Safe at Sea: How to Choose a Life Vest

Safe at Sea: How to Choose a Life Vest

A life vest is important because it can help you stay afloat in the water in case of a boating emergency. Knowing how to choose a life vest means knowing your needs, chest size, and other important factors.

By Brand Ambassador | June 27, 2022

When it comes to staying safe when enjoying the water, a life vest is a must. Life vests, also called life jackets, are personal flotation devices (PFDs) that even strong swimmers must wear when heading out on a boat. You need to know how to choose a life vest to ensure you’re getting the safest option.

A life vest is important because it can help you stay afloat in the water in case of a boating emergency. It offers buoyancy and is an essential piece of gear for any boater, kayaker, or paddleboarder. Knowing how to choose a life vest means knowing your needs, chest size, and other important factors.

Boating in Florida requires following strict rules about life vests. According to United States Coast Guard (USCG) regulations, there must be one life jacket per person on every vessel. Let’s look at the details about how to choose a life vest so you can ensure your safety at sea and on the water.

When Do I Need to Wear a Life Vest?

Fact: 18.5% of Florida is water. This wet wonderland creates all kinds of opportunities to enjoy the water and all the fun that comes with it. But unfortunately, that comes with an even scarier fact: Florida ranks 6th in the nation for the state with the highest number of unintentional drowning deaths across all age groups. 

These facts come together to mean that water safety is especially important in Florida. One of the most important things you can do to stay safe on the water, in Florida and beyond, is to follow proper guidance when it comes to wearing a life vest. 

When is a Life Jacket Required?

There are quite a few guidelines to follow about when to wear a life jacket. Some are influenced by USCG rules, others by state law. In Florida, you MUST wear a life vest in the following 3 situations:

  1. All children under 6 years old on a vessel smaller than 26 feet in length
  2. Everyone on a personal watercraft, like a jet ski
  3. Anyone who is being towed by a vessel, like water skiers or tubers

While the law requires life vests in the above scenarios, it might be smart to wear a life vest or PFD in other situations and water activities, too. 

When is a Life Vest a Good Idea?

What Kind of Life Vest Do I Need

Even the strongest swimmer can benefit from a life vest, as current changes and other hidden hazards can present serious threats. Other situations in which it’s a good idea to wear a life vest include:

  • Whenever you’re alone on any kind of vessel or boat
  • When the water temperature is below 70 degrees
  • Any time you’re on a sailboat
  • If the weather is inclement 
  • Should any kind of emergency call be made on the vessel

A life vest can help boaters stay safe in all kinds of situations. Let’s look at what to look for in a life vest, the kind of life vest you might need for your water sports and more, and other things you need to know to ensure you play it safe on the water.

Want to know even more about boating safety? Learn more about what you need to know before you head out from the marina with these boating safety tips everyone needs to know.

What Kind of Life Vest Do I Need?

The most important thing to look for when thinking about how to choose a life vest is that you’ll actually wear it. This means comfort is king and you want to ensure that your life vest meets your needs when you’re on a vessel. There are a lot of life vests on the market today and knowing what to look for in a life vest can help you make a decision when it is time to buy. 

There are two main kinds of PFDs available to consumers today: standard and inflatable. Most boaters, kayakers, paddleboarders, and other water enthusiasts look for standard life vests for many reasons.

Standard Life Vests vs Inflatable Life Vests

The most common life vests you’ll find on store shelves and in online catalogs are standard, non-inflatable PFDs. These are also what you’ll likely see on the water for boaters, kayakers, jet skiers, water skiers, and others. Standard life vests are super versatile, which is why you’ll see them in use for so many different activities.

These life jackets look like a vest and are made of a buoyant foam material covered in a bright color fabric. You’ll want a model that’s approved by the USCG. You’ll know the life vest is USCG-approved if it's labeled as a Type III PFD.

There are a number of pros associated with using a standard life vest. They are ready to go and don’t require any extra effort before use (unlike an inflatable life vest). They are super low maintenance and only require a quick dry before storage. In many cases, they even have pockets to hold essentials like sunscreen, fishing gear, and even snacks.

Most folks chose standard life vests over inflatable life vests for several reasons. Even though inflatable life vests can be USCG-approved as Type IV PFDs, they come with a few caveats that deter many potential users. 

Inflatable life vests, as the name implies, require inflation before use. They also require regular maintenance. You might need to change an internal CO2 cartridge after each use, which can get expensive. Additionally, inflatable life vests aren’t good options for kids under age 16 and even adults who aren’t strong swimmers.

What Should I Look for In a Life Vest?

Even if you’ve narrowed down your choice to a standard life vest, you’ll need to know a few other things to look for to ensure you’ve met your match in a life jacket.

Adult Life Vests

Getting the right size life vest is essential. Believe it or not, but when it comes to adults, your life vest size is determined by your chest measurement rather than your weight. 

To get your chest size, you’ll need to measure the circumference of your chest at the largest point. For women, that might mean around your bust. For men, that might mean measuring at the broadest place. You can use this measurement and manufacturer guidelines to determine the best life vest fit and size for you.

Life Vests for Children

How do you know if your life vest fits properly? You’ll notice that it fits snugly, but still allows you free movement. Arm openings aren’t too loose or too snug. It also shouldn’t rub against the skin uncomfortably or cause any chafing.

All bodies are different. The most customizable life vests have many straps that can adjust and fit the wearer.

Another thing to keep in mind when looking for a life vest that fits is the clothing you’ll wear under it. Full fishing regalia and attire might make a life vest fit differently than a tight wetsuit or bathing suit.

Life Vests for Children

Unlike adults who choose life vests and PFDs based on chest measurements, children’s life vests are based on weight.  

As a general rule of thumb:

  • Babies, 8-30 lbs might best fit in an infant’s life vest
  • Little ones 30-50 lbs might best fit in a child’s life vest
  • Bigger kids 50-90 lbs might best fit in a youth life vest

Kids over 90 lbs should opt for an adult life vest sized based on chest measurement.

Life Vests for Dogs

Got a salty dog? Or at least a pooch who enjoys time on the boat? You might consider having a life vest for your dog. Dog life jackets are not required, or even certified, by the USCG. However, they can help your pup stay safe and offer peace of mind.

Your dog’s life vest should fit snuggly, have a low profile, and feature easy-to-release buckles. Additionally, a life vest with a handle to pull your pup from the water can come in handy, too.

How Many Pounds of Buoyancy Do I Need in a Life Vest?

How well you can stay float in a life vest depends on the amount of buoyancy it has. The amount of buoyancy in life vests is measured in pounds. 

Standard life vests, called Type III PFDs by the USCG, only need seven to 12 pounds of buoyancy to keep an adult afloat. Any quality standard life vest on the market today should fall within this range.

Play it Safe from Jensen’s Marina

If you want to get technical, the amount of buoyancy you need to stay afloat can vary based on a few factors. These factors might include your weight, body composition, lung size, and clothing. Generally speaking, fat is lighter than water. If your body composition is very muscular, you might need more buoyancy than someone whose body composition contains more fat. 

Regardless of these factors, the seven to 12 pounds of buoyancy in a USCG-approved standard life vest should be enough to keep any adult afloat in a face-up position.

Play it Safe from Jensen’s Marina

Now that you’re familiar with how to choose a life vest, it's time to head out for a day on the water that’s both safe and fun. Jensen’s Twin Palm Marina and Cottages™ is the perfect place to enjoy boat rentals, kayak rentals, and more. 
Ready to plan your perfect Captiva Island adventure? Reach out to Jensen’s Twin Palm Marina and Cottages™  to learn more about how you can enjoy island life from our full-service marina and comfortable vacation cottages. Call  (833) 668-7768 or contact us online now.

Jensen’s Twin Palm Marina and Cottages™

15107 Captiva Drive
Captiva, FL 33924

(833) 668-7768
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