10 Tips on How to Choose the Right Kayak Life Jacket


A PFD (personal flotation device), or simply a life jacket as most paddlers call it, is an essential piece of safety equipment you must have with you on the water at all times. It’s not difficult to choose the right one, but if you’re not careful and take the time to do your research, you might end up with a life jacket that won’t fit properly or won’t keep you safe in rough waters. Here are 10 tips on how to choose the right kayak life jacket for your needs and preferences.

1. What is a life jacket?

A life jacket is any piece of equipment that helps you stay afloat in water, and it’s especially important for boaters or kayakers. According to The U.S. Coast Guard, A life jacket is designed to keep you afloat in rough water and help protect your body from injury if you fall overboard in your boat. The U.S. Coast Guard strongly recommends wearing a PFD (personal flotation device) at all times while boating—including when on deck and not near an exit route in case of emergency. So how do you choose one?

2. Where can you use it?

You should wear a life jacket whenever you’re in or around a boat, kayak, canoe, raft, or any type of vessel. Before starting on your next boating adventure make sure you have every necessary safety item for safe sailing such as life jackets for everyone and have them properly fitted. These ten tips will help you decide which life jacket is right for you so that you can focus on enjoying your time on the water rather than worrying about how safe you are. You might even find out how fun it is to swim while wearing one! Here are 10 tips that will help

3. Material

There are a lot of different materials that kayak life jackets are made from. Some of these include neoprene, nylon, and plastic. Each material has its pros and cons when it comes to usability and effectiveness. Take for example nylon life jackets. These are very easy to put on but are not as safe as others because they don’t offer as much support as others do. They also have seams where water can leak in making them slightly more dangerous in terms of being able to stay afloat for a long period if you find yourself caught in strong currents or riptides.

4. Size, age, and weight limits

Make sure your life jacket will fit you properly. It’s a good idea to test it out in your kayak or swimming pool—and be sure you can put it on and take it off easily. Look for a jacket with an adjustable harness that adjusts both height and width, as well as an adjustable waist belt for your easy adjustment. These two features make for great comfort when paddling for long periods or in choppy water.

The life jacket should also fit snugly enough so that it won’t come off when being pulled from behind by boat waves or strong swimming strokes, yet have some wiggle room so that it isn’t too tight.

5. Accessories

Wearing a life jacket when kayaking or canoeing is one of those rules that most people don’t think about (much like wearing sunscreen) until it’s too late. Fortunately, unlike sunscreen, life jackets aren’t only for your safety—if you choose wisely, your jacket can make paddling around with all your gear much easier.

Look for features such as quick-release tabs and adjustable straps so you can get in and out of your boat without any trouble; also look for built-in pockets that keep keys, phones, and water bottles from jostling around while you paddle.

6. Flotation devices other than vests

Vests are great because they give you more options, but they aren’t your only choice. If you’re planning a trip in cooler waters and don’t want to wear a heavy vest all day, opt for some type of flotation device that attaches directly to your PFD.

Some companies make inflatable (yes, with air) straps that attach around your waist or chest area. These straps can be worn over or under clothing and offer better buoyancy than a traditional life jacket. They come in multiple sizes so you must measure yourself carefully before buying one online. The last thing you want is an ill-fitting flotation device!

7. PFDs fit better with proper body position

Most paddlers assume they can put a life jacket on and immediately hop in their kayaks. But that’s not how PFDs work. To make sure you’re safe, especially when conditions are rough, it’s important to have PFDs that fit properly.

Try them on before you buy them, and spend some time practicing in a swimming pool or even at your local beach if you can get access to one. That way you’ll be ready for anything.

8. Features to look for when buying a kayak vest

Fit. One-size-fits-all vests are fine for swimming but won’t be as effective in a kayak where you’re likely to end up upside down at some point. Instead, find a vest with adjustable straps that fit close to your body so it stays put. Thick straps should also help prevent them from slipping off your shoulders.

More advanced models will feature an adjustable backbone that can add support, while mesh panels promote airflow and quick-drying capabilities so they dry faster when they get wet (and keep you cool). Other features include pockets for storing small gear, padding over shoulder and chest areas, and other extras like whistles and lights.

9. Care & maintenance of your vest/jacket

If you’re planning on spending more than a few hours at sea in your kayak, it’s a good idea to make sure you have easy access to all of your gear—especially that life jacket. Keep in mind that wearing a vest can get uncomfortable after a while, so it’s essential to keep its straps and Velcro in tip-top shape.


Before you set out in your kayak or canoe, take a moment to ensure you have all of your safety gear. Today’s kayak life jacket is designed with comfort and mobility in mind. Choosing a life jacket that is right for you will keep you safer while paddling around your favorite lake or river. As always, use common sense when enjoying water sports and ensure yourself and those around you stay safe!

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