You may remember your dad skiing back in the day wearing nothing but a foam flotation belt around his waist while carving slalom turns behind the old runabout. Or you see videos of professional athletes pulling off incredible tricks while wearing super-sleek vests. But if you’re a recreational surfer, boarder or skier, you should be wearing a US Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Here’s the difference between the three types, explaining why.
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O’Brien Hydroslide Flotation Belt
Why: Some old-school water-skiers still prefer the foam flotation belts because they are the least restrictive to wear on the slalom course and, of course, old habits die hard. They’re easy to put on and take off, and give the rider some buoyancy on a deepwater start without being too restrictive.
Why Not: These are not Coast Guard-approved, and if you get injured or knocked out, you will float butt up. The Hydroslide’s suggested use is for water exercises, snorkeling, or taking a relaxing float in a lake or pool.
Price: $19.99; obrien.com
Why: Approved as a Type III life jacket, the Domain can be worn for watersports, and also for protection while on the boat or riding on a personal watercraft. This lightweight PFD features a neoprene skin to repel water from the Coast Guard-approved flotation inside and provides excellent range of motion for the wearer.
Why Not: There is no reason not to choose the Domain unless you’re a high-level or professional rider looking to use a vest during competition.
Price: $99.99; hyperlite.com
Why: Designed for professional and competitive boarders and skiers, these vests are lighter and more flexible than US Coast Guard-approved life jackets, allowing for more freedom of movement in competition. The Riot’s slim-fit diamond-pattern design lets the user flex and turn, and move his or her arms in a more natural way, which is why it’s preferred for high-level competition.
Why Not: These are not approved for use in place of true life jackets, with the exception of during sanctioned and competitive events that include trained safety personnel on hand.
Price: $159.99; hyperlite.com