First, you NEED to pair a life jacket to your water experience. More than 80% of drowning victims were found without a life vest. This means it could have been a preventable casualty, if only they were wearing the right life vests.
Now that that’s said, no life jacket is created alike. Technology and research went into every design, and different designs are designed for different water experiences. How do you pair your life jacket to your water experience?
Recreational boating is probably the most familiar to you, and the life jacket used here is also the one you’ve most likely seen. If the boating is in calm waters, within easy reach of help, you don’t really need more than a standard vest-type life jacket. It will keep you afloat and your head above water long enough to be picked up by rescuers. Vest-type life jackets are usually used in lakes, calm rivers, and protected bays.
We refer to a boating experience as “offshore” if it’s in rough or open water. There’s a higher chance of falling out of the boat, and less help is close by. If you know that your water experience will take you into these kinds of waters, you’ll want an offshore life jacket. It’s extremely buoyant, has a wide collar to lift your head out of the water, and can turn you face-up.
Fishing life jackets have large arm holes and thin shoulders, to allow for easy arm movement. Pockets and loops on the jacket help you keep anything you need close by, and you’re less likely to lose them if you go over the side.
Because of their control and size, motorboating life jackets are lighter, usually a u-shaped vest over the neck and straps connecting them at the back. For easier movement on the motorboat, especially with more people on board, an auto-inflatable (upon contact with water) life vest makes for a more comfortable experience.
The most important feature of a kayaking life vest is thin shoulders, large arm holes, and a short torso to allow easy movement of the waist and arms. Control of the boat is as important as survival in the water, since it is the flotation device you are already on.
Watersports are an interesting category, as you are fully expected to fall into or glide through water at one point or another. The life vests for these are rugged, close fitting, with multiple clasps around the torso and between the legs so they don’t get pulled off when you hit water. It’s best to invest in a personal watersports life vest, to make sure it fits you perfectly.
In cold weather, you’ll need an insulated life vest to keep you warm. There are also other specialized life jackets for water hunting, such as camouflage vests and float coats. Make sure you choose those that work with whatever hunting activity you’re preparing for.
There’s no such thing as too much safety, but there is such a thing as unwise preparation. To give yourself the best chance of both enjoyment and success, pair the right life jacket to your water experience.