While a life jacket is extremely important when you are on the water, choosing one doesn’t need to be difficult. Fitting your life jacket is actually pretty straightforward, and manufacturers provide a good amount of guidance about how to choose your vest.
The first thing to consider is if you want a Coast Guard approved vest or a competition/impact jacket. Competition vests are not Coast Guard approved, and are not designed with the same life saving standards as CGA vests. They are lightweight, comfortable and flexible, and are recommended for use by people with extensive watersports experience. If you are looking for a life-saving vest, make sure you are looking at CGA vests. They are easy to identify, as they are labeled with a fairly large safety booklet.
Next, most vests are made of either nylon or neoprene. Nylon vests are very affordable and are great for recreational boaters. Watersports enthusiasts may opt for softer, more form-fitting neoprene vests.
Sizing your vest is the most critical part of your purchase. A properly fitted life jacket will keep your head above the water, and can possibly save your life. If your vest is too big, it will ride up around your face. If it is too small, it will not be able to keep your body afloat. Children’s vests are sized by weight range and adult vests are by chest size. Make sure that your vest fits properly. If your vest has a zipper, pull the sides of the vest together. If the zipper overlaps easily, it is too big. You want the sides to just barely meet, but still zip up easily. To test the fit of your child’s life jacket, have your child hold their arms straight up over their head, grab the life jacket by the shoulders, and gently pull up. Make sure there isn’t excess room above the openings. and make sure the life jacket doesn’t ride up over their chin, ears, or face. If it doesn’t ride up, then it is properly fitted. Make sure your vest is properly fastened.
The USCG guideline is that children under 13 years old must wear a life jacket unless they are below deck or in an enclosed cabin, when a vessel is underway. However, states differ with regard to life jacket laws, so make sure you check the laws that apply to you.
Remember it is always important that you wear a vest, no matter how old you are, or what water sports activity you are involved in. Note also that you cannot operate a PWC while wearing a NCGA vest, and that if you wear one during watersports, you still must have a CGA vest onboard the boat.
At Sun Sports+, we carry vests from several manufacturers and not all brands fit exactly the same way. We are happy to help you find the vest that works best for you. Stop in, put a few vests on and have our staff help you get your true fit anytime.
Have fun and be safe on the water!