Life jacket
  • Type II: Near Shore Vest
  • Type III: Flotation Aid
  • Type IV: Throwable Device
  • Type V: Special Use Device

Read more about USCG rating types.

Intended Use of the Life Jacket

After the USCG approval type, the next thing you should consider is the intended use of the vest.

  • Is the vest for boating, kayaking, or another sport?
  • Will you be boating on inland waters or offshore?
  • How often will you use the vest?
  • How much range of motion do you need?
  • Will you be moving around in the vest?

Make sure that you choose a vest that is going to be comfortable given you’re intended use. If you’re going to be moving around the foredeck, for example, you may want a comfortable inflatable life vest rather than a stock foam vest.

Brand Ratings

One often overlooked point about choosing a life vest is user reviews. Many people assume that vests are a matter of personal preference, and while that may often be the case, you can tell a lot about your prospective purchase by the brand behind it.

Is this a brand that is rated highly for quality, security, and comfort? Are the vests known to last long periods of time?

Most of the mid and high end vests meet this requirement, but many budget choices do not.

Adult Life Jacket Sizes

A fourth point to consider is the size of the vest. It’s important to purchase a vest that fits appropriately. There are many universally sized adult life jacket options that fit a wide range of people. Universal vests are common and often a good fit for boats that carry different passengers.

Other vests may be sized according to individual fit. Common measurements are provided based on chest and shoulder size, so you should choose the size according to the same measurement as you would a jacket or blazer.

Read more on how to measure life vest fit.

Budget and Longevity

The final point to consider when choosing a vest is your budget.

Purchasing a life jacket is an important decision, and remember that the vest you purchase is likely to last for years. Comfortable vests are worn more often than uncomfortable vests, which means that allocating a good budget to your life jacket purchase will encourage you to wear the vest and be safer on the water.

Whatever you decide, remember that buying a life jacket is a decision you’re making for your own personal safety, not just because of a USCG law. Click here to find an adult life jacket that’s right for you.