A Real Lifesaver: Choosing the Right Life Jacket for You


Two people wearing life jackets in a kayak

According to the Ohio Division of State Parks and Watercraft, of the twelve boating-related fatalities which occurred in the state throughout 2016, eleven victims were found to not be wearing a personal floatation device. While floatation devices can be a nuisance with bulky padding and constricting straps, the fact remains, they can save you from drowning.

Life jackets have long been the most viable, safe, and cost-effective floatation device available, and for personal watercraft riders, water-skiers, and children under the age of 10 on small vessels, Ohio law requires that life jackets be worn at all times. But do not despair-modern technology has offered up a breadth of alternatives to the traditional, cumbersome jacket model. Below are the important specs for all the major types, as well a few tips for putting your prospective purchase to the test:

Pick your Type:

Type I: Offshore Life Jacket

Pros: Extremely durable and highly buoyant, Type I jackets are intended for rough or otherwise intractable waters where rescue may be delayed. Also, they are designed to help unconscious wearers to float on their backs.

Cons: Cumbersome, not comfortable to wear for long periods of time

Type II: Near Shore Buoyant Vest

Pros: Sufficient buoyancy to support most boaters’ needs, especially in commonly-trafficked, relatively tame conditions where rescue will be expedient. Many Type II jackets also help unconscious wearers to back float.

Cons: While less cumbersome that Type I, Type II jackets are not meant to endure rough conditions or prolonged floating. Also, some models do not support unconscious wearers.

Type III – Flotation Aid

Pros: Lightweight, flexible and breathable

Cons: Most do not help unconscious floaters; not intended for inclement conditions.

Pick Your Style:

Inherently Buoyant

Pros: Require little to no maintenance, always performance-ready, approved for wearers of all ages

Cons: Less comfortable, occupy more space than alternatives


Pros: Depending on the model, Inflatable jackets are either meant to be filled manually or to inflate automatically upon contact with water. This feature makes them extremely compact and space-efficient.

Cons: Some, particularly self-inflated models, require assembly on the part of the wearer and are thereby more prone to malfunction. For this reason, they are forbidden from use on children and are not recommended for unskilled swimmers.


Pros: This alternative is meant to combine the safety and reliability of inherently buoyant models with the comfort and discretion of the inflatables. Their enhanced sleekness makes them an easy adjustment for reluctant jacket-wearers.

Cons: While they are available in child sizes, frequent maintenance checks are necessary to ensure their effectiveness.

Guarantee Your Fit

Even if a jacket is Coast Guard approved, failure to fit the device properly to one’s body can be just as dangerous as not wearing one at all, particularly in the case of small children wearing oversized jackets. There is an easy test to help determine whether a device is right for you: After inspecting the label to ensure the jacket is appropriate for your weight, properly secure all buckles so the garment fits snugly. Have another person pull lightly at the top of the arm openings as you hold your arms over your head. If the jacket bunches up over your face, obstructing your vision or breathing in any way, find a smaller size.

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