10 Best Life Jackets – (Reviews & Ultimate Buying Guide 2019)

Did you know that the first ever life jackets were made out of wooden pieces sewn together over a cotton jersey? You can imagine what people looked like back then if they had to be equipped with one of those – a proper live-action version of Wile E. Coyote wearing a dynamite vest. We have most assuredly gone a long way since then.

Nowadays, wearing a life jacket has become not only necessary but also convenient. We will be your lifebuoy tube to help you find the best life jacket on the market. If you have found yourself swimming in an ocean of various types of life jackets, it might be tricky to know what exactly you should be looking for.

On our page, you will find safety tips, maintenance advice, and reviews of life jackets to guide you to the right choice. We hope you enjoy reading and that, by the end, you will know the answer!

PRODUCT DETAILS
Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest

Stearns Adult Classic  Series Vest

  • Price : $$ – $$$$
  • Chest size : 30 to 52″ ( universal ) 52 to 62″ ( oversized )
  • Color : Red / Blue
  • Made : Durable nylon
  • Fitting as expected : 83 %
  • Weight Capacity : 90 lbs and over
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Onyx General Purpose Boating Vest

Onyx General Purpose Boating Vest

  • Price : $ – $$$$
  • Chest size :  30 – 52″ / 40″ – 60″
  • Color : 4 Options
  • Made : Durable flotation foam
  • Fitting as expected : 73 %
  • Weight Capacity : over 90 lbs
View On Amazon
Onyx Curve MOVEVENT Paddle Sports PFD

Onyx Curve Movement Paddle Sports

  • Price : $$ – $$$$
  • Chest size : 44 to 56″
  • Color : 4 Options
  • Made : Lightweight flotation foam / 200 denier nylon outer shell
  • Fitting as expected : 93 %
  • Weight Capacity : over 90 lbs
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Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket Vests

Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket Vests

  • Price : $$
  • Chest size : 30″- 52″
  • Color : 5 Options
  • Made : Polyester cordura fabric and closed cell PE foam
  • Fitting as expected : N/A
  • Weight Capacity : 30-50 lbs , 50-90 lbs
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The NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

The NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

  • Price: $$$$ – $$$$$
  • Chest size : S / M
  • Color : 4 Options
  • Made : 200 denier urethane-coated ripstop nylon and mesh lower back
  • Fitting as expected : N/A
  • Weight Capacity : 16.5 lbs
View On Amazon

Our Top Life Jacket Choices

This is where the fun begins. We will show you the top 10 life jackets in the reviews below. Pick the one you like the most – we haven’t listed them in any particular order.

1. Stearns Adult Classic  Series Vest

Stearns Adult Classic Series VestThe Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest immediately stands out with the fact that it is an all-purpose product. It can be used for boating, tubing, and swimming. Moreover, it has been approved by the US Coast Guard. The vest is available in both universal and oversized model with chest measurement ranging from 30 to 52 inches for the universal and from 52 to 62 inches for the oversized. In general, the vest fits very well to most people as the three straps allow the perfect possibility for adjustment. Yet another positive quality of the jacket is that it is very suitable for people with beginner or moderate swimming skills. As a drawback, it can be pointed out that the vest does not wrap around the waist.  Besides, people, who are above the average height and with a smaller frame, may experience the vest coming up to the neck while being on a boat.

Pros

  • Suitable for boating, tubing, swimming,
  • US Coast Guard approved
  • Fitting as expected – 83 %
  • Easily adjustable

Cons

  • Does not wrap around the waist
  • Not well-fit for people with a smaller frame and above average height

2. Onyx General Purpose Boating Vest

Onyx General Purpose Boating VestThe Onyx General Purpose Boating Vest is distinguished with the quality to be suitable for all types of water activities. The Adult Universal model has a chess measurement ranging from 30 to 52 inches. The jacket is designed for people weighing more than 90 lb, and generally, it fits well.  Another significant advantage is that the Onyx Vest is US Coast Guard approved. The jacket has open sides with straps, and together with the large armholes, it grants desirable comfort.  Compared to other brands, the Onyx Vest is an excellent deal for the money, and it has a stylish and enjoyable design. One of the disadvantages is that the upper strap is difficultly adjusted, mainly if you are overweight to some extent. Moreover, the overabundance of padding around the neck may make it difficult for you to turn your head.

Pros

  • Suitable for all types of water activities
  • US Coast Guard approved
  • Fitting as expected – 73 %
  • Open sides with straps
  • Large armholes

Cons

  • The upper strap is difficult to adjust
  • Excessive padding around the neck

3. Onyx Curve Movement Paddle Sports

Onyx Curve MOVEVENT Paddle Sports PFDWhat attracts our attention at first look is that the Onyx Curve Movement Paddle Sports Vest suits to your body like a glove. Moreover, it grants excellent mobility for various recreational paddle sports. The vest allows effortless movement while paddling and it has superior cooling. With all of these aspects combined, the product offers excellent comfort. Besides, the Onyx Life Jacket contains both floating and bubble foam, which makes the product very light. The X-Large and 2X-Large sizes encompass chest measurement ranging from 44 to 56 inches, and you have to weigh more than 90 lb to use to vest. Yet another positive aspect is that the Onyx Life Jacket is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. As for the disadvantages, the vest does not have any pockets or D-ring attachments.

Pros

  • Suits very well to the body
  • S. Coast Guard approved
  • Fitting as expected – 93 %
  • Lightweight
  • Great comfort and cooling
  • It allows easy movements

Cons

  • The life jacket does not have pockets
  • The life jacket does not have D-ring attachments

4. Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket Vests

Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket VestsThe first thing you could not miss to notice about the Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket Vest is its versatility. It can be used equally well for fishing, waterskiing, tubing, boating, canoeing, etc. The Adult Universal size fits people with chest measurement ranging from 30 to 52 inches and weighing more than 90 lb. Moreover, the Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket Vest is not only approved by U.S. Coast Guard but also UL listed, which means that its safety has been tested in laboratories. Another advantage of the jacket vest is that it comes in a bright red color, which makes it highly visible in the water in any situation. What is also advantageous is the design with open sides which provides for a breathable fit and grants excellent paddle sports mobility. On the opposite side, it can be pointed out that the front and the back of the jacket are not attached together.

Pros

  • Excellent versatility for all kind of water activities
  • S. Coast Guard approved
  • Listed in UL
  • Breathable fit
  • Distinct and bright red color

Cons

  • The front and the back of the jacket are not attached together

5. The NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

The NRS Chinook Fishing PFDThe NRS Chinook Fishing PFD stands out with the fact that it is mainly designed to be as helpful as possible for fishing.  One of the significant advantages this life jacket has is its effectiveness. The anglers will have at their disposal seven various sized pockets for the tackle, attachment points for the tools, and an integrated rod holder. Moreover, the lifejacket is equipped with a coil tool retractor, strobe holder loop, net attachment D-ring, and multiple other D-rings. Together with the effectiveness, the significant additional advantage of the NRS Chinook Fishing PFD is the comfort that is granted to the angler thanks to the eight adjustment points. The lifejacket is also approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. As a whole, there is a little to point out a drawback.  One thing that might be said is that it gets warm behind the front panels in the small/medium size.

Pros

  • Great effectiveness
  • S. Coast Guard approved
  • Seven pockets with various sizes
  • D-ring attachments, strobe holder loop, coil tool retractor,
  • Rod holder, Net attachment D-ring
  • Eight adjustment points

Cons

  • It gets warm behind the front panels

PRODUCT DETAILS
O’Neil Men’s Reactor Life Vest

O’Neil Men’s Reactor Life Vest

  • Price : $$$$ – $$$$$
  • Chest size : 23″
  • Color : 5 Options
  • Made : 100% polyester
  • Fitting as expected : 74 %
  • Weight Capacity : 150-170 lbs
View On Amazon
Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility USCG Approved Life Jackets

Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility USCG Approved Life Jackets

  • Price : $$$
  • Chest size :  58″- 66″
  • Color : 5 Options
  • Made : High quality polyester cordura fabric and closed cell PE foam
  • Fitting as expected : N/A
  • Weight Capacity : 50-90 lbs
View On Amazon
Onyx Unversal Paddle

Onyx Unversal Paddle

  • Price : $$ – $$$$
  • Chest size : 30 to 52″ ( Universal ) 40 to 60″ ( Oversize )
  • Color : Red / Aqua
  • Made : Foam back , Breathable mesh lower back , Neoprene shoulder pads
  • Fitting as expected : up to 80 %
  • Weight Capacity : over 90 lbs
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Full Throttle Adult Dual-Sized Nylon Water Sports Vest

Full Throttle Adult Dual-Sized Nylon Water Sports Vest

  • Price : $$ – $$$$
  • Chest size : 60″- 70″
  • Color : Red
  • Made : 200 denier nylon and 150 denier poly-twill
  • Fitting as expected : 77 %
  • Weight Capacity : 90 lbs
View On Amazon
Stearns Adult Watersport Classic Series Vest

The Stearns Adult Water-Sport Classic Series Vest

  • Price: $$
  • Chest size : 21″
  • Color : 3 Options
  • Made : 200D nylon shell and PE flotation foam
  • Fitting as expected : up to 70 %
  • Weight Capacity : over 90 lbs
View On Amazon

6. O’Neil Men’s Reactor Life Vest

O’Neil Men’s Reactor Life VestThe O’Neil Men’s Reactor USCG Life Vest is perfect for water sports such as wake sports and water skiing and also for swimming and tubing. What is noticeable here is the attention to the design. The first significant advantage is the unrestricted movements this life vest provides thanks to the segmented foam core and the anatomical flex points. The minimal bulk design adds to the previous features allowing full mobility. People who seek comfort will highly appreciate this product as it has expansion panels which enable a comfortable fit. Besides being convenient, life vests also offer a relaxed fit, which will be very beneficial for the water sports enthusiast who wants to have freedom in their motions. Also, The O’Neil Men’s Reactor USCG Life Vest has a strong focus on security with its quick release safety buckles and heavy duty front zipper. What can be considered a disadvantage here is that the stomach area padding is too thick? Yet another drawback seems the fitting as only   74 % fit as expected.

Pros

  • Suitable for water sports
  • S. Coast Guard approved
  • Unrestricted movements
  • Good comfortable design
  • Focus on safety

Cons

  • Stomach area padding is too tick
  • Only 74 % fit as expected

7. Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility USCG Approved Life Jackets

Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility USCG Approved Life JacketsThe Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility USCG Approved Life Jackets for The Whole Family show many good qualities that can be advantageous for the users. First and foremost, life jackets have a highly visible neon orange color, which makes the people who use them highly visible in all water situations. The adjustable size 4X-6X is designated for a chest measurement of 58 inches to 66 inches. Talking about safety, several positive aspects deserve noticing. Firstly, the life jackets are U.S. Coast Guard approved and UL listed. Next, the fully enclosed sides provide a secure fit and the 2 inches webbing and buckles ensure that you will be protected excellently in case of an impact.

What’s more, the life jacket grants also superior comfort and versatile usage. It can be utilized for fishing, water skiing, canoeing, wakeboarding and etc. As for drawbacks, it may be pointed out that the life jacket does not have any pockets or a hook for clipping on different items.

Pros

  • Suitable for versatile water activities
  • S. Coast Guard approved
  • Highly visible in all water situations
  • Comfortable design
  • Great emphasis on safety

Cons

  • It does not have any pockets
  • No hook for clipping some items

8. Onyx Unversal Paddle

Onyx Unversal PaddleThe Onyx Universal Paddle Life Jacket attracts attention with several positive aspects right away. Firstly, it is not bulky, the weight is very light, and it fits perfectly to the body because every strap can be adjusted. Secondly, the life jacket does not come up to the neck and allows free movements while paddling. The universal size is designed to fit a chest measurement ranging from 30 inches to 52 inches, and the oversize fit from 40 inches to 60 inches. The Onyx Universal Paddle Life Jacket is excellent for all types of paddling water sports, and it is also U.S. Coast Guard approved.

Moreover, the bottom half of the back is mesh so that the life jacket does not raise up to the neck when leaning. Finally, the life jacket has large and easily accessible pocket various items such as glasses, cell phones, whistles and etc.  The lack of a bottom strap to hold the life jacket down might be considered a disadvantage as well as the zipper closing, which might make one feel warm in a hot day.

Pros

  • Suitable for all paddle sports
  • S. Coast Guard approved
  • Freedom while paddling
  • Large front pocket
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • No bottom strap
  • Zipping may cause heat during a hot day

9. Full Throttle Adult Dual-Sized Nylon Water Sports Vest

Full Throttle Adult Dual-Sized Nylon Water Sports VestThe Full Throttle Adult Dual-Sized Nylon Water Sports Vest is characterized with its adjustability and its lightweight. The vest has adjustable belts and a chest strap which guarantee perfect fitting. Moreover, it encompasses a broad range of sizes with its 4X-Large/7X-Large reaching chest measurement from 60 inches to 70 inches. The vest is appropriate for a large number of water activities such as fishing, boating, skiing, and even relaxing on the water. It is approved by the U.S Coast Guard, and it is made of durable floatation foam.  The length of the vest is 25 inches, and it is not designed to cover the whole torso. However, it is made flexible so that people who use it can feel comfortable in it. On the other side, the fact that the length of the vests does not increase with the size might be considered as a disadvantage. This fact reflects pretty much on corpulent users who are also with height above the average.

Pros

  • Adjustable belts and a chest strap
  • S. Coast Guard approved
  • Appropriate for a lot of water activities
  • Extra Large Size
  • Lightweight
  • Flexible design

Cons

  • The length does not increase with the size

10. The Stearns Adult Water-Sport Classic Series Vest

Stearns Adult Watersport Classic Series VestThe Sterns Adult Water-Sport Classic Series Vest can offer the users great adjustability and comfort with its open-sided design. In addition, there are four adjustable chest belts and two large armholes for better movement. The four adjustable buckles are created to allow breathability. The vest can be utilized for a large variety of water sports such as wakeboarding, waterskiing, tubing, kayaking, and others.  The Sterns Adult Water Sport, Classic Series Vest, is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.  The vest grants desirable comfort to the people who wear it with the soft and durable nylon shell and the lightweight PE floatation foam. The four chest belts give the user an excellent and reliable sense of security. The vest also has a few drawbacks. Firstly, it does not have a pocket anywhere on it. Secondly, it is very tight around the neck, which can cause discomfort if the vest rides up.

Pros

  • Comfortable to wear
  • S. Coast Guard approved
  • Appropriate for a variety of water sports
  • Lightweight
  • Adjustable buckles designed for breathability

Cons

  • No pockets for storing small items
  • Very tight around the neck

What Is a Life Jacket?

Life Jacket Reviews

A personal flotation device (or life jacket) is a piece of equipment designed to help a wearer stay in the water. Life jackets are a primordial item you need to have on your boat, on a towable tube and as a passenger on a ship or a plane. Usually, today’s life jackets are made of sturdy synthetic material that encapsulates an object that provides buoyancy. In most cases, this is a compartment of air or a piece of foam. The coloring of life jackets is typically bright so that it can be visible from afar.

A common mistake people make is overestimating their swimming abilities. Even the most experienced swimmer can panic in dangerous or unexpected situations. Therefore, the life jacket is a must no matter your skills, especially for younger children under 13 years of age.

Among the features of a life jacket, its ability to turn people face-up in the water is the most important one. Not all types of life jackets can do this with unconscious wearers, but the majority will offer this essential aid. Overall, they serve to provide buoyancy to keep the body afloat and the head above water. It will also help keep the body heat in.

Once you start using your boat this season, you will want to have everything necessary to provide safety for yourself and for the people around you. Therefore, finding the right type of life jacket is as essential anything.   Let’s look at the different types and features, which can make your choice easier.

Types Of Life Jackets

Best Life JacketsWhen talking about life jackets, one of the most important things is to understand the different types of life jackets to consider which type will fit your needs. Here are some of the main types of life jackets.

  • Offshore life jacket (Type I)

This type is suitable for all kinds of water – the open ocean or seas where rescue might come slowly. These already inflated jackets consist of bulky foam. They come with reflective tape in addition to some bright colors. The main feature, however, is that these PFDs will make it so that a person faces up if unconscious. Type I jackets are not suitable for sailing in calm waters as they are quite significant. They provide flotation for 33 pounds (100 Newtons) of weight.

  • Near-shore Vests (Type II)

These jackets are somewhat cheaper than the previous ones. They are also not as reliable in open waters. It is recommended to wear them when boating on a river or a small lake. Such PFDs will allow you to stay afloat for a while but will not help you face up. they are useful – just make sure you don’t overuse them.

In spite of all that, these jackets can be quite bulky. Most users are not fond of the freedom that these provide.

  • Flotation Aids (Type III)

This is where you don’t get much restraint by the life jacket. If you go for a Type III jacket, then you are in an area where a very quick rescue is possible. This is not to say that such jackets aren’t effective but let’s just say that the focus is put on how much comfort you can get.

  • Special-use Devices (Type V)

The name suggests that such products have to be used only for certain activities. Some people put the dog life jackets in the category of the special-use devices, but we at TheMarineMag think that they are in a class of their own. Become familiar with how to safely have your pet with you on the boat by checking our article.

Features

When choosing the right product for you, you must know the main features you should be looking for. Here we will introduce you to some of them.

  • Size

It is essential to buy the right size life jacket. Sizing is measured differently for children and for adults. Proper fit means the life jacket fits snuggly while still allowing free movement. If a PFD is too small, the mobility of the wearer may be restricted. If one is too big, the wearer may have to work harder to stay afloat and possibly keep the jacket from falling off.

  • Mesh Drain Panels

They allow the jacket to dry faster. Storing a wet vest will make the process of wearing out quicker. So when you are looking for the right product, it is good to search for one with drain panels.

  • Weight Capacity

Each PFD has a capacity of its own. Not only will great PFDs be adjustable to fit you, but they will also be available in a range of flotation capabilities. It’s important because if your life jacket doesn’t match your weight, it won’t properly support you and may increase the likelihood of an unfortunate event.

  • Color

The color is essential. This is one of the crucial features to look for when selecting a top life jacket. Our advice is to choose the brightest color. A person with a bright yellow or orange life jacket is a lot more visible in the water.

  • Materials

The material is another aspect that needs to be considered when buying the right life vest. Nylon and neoprene are the two most common types of materials.

  • Nylon is a Light Material

Makes paddling your boat or casting your fishing reel easy and comfortable.

  • Neoprene

Keeps the user afloat; provides a comfortable, snug fit with higher levels of buoyancy.

Maintenance

Maintenance is essential for the long life of everything on your boat. Following the instructions of the manufacturer will help you maintain your life jacket correctly. Here are some tips from us to improve the life of your life jacket:

  • Do not store the vest in direct sunlight – the material will be damaged by UV.
  • Do not use harsh detergents to clean your life jacket.
  • Let the PFD dry naturally. Do not put the vest in a drier.
  • Rinse the jacket with clean water.
  • Check for any puckering or shrinkage after the life jacket is dry to the touch. Ensure that no water is caught in the indoor foam and that there is no odor of mildew.
  • Never store a life jacket that is heavily soiled. Stains become food mold and mildew. They also decrease the effectiveness of the fabric.
  • Check for rips or holes in every life jacket before going out in the water again. Make sure all straps are firmly attached, and all hardware works properly.
  • If jackets are not to be used for an extended period, remove them from the vessel or from any potentially damp storage area. They will last much longer if stored in a conditioned, dry, and cool place.
  • Do not use the life jacket for purposes other than to be worn by people like, for example, as a protection device for the shell of your boat. In case you need such an item, consider purchasing a high-class boat fender to satisfy your wants. Even life jackets themselves are divided by type. If you have a young child with you, you ought to get them an excellent toddler life vest and not just any size jacket. Check out our article on that matter.
  • You must replace the jacket if it is broken. Do not forget to check it regularly.
  • When a life vest is disposed of, cut it down and dispose of it properly so that it cannot be used.

Safety tips

How to choose Life JacketsSafety is a very essential thing when you are sailing. That’s why you always need to have a life vest. Here are some tips, so you can use your life jacket correctly.

  • It is essential that the right size of PFD is appropriately adjusted to be snug around your body.
  • Open the front of the life jacket and put your arms through it, just like a regular jacket. If you have a collar to help keep your head afloat, the back of the vest should be hanging.
  • Tighten the straps from the waist up. The shoulder straps, if they are present, should come last.
  • Have somebody to pull up the PFD after all the straps are tightened. If it comes to your nose after tightening the belts, your PFD is too big.
  • Make sure that you will be able to move freely while paddling and that the jacket will not rub against your skin.
  • Every season, check the carbon dioxide canister, which triggers inflation. It should be replaced if the canister is scratched or if it does not weigh the amount noted on it. If these requirements are not fulfilled, the canister won’t work.
  • Remember that an adult life jacket is not enough protection for a child. A fit child life jacket should be worn only under your constant supervision.
  • Do not put heavy objects on your life jacket and do not use the vests for a kneeling pad or boat fender because if they can be crushed.
  • Each person on board must have at least one life jacket.
  • These life jackets must be accessible and close to everyone so they can be easily used in need.
  • Inflatable life jackets are allowed to be used by a person at least 16 years of age on recreational boats.
  • If you’re already in the water, putting on a life jacket is harder. If you fall off a boat, stay calm while waiting for a rescue, and do not waste energy.

Best Life Jackets Comparison Chart

PRODUCTPRICECHEST SIZECOLORMADEFITTING AS EXPECTEDWEIGHT CAPACITY
Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest

$$ – $$$$30 to 52″ ( universal ) 52 to 62″ ( oversized )Red / BlueDurable nylon83 %90 lbs and over
Onyx General Purpose Boating Vest

$ – $$$$30 – 52″ / 40″ – 60″4 OptionsDurable flotation foam73 %over 90 lbs
Onyx Curve Movement Paddle Sports

$$ – $$$$44 to 56″4 OptionsLightweight flotation foam / 200 denier nylon outer shell
93 %over 90 lbs
Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket Vests

$$30″- 52″5 OptionsPolyester cordura fabric and closed cell PE foamN/A30-50 lbs , 50-90 lbs
The NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

$$$$ – $$$$$S / M4 Options200 denier urethane-coated ripstop nylon and mesh lower backN/A16.5 lbs
O’Neil Men’s Reactor Life Vest

$$$$ – $$$$$23″5 Options100% polyester74 %150-170 lbs
Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility USCG Approved Life Jackets

$$$58″- 66″5 OptionsHigh quality polyester cordura fabric and closed cell PE foamN/A50-90 lbs
Onyx Unversal Paddle

$$ – $$$$30 to 52″ ( Universal ) 40 to 60″ ( Oversize )Red / AquaFoam back , Breathable mesh lower back , Neoprene shoulder padsup to 80 %over 90 lbs
Full Throttle Adult Dual-Sized Nylon Water Sports Vest

$$ – $$$$60″- 70″Red200 denier nylon and 150 denier poly-twill77 %90 lbs
The Stearns Adult Water-Sport Classic Series Vest

$$21″3 Options200D nylon shell and PE flotation foamup to 70 %over 90 lbs

Wrap Up

Well done, guys, we are almost done! You have already read our article and the information, tips, and even the life jacket reviews that come with it. You have enough knowledge to go and buy the best life jacket suitable for your needs and your style.  Choose the right one for you and enjoy your sailing!

If you think our guide has been helpful and it might also be useful to other boat lovers, don’t forget to share it with them. Also, if you want to add anything or tell us something you know, write a comment or send an email to our team – we would love to read your feedback.

We hope you like what you just read. Make sure you find some free time to check out the other articles which outline different marine supplies and their features. Thanks for reading!

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