What Do Life Jacket Buoyancy Ratings Actually Mean?

life_jacket_buoyancyWhen you’re purchasing a life jacket, you’ll probably notice that every life vest will state a minimum life jacket buoyancy rating, usually expressed in a weight using pounds.

If you’ve never worked with buoyancy before these numbers may seem a little confusing. Why is a 15-20lb buoyant life jacket safe for an adult? Wouldn’t a typical adult need 150-200 lbs of buoyancy (or more) to stay afloat?

In this post I’ll answer these questions and more by explaining a little about how buoyancy works.

What Life Jacket Buoyancy Ratings Actually Mean

A buoyancy rating is an indication of how much weight a flotation device can safely keep above water. The weight calculated for buoyancy is based on a calculation of dead weight, which is the equivalent of placing an extremely dense, “heavy” material on top of it, such as rocks or metals.

Standard USCG Types and Buoyancy Ratings

Why 15 lbs of Buoyancy is Sufficient

If the buoyancy rating is the amount of weight the device can hold, why do we only need 15-20 lbs of buoyancy to remain safely afloat in the water?

Let me answer with a subsequent question: Have you ever noticed you feel lighter when swimming than on land?

This is because the overwhelming majority of the human body is not dead weight, and the heaviness of a person’s body on land is not the same as the weight of one’s body underwater.

We are surprisngly “not dense.” In fact, roughly 90% of our body weight is lighter than or equal to the density of water.

Depending on your individual body size and makeup, you are comprised of roughly 65-75% water (which has no ‘weight’ in water), and an additional 10-20% fat, which is actually less dense and hence lighter than water.

This means that in addition to only needing to account for 10-15% of our weight when calculating buoyancy, we already have a high level of buoyancy built into our bodies to start with!

How Much Life Jacket Buoyancy Do You Need?

For the overwhelming majority of people, the USCG approval ratings are more than enough to sustain your body weight.

A person needs at most 10% of his way supplemented with life jacket buoyancy, and this figure is even a little high, and would be for someone who has no capacity to maneuver in the water.

The result is that, along as the vest is USCG approved, you don’t really need to worry too much about buoyancy. Click here for more information on choosing a life vest.



Finding the Best Adult Life Vest

Buying a life vest can feel like a difficult decision, but it doesn’t have to be. There are a number of excellent options when you’re choosing a life jacket, and all it takes is a little guidance to find the vest that’s right for you.

In this post I’ll recommend what I see as the best adult life vest in 4 categories: inflatable, fitted, offshore, and budget.

mustang_survival_hit_life_vest_redThe Best Inflatable Adult Life Vest

Mustang Survival HIT Inflatable Life Jacket

The Mustang Survival HIT vest is the cream of the crop when it comes to buying a premium adult life vest.

The HIT model uses state of the art hydrostatic inflation technology, which allows for the use of lightweight fabric that keeps the vest comfortable even when wet and protects against accidental inflation, requiring submersion in 4 inches of water before it will inflate. Read the full review here.

oneill_assault_life_vest_manThe Best Fitted Adult Life Vest

O’Neill Assault Lumbar Support Life Vest

The O’Neill Assault Lumbar Support vest is an excellent fitted option. The vest features a neoprene design, which creates a snug fit sized for either men or women. The vest also includes a soft countour design that provides added support for the lumbar spine, making this a great option for anyone who need a little extra back support.

Priced under $100, the O’Neill Assault vest is a great value for anyone looking for a fitted life vest. Read the full review.

delta_offshore_life_jacket_with_harnessThe Best Offshore Adult Life Vest

Delta Offshore Life Jacket

When it comes to finding an offshore adult life vest, nothing beats the Delta Offshore model. This vest is USCG Type I approved and features excellent buoyancy along with a working harness and easy to access rescue ring.

This vest is perfect for any rough weather or offshore needs, and is a comfortable option for this category of vest. Read the full review.

oneill_superlite_uscg_vestThe Best Budget Adult Life Vest

O’Neill SuperLite USCG Vest

The O’Neill superlite is, in my opinion, the best budget adult life vest.

With a simple foam design and with options starting as low as $20, the price tag is one of the best in the industry from a trusted brand, making this vest is an excellent value for any budget-conscious boater. Read the full review.

If none of these vests feels right for you, you can browse more adult life jackets here.


Is Life Jacket Testing Required for New Life Vests?

life_jacket_testingIf you’re purchasing a new life vest it’s important to understand stand what level of life jacket testing you’ll need to go through with your vest before  you take it out on the water.

Many people hesitate to test their new life vests and while the chances of getting a new vest that doesn’t work is fairly low, when it comes to your safety on the water no precaution should be left out, especially because testing a new vest is very simple to do.

Since you should be in the habit of inspecting your life jacket regularly, it makes sense that your first test can function as a first inspection as well.

How to Test a Life Jacket

There are two basic types of life jacket tests. Dry tests and in water tests.

Dry Life Jacket Testing

To dry test your life jacket, first perform a thorough inspection of the exterior, ensuring there are no flaws in the fabric, especially in the foam or inflation panels, which are essential to maintain proper buoyancy.

For inflatable vests, manually inflate the vest and check to make sure the vest remains inflated. Keeping the vest inflated overnight is a good test of its durability.

Water Testing Your Life Jacket

Taking that new vest into the water for the first time is also an important step, and is one task that many individuals neglect to do.

Water testing your life jacket is as important to measure life jacket fit as it is for the inflation testing purposes, since you need to know how your vest will feel when wearing it in the water. Water testing the vest can help to give you the familiarity you need.

If you have an automatic inflatable vest, don’t let the cost of rearming the vest deter you from performing an in-water test. You can manually inflate the vest before you enter the water and disable the CO2 canister temporarily. Be sure to properly repack the vest after use and ensure the indicator light is green, which signals that it’s armed and ready for the next use.

Properly testing a life jacket in the water is fairly straightforward: put the vest on and go for a swim! Always test the vest in calm, shallow water first, and remain in the water for a minimum of 5-10 minutes to ensure that the vest maintains its inflation and buoyancy for the entire duration of the test.



Life Jacket Servicing for Inflatable Life Jackets

life_jacket_servicingIf you own an inflatable life jacket, it is your responsibility to ensure that the life jacket is properly maintained and serviced throughout the life of the vest. Life jacket servicing is a subtle task, so if you are not familiar with the process it’s best to look to an expert.

Generally it is recommended that you perform a full life jacket inspection every 2-3 months. In the event that you notice any errors with the jacket, such as torn fabric or a malfunctioning CO2 cannister, you should submit the vest to the manufacturer.

Life Jacket Servicing

Inflatable life jacket servicing is harder than it looks. If you are unfamiliar with the design and structure of your vest, it is best to send the vest in to the manufacturer or other specialist for repair.

When to Send it In

  • If there are any major tears or holes in the vest
  • If there are small tears in the inflatable panels
  • If the vest does not maintain it’s inflation
  • If the vest cannot be repacked properly
  • If rearming the canister does not solve any automatic inflation problems

When To Do It Yourself

  • If the repair is cosmetic, such as a flaw on the outer edge of the vest fabric
  • If the repair is to a stitch or small tear that is not intertwined with the inflatable panels
  • If the canister simply needs to be rearmed

Submitting Your Life Jacket for Servicing

Your best option for servicing your life jacket is to submit it directly to the manufacturer. Many brands provide guarantees or warranties upon purchase and are happy to address any issues that come up during that time. Follow the instructions in your owner’s manual for details on where to send the vest.

Remember: if there is any noticeable flaw in your inflatable lie vest, DO NOT WEAR IT. Find a temporary replacement immediately while you submit the inflatable life jacket for servicing. Even small tears and flaws in the inflatable panels can be indications that the vest will not properly inflate or maintain it’s buoyancy in the water.

Read more about the basics of inflatable life vests or browse my recommendations for inflatable life jackets for adults.



Life Jacket Inspection Tips for Proper Life Jacket Maintenance

life_jacket_inspectionBeing a responsible boater doesn’t stop when you purchase new PFDs for your vessel. It’s also important that you regularly monitor the condition of any flotation device on board.

In this post I’ll provide instructions on how to ensure proper life jacket maintenance by performing a regular life jacket inspection. These instructions are focused on inflatable life jackets, both manual and automatic.

How to Perform a Life Jacket Inspection

If you own an inflatable life jacket, you should perform a thorough life jacket inspection every 2-3 months, especially after extended periods of use. To inspect your life jacket, take the following steps:

  1. Check for any scratches, tears, or rips in the fabric, as well as any broken buckles, fasteners or zippers.
  2. Inspect the CO2 cartridge to ensure it is armed and active. If it has been discharged you will need to replace the cartridge.
  3. Orally inflate the jacket. All inflatable vests, whether automatic or manual, have an oral tube you can use to inflate the vest without triggering the CO2 cannister.
  4. Leave the vest inflated for 24 hours. For a proper inspection, you need to ensure not only that the vest inflates, but that there is no sign of air leakage. Leaving the vest inflated for up to 24 hours can confirm that it has no issues.
  5. Repack and stow properly. After ensuring there are no holes in the jacket, repack the inflated section into its original form and properly stow the vest until the next time you go out on the water.

For further information, you may also wish to watch this video, courtesy of Boat U.S.


Further Tips for Proper Life Jacket Maintenance

  • Frequent Fast Inspection. In addition to the regular full life jacket inspection, you can do a quick check up of your personal safety equipment every time you go out on the water. For most inflatable vests, you can look to the indicator panel, which will display green if properly armed and ready, or red if further inspection and maintenance is necessary.
  • Keep the Jacket Properly Stowed. When you are not using your life jacket, keeping the device properly stowed in a secure, dry area will help preserve the vest and ensure its durability in the future.
  • Complete Repairs Quickly. If you do come across any tears or rips during your life jacket inspection, make sure to send the jacket in for repairs quickly, and do not use the jacket if there are any flaws. Even slight rips may be indications of further damage to the vest, which may prevent its proper inflation. Read more about servicing your life jacket.

If you’re considering purchasing an inflatable life jacket, I suggest you read this post on the pros and cons of inflatable life jackets, the post on different types of life jackets, or click here to browse adult life jackets.




Revere Inflatable Belt Pack: What To Know Before You Buy

revere_inflatable_belt_pack_pfdRevere is consistently ranked as one of the leaders in water safety gear, life vests and other PFDs.

The Revere inflatable belt pack is a USCG approved, type III PFD appropriate for calm inland water activities.

Pros and Cons of the Revere Inflatable Belt Pack

This is a great PFD, but whether or not it’s right for you largely depends upon what activities you intend to use it for.

What It’s Good For

Revere is one of the best brands out there when it comes to water safety and emergency rescue equipment.

While their inflatable belt pack PFD is not as renowned as their heavier duty options, like the Type I life vest or inflatable raft, the inflatable belt is a good option for anyone involved in casual, low impact, calm water activities, in which the use of a life vest is a supplemental feature, rather than a main priority.

Examples of good use include:

  • Kayaking
  • SUP
  • Small craft fishing
  • Laser or dinghy sailing

For these activities, this PFD is a solid, USCG Type III approved option that maximizes your comfort by staying out of your way.

The manual inflation setup has an easy access handle, which inflates a vest suitable for a wide range of adult sizes. The vest must then be manually placed over the individual’s head to rest on their shoulders and provide proper inflation.

What It’s Not

The Revere inflatable is not a deep water, coastal cruising, or racing life vest.

If you are engaged in a high impact sport that involves a high probability you’ll wind up in the water, this PFD is probably not for you.

The focus is on comfort and ease for small craft, inland water accidents and man overboards, not choppy or rough water rescues, nor extended submersion times.

Also remember that as with any inflatable belt PFD, inflation is not automatic, and you will need to manually place the inflated vest over your head in order to properly use the PFD, thus it is not recommended for situations in which unconscious or inhibited motion is a strong risk.

How To Decide if the Revere PFD is Right for You

Ultimately, the decision on whether or not to purchase the Revere inflatable belt pack comes down to what your expectations are for a life vest, and what your intended use is.

For any calm, inland water activities, from paddle sports through small craft (under 30ft) excursions, this is a great PFD to have in your arsenal. The ease of use and convenient, wearable technology make it one of the vests that is least likely to get in your way while you’re out on the water.

That factor alone trumps most other considerations in my mind, since a life vest is only as good as the number of times you wear it, and you’re more likely to wear it if it stays out of your way when you don’t need it.

Click here to read more about the Revere Inflatable Belt Pack, or see a list of the top Adult Life Jackets.


Which Type of PFD Will Turn Most Unconscious People Face Up In Water?

type_of_pfd_turn_unconscious_people_face_up_waterIf you’re not familiar with the US Coast Guard rating system, the different types of life jackets and ratings can be confusing.

For many, choosing an adult life jacket can be primarily about finding a PFD that will right an unconscious person.

So, the question becomes: which type of PFD will turn most unconscious people face up in water?

For that there are several answers:

3 Types of PFDs to Turn Unconscious Person Face Up

Type I, Type II, and Type III vests are all excellent choices when looking to turn an unconscious person face up, but a Type 1 is the only vest that is specifically designed for such a feature.

  • Type 1 life jackets are the most heavy duty life vests designed for normal recreational and commercial use. These are offshore vests, intended for rough water, ocean conditions and for an individual spending a long time in the water before rescue. These are almost always designed to turn most unconscious people face up in water, since they are designed for rougher, higher risk boating conditions. These vests typically provide 22lbs of buoyancy, more than enough to keep individuals afloat.
  • Type 2 life jackets are also an excellent choice for turning an unconscious person face up. These vests are designed for inland or calmer, near shore ocean conditions and provide 15.5 lbs of buoyancy. Individuals should check with individual brands for righting capabilities before purchase.
  • Type 3 life jackets also provide 15.5 lbs of buoyancy and are intended for calmer inland waters, but they are less likely than Type II or Type I vests to right an unconscious individual. Instead, Type III vests should be evaluated on a case by case basis to determine whether or not they are suitable for this purpose.

If your priority is the ability to have the life jacket turn an unconscious person face up in the water, then your best bet is going to be a type 1, or possibly a type 2 vest.

Regardless of which life vest you choose, you should always check with the manufacturer statements about approved conditions for the vest. This information is readily available, and will depend on the specific brand in question. You can browse adult life jackets here.

Also keep in mind that life jackets only work when worn! Even the best vest can’t turn an unconscious person face up if the vest remains on the boat while the person is in the water!

The United States Coast Guard recommends individuals wear a life jacket at all times when on the water.


Is An Inflatable Life Vest Worth The Cost? Pros and Cons of Inflatable Life Vests

inflatable_life_vestIf you’re in the process of buying a new life jacket or other PFD, navigating the multitude of types and options available to you can be quite the challenge.

One type of PFD you’ll certainly come across is the inflatable life vest. Inflatable life vests are usually USCG Type II or Type III approved and make great inland and near shore vest options, since they provide comfort and flexibility while ensureing a high degree of security.

In this post I’ll discuss the pros and cons of inflatable life vests, which can hopefully help you make the decision whether or not it’s worth the higher cost.

Benefits of Purchasing an Inflatable Life Vest

Inflatable Vests are Extremely Comfortable

There are a ton of benefits to buying an inflatable life vest. First and foremost in my mind is that they are extremely comfortable compared to most other vests on the market. Comfort is an extremely important factor that determines how often a vest is worn, so it isn’t something to be taken lightly.

The vests are unobtrusive and usually built out of a soft, adaptable fabric and light foam. But, their biggest advantage over competing designs is that the vest remains uninflated unless actually submerged in water.

While some of the lower end models may inflate prematurely if drenched heavily but not submerged, this is not an issue with the better brands out there like the Mustang Survival HIT or MIT options, the MTI Helios, or the Onyx Deluxe.

premium_life_jacketWide Range of Motion

Along with comfort, the lightweight, open-arm design of most inflatable vests means that they allow for tremendous agility and speed maneuvering around the boat. This comes in handy regardless of whether you’re racing, fishing, or just cruising around casually, as it lets you remain prepared for those moments when you have to make a quick tack or gaff the tuna you’ve just spent 10 minutes fighting.

Good Longevity and Easy Maintenance

To justify the cost, most of these vests are designed for the long haul.

I think of an inflatable PFD purchase not simply in terms of ‘buying another life jacket’ but in terms of an investment in my safety for the next several years.

All of the high end brands have excellent maintenance policies, and the vests are easily rearmed in the event that you are submerged.

Downsides to an Inflatable Life Vest

An Inflatable Life Vest is Expensive

Compared to the basic Type II or Type III PFDs available for $20, purchasing an inflatable life vest can be quite costly. Each of the bands mentioned above have vests that are over $100.

Personally, my belief is that safety equipment in general and life vests in particular are the last point where you want to pinch pennies on your boat, but anyone who’s ever been around the water long enough knows just how quickly costs can add up.

If budget is truly an issue, consider purchasing a single higher end model for yourself, while equipping the boat with a handful of budget options to accommodate any passengers you might have on board.

May Require Manual Inflation

There are plenty of automatic inflatable life vests on the market, and if you’re opting for an inflatable vest that’s what I’d recommend.

However, there are also a wide range of manual options. The biggest downside to manually inflatabls PFDs is that they are ineffective if you are knocked unconscious as you fall overboard.

Automatic vests, on the other hand, do not have this problem.

If you’re considering purchasing an inflatable vest, you may want to read more on 3 inflatable life jackets adults will love, which outlines some of the best choices available today.

Otherwise, you can click here to browse more adult life jackets.



Pros and Cons of Buying a Lightweight Life Vest

oneill_superlite_uscg_vestLightweight life vests have become increasingly popular in recent years, due primarily to advancements in buoyancy technology that allows a safe lightweight life vest to be constructed from better materials and fabrics.

In this post I’ll talk about some of the pros and cons of buying a lightweight life vest.

Disadvantages of a Lightweight Life Vest

First, let’s look at the negatives.

Not for Ocean Navigation

Most lightweight life vests are USCG type 3 approved, which is for calm inland waters. While you can find a lightweight life vest that is type 2 approved, they’re in the minority, and they aren’t any (to my knowledge) that are USCG type I. This means that if you like the ocean, a lightweight life vest probably won’t cut it, meaning you may have to splurge for a second vest.

Change Drastically When Wet

Another disadvantage of lightweight life jackets is that many of them drastically change their weight and maneuverability when wet. This depends on the brand however, and there are some good options (like Mustang Survival HIT or Hyperlite Indy) that don’t weigh you down, regardless of how drenched you are.

Advantages of a Lightweight Life Vest

Extremely Comfortable

Lightweight vests are famous for being extremely comfortable and easy to wear even for a long day on the boat.

This comfort is appealing for comfort’s sake, but it also means that you’re far more likely to wear your vest consistently, which is better for your overall safety out on the water.

Excellent Maneuverability

Lightweight vests often employ an open-arm design, which increases rotator cuff action and makes it easier to maneuver around the boat. This freedom of motion is another aspect that makes these vests an extremely attractive option for anyone who goes out on the water.

Good Value

While some lightweight vests are at the premium end of the spectrum (and with a price tag to prove it!), there are a lot of good options available for under $100. For an excellent mid-range vest, consider the O’Neill Assault vest or the Hyperlite Indy. You can also find a good budget lightweight vest with O’Neill Superlite option.

If you are interested in a lightweight life vest, you can browse more adult life jackets here, or Click here to read about what to look for when purchasing lightweight life jackets.