Lifesaving Style: Which Life Jacket Do You Need?

Thinking of going out on the water without a life jacket? Think again! Life jackets (also known as Personal Floatation Devices–PFDs) can literally be the difference between life and death. Don’t believe me? Well maybe you’ll believe the U.S. Coast Guard, which reported that in 2019 86% of boaters who drowned weren’t wearing life jackets. Plus, it’s a legal requirement that all vessels must be equipped with U.S. Coast Guard-approved jackets, although the quantity and type depend on the length of your vessel and how many people are on board.

Now before you go running off to buy all the life jackets you can afford, take some time to learn what kind of life jacket you’ll need and when to wear it:


Offshore Life Jackets

Looking for big-time buoyancy? Get an offshore life jacket. Geared for rough or remote waters where rescue may take a while, these jackets will turn most unconscious people face up in the water.

Offshore inflatable jackets can be purchased online via West Marine.

Near-shore Vests

These lightweight vests are great for calmer waters where quick rescue is likely. Near-shore vests will turn some unconscious wearers face up in the water, but it’s not as guaranteed as offshore.

Find offshore vests online via Academy Sports and Outdoors.


Inflatable vests are intended for calm waters when quick rescue is likely. These vests are great for watersports, and some are even designed to inflate once you enter the water! Planning on hitting rougher waters? Forgo these jackets, as they won’t turn most unconscious people face up.

Inflatable vests can be found online at Bass Pro.

Throwable Devices:

Throwable devices are not meant to be worn, only thrown to someone who is in trouble. These devices shouldn’t be used in rough waters, or by people who cannot hold onto them.

Purchase throw cushions at Gander Mountain.

Special-Use Devices:

Coming in several designs, including vests, deck suits, hybrid PFDs, and others, special-use devices are designed for specific activities such as windsurfing, kayaking, or water-skiing. Like the inflatable vests, some special use devices inflate when you enter the water.

Find all sorts of life jackets at Overton’s.

Interested in safe boating? Get your boating education card online through Boat Ed today!

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