Lightweight 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
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.