Life jackets will only do their job if you wear them. Increase the odds of that happening by choosing a type that matches your activity, checking for comfort and proper fit…and paying special attention when outfitting infants and toddlers.
For most recreational boating and watersports use, a U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III life jacket will prove most versatile. Type III jackets (often referred to as “ski” vests) slip on with ease and are designed to keep a conscious wearer afloat.
Don’t like the wrapped-up feel of a Type III jacket…or plan to get in the water? Consider suspender-style (Type V) vests, which inflate and provide flotation only should the wearer go overboard.
Most Type III jackets wrap flotation foam in a nylon or neoprene exterior. The former is typically cooler in the heat and dries faster, the latter often provide a more form-hugging fit.
To check for proper fit, perform this simple test: Securely fasten all straps, buckles or zippers, then lift your arms straight up over your head and have a friend grab the jacket atop the arm holes and lift. The jacket may move slightly, but should not slide up over the wearer’s face or, worse, slip off.
If you’re choosing a life jacket for an infant or toddler, look for several key extras. An adjustable crotch strap ensures the jacket can’t ride up over a child’s head. A double collar offers both better head and neck support. A grab handle or strap atop that collar also provides a valuable handhold should you need to pull the child from the water.