Life Jacket Buyers Guide

Life Jacket Buyers Guide

Life Jacket Buyers Guide

It is important to have the right life jacket for to enhance your time on the water (and possibly save your life). It is a good idea to check with your local DNR to verify you are aware of all of the laws in your area. Some lakes and counties pass rules that are more restrictive than the state requirements so it is also a good idea to verify you understand the rules with local law enforcement.

In most areas a US Coast Guard Type III Life Jacket is required for each person in the boat. The Coast Guard and many states also require one Type IV throwable PFD to be on board as well. Some states (Minnesota included) do not require the skier or wakeboarder to have a USCG approved life jacket on while waterskiing or wakeboarding but there needs to be one in the boat for that person. In these areas Comp or Outlaw vests are can also be used. Comp or Outlaw Vests are life jackets that provide some flotation and impact protection but do not pass the standards required of a Type III PFD. Comp or Outlaw vests tend to be much thinner and have larger arm holes than Type III life jackets. They will not aid an unconscious skier/wakeboarder to roll over automatically. That is part of the reason that a Type III life Jacket has more flotation in the front than the rear.
We highly recommend that you wear a Type III PFD at all times on the water. BE SAFE.
If range of motion is more important than safety and Type III PFD’s are not mandated by law in your area then you may prefer a Comp or Outlaw vest.
At we sell primarily neoprene life jackets. Over the past few years the price of high quality neoprene life jackets designed specifically for wakeboarding and waterskiing have fallen substantially. With a 40% price reduction, neoprene life jackets have become such a value that we have for the most part discontinued selling nylon life jackets.
Nylon life jackets no matter how many straps and buckles they have will slide up the body until they are stopped when the bottom of the arm hole contacts the users under arm. Because the vest is not tight to the body it is not as comfortable. How many times have you seen a person floating in the water with 2-3 inches of life jacket sticking out over their shoulders? Nylon life jackets also tend to wear out much quicker than neoprene life jackets.
Neoprene life jackets should be purchased so that they are tight when zipped up. Many people think that a life jacket should fit like a sweat shirt and be loose until strapped and buckled. That is only true if you do not intend to use that life jacket in the water! Neoprene life jackets will relax 10-15% from the time that they are new as they “break in.” They are just like shoes in that they are the least comfortable when they are new. Neoprene is a rubber derivative so neoprene life jackets will relax after they are used several times. The general rule is that if you can get a neoprene live jacket zipped when it is new, it fits. Neoprene life jackets will become more comfortable as they are used a few times. Do not buy too big.

Infant, Toddler, and Kids Life Jackets
As you would expect, the US Coast Guard strictly controls standards for kids life jackets. All life jackets for kids are broken down by weight. They range from 0-30 pounds, 30-50 pounds, and 50-90 pounds. All infant life jackets (0-30#) will have the floating collar and a crotch strap. The 30-50 pound life jackets will have the crotch strap but will not have the neck collar. The 50-90# life jackets have neither the crotch strap nor the neck collar.

The United States Coast Guard has several different classifications for Life Jackets (Personal Floatation Devices or PFDs).

  • Type I PFD - Off-Shore Life Jacket o Foam = 22 lbs. of flotation o Commercial style, reversible, easy to put on o Provides the most buoyancy Effective for all waters - especially where rescue may be delayed o Designed to turn most unconscious wearers to a face-up position in the water.
  • Type II PFD - Near-Shore Buoyancy Vest o Foam = 15.5 lbs. of flotation o Inflatable = 33.5 lbs. of flotation o Intended for calm, inland water or where a quick rescue is possible o Will turn some unconscious wearers to a face-up position in the water (turning is not as definite as with a Type I PFD).
  • Type III PFD - Flotation Aid o Foam = 15.5 lbs. of flotation o Inflatable = 22.5 lbs. of flotation o Both lightweight and comfortable o Good for conscious wearers in calm, inland water or where a quick rescue is possible o Designed so wearers can place themselves into a face-up position in the water (wearer may have to tilt head back to avoid flipping over) o Type III foam vest offers same minimum buoyancy as Type II PFD o Type III foam vest comes in many colors and sizes and is most comfortable for continuous wear.
  • Type IV PFD - Throwable Device o 16 to 20 lbs. of floatation o Intended for calm, inland water with heavy boat traffic wear rescue is always possible o Designed to be thrown to a conscious person in the water to be held by user until rescued o Not to be worn o Type IV devices include buoyant cushions, ring buoys and horseshoe buoys o Should be used in conjunction with a wearable life jacket.
  • Type V PFD - Special Use Device o Intended for specific activities o Should only be used in accordance with the approval condition(s) on its label.

Still have questions about vests? Let us clear them them up for you, by calling us at 763-404-7372, or emailing us at . For fast and easy answers, you can also check out our online chat by clicking here. If you are ready to start shopping, here's some helpful links below to get you started.
Men's Life Jackets
Women's Life Jackets
Kid's Life Jackets
Skiing and Wakeboarding Life Jackets

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