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.


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