The best day on the water is a safe day on the water, and a personal flotation device (PFD) is a must have for all your boating activities.
Whether you’re a strong swimmer who is comfortable on the water, or you’re a first-timer ready to join friends for a fun-filled boating day, you’ll need to ensure that you have a PFD, or life jacket, that fits properly and designated for the activities you’ll undertake.
Let’s get right to it. Here are the top 10 highly rated adult life jackets to get you going. Scroll down to go over some core criteria you should know before buying a life jacket.
Type V with Type III performance – This Type V life vest is a belt pack that you manually inflate. The belt features a 1-inch buckle. It’s approved for those 16 and older who weigh 80 or more pounds. This belt comes with one CO2 cartridge for inflation and is rated to last 5-8 years, if not deployed. This belt should fit waist sizes up to 52-inches. There is also a straw to facilitate manual inflation by breath. Reviewers say this is more comfortable than a standard vest, especially for activities like kayaking and fishing.
Type III – This Type III USCG-approved personal floatation device comes in a variety of sizes and colors. It has visibility stripes and adjustable straps, along with quick-release buckles. Reviewers said the jacket is comfortable and well-designed at a good price. Please note, some people commented on having some concerns about fit, so refer to the sizing chart for options.
Type III – This Type III life vest is USCG-approved. It comes in a variety of sizes for adults, from extra small to 2XL. It has shoulder adjustments with neoprene comfort pads. This life jacket also has zipper-pockets with drainage, and includes an attached safety whistle. While noted as bulky, reviewers said this life jacket fits well and they like the vented mesh on the back.
Type V with Type III performance – This Type V life jacket, which is USCG-approved, comes with a CO2 can that facilitates automatic inflation when immersed in water. It can also be manually inflated by using the attached T-cord. It has a neoprene neckline for comfort and is only 10-inches wide. Several reviewers shared stories of successfully using the device after falling into water and many commented on its comfort.
Type II – The Airhead Type II Adult Keyhole life jacket is a traditional vest style life jacket. Designed to keep you face-up if you’re unconscious, this vest has a universal fit for adults 90 pounds and heavier with 30-inch up to 52-inch chests. This USCG-approved jacket averages 4.6 star rating out of 5 stars. Reviewers say it’s inexpensive and comfortable.
Type I – This Type 1 USCG-approved life vest has a minimum buoyancy for 32 pounds. Designed in bright orange, it has adjustable straps for a snug fit. This PFD is designed to turn you over in water if you are unconscious. Reviewers say it’s bulky but comfortable and is a “must for serious safety.”
Type I – This USCG-approved life vest is Type 1 and has a minimum buoyancy of 22 pounds. It is the type of vest required for commercial watercraft and is designed to turn you over from face-down in the water to a vertical or slightly backward position. It also has USCG-approved reflective material attached. Reviewers say the jackets work great and meet USCG requirements, but they may not be the most comfortable option.
Type II – This life jacket is USCG-approved for a Type II personal flotation device. This one is available in Realtree (camo) and high-visibility orange. These jackets have a minimum of 15.5 pounds of buoyancy. Rated 4.5 stars, reviewers say this PFD is lightweight, a good value for its cost and comfortable.
Type II – This adult Type II life jacket fits adults weighing 90 pounds and more. It is available in two colors, yellow and orange. They are USCG-approved and are also available in an adult XL for those with larger chests, generally 40-inches to 60 inches, compared to the standard adult size, which is for chest sizes ranging from 30-inches to 52-inches. Reviewers say both color options are highly visible, and many commented on enjoying a bright yellow option compared to standard orange.
Type V – This Type V manual inflatable PFD is good for kayaking and USCG-approved. It’s called a rescue pouch and has a manual ripcord activation with a CO2 cylinder. When deployed, it’s has 29 pounds of buoyancy. Worn around the waist, this PFD has a quick-release buckle, storage flap with Velcro closure, front zip pocket for added storage and includes a safety whistle.
Boat safety and PFD regulations are not the same for every state or location, so before you hit the water, be sure to check out your state’s safety regulations to ensure you’re in compliance.
The United States Coast Guard’s Boat Safety Division has a great resource for federal, state, and other regulations. It’s a great starting point for your safety plan.
You can also download the USCG’s Boating Safety app to get instant access to regulations and check your safety equipment. It’s available on both Google Play and in the Apple App Store.
You’ll note in some instances, a life jacket is not always required by law, but it’s still a great idea to always wear your PFD anytime you’re on a boat in operation.
Life Jacket Types
According to USCG, there are four basic PFD design types: inherent, inflatable, hybrid, and special purpose.
Wearable PFD performance types are Type I, Type II, Type III, Type V. Here’s an overview of each.
- Type I: Type I PFDs have the most required inherent buoyancy. If you’re unconscious, these jackets are designed to turn you from a face-down position in water to a vertical position, with your upper body tilted slightly backward.
- Type II: If you’re unconscious in water, Type II PFDs are designed to turn you over from face-down to a position where there is no impediment for breathing .
- Type III: Type III PFDs are designed to keep you upright in water, but they aren’t required to turn you over from a face-down position.
- Type V: A Type V PFD is for restricted uses such as commercial whitewater rafting or boardsailing. These life jackets may not be suitable for boating. Be sure to check the label on your Type V life jacket to see which type of activity is applicable and to understand related restrictions and performance ability.
In case you’re wondering, yes, there is a Type IV, but Type IV PFDs are not wearable. They are devices you toss into the water to support someone with extra buoyancy, but are not intended for an unconscious person, someone who can’t swim, or children.
In addition to the four performance types, there are also two classes:
- PFDs (lifejackets) that provide face-up support in water regardless of physical conditions
- Buoyancy aids that require you to make swimming and other movements to keep your face out of the water
Life Jacket Performance Levels
Now let’s look at PFD performance levels and what each means.
- Level 50: These PFDs are intended for those who are competent at swimming, have help or rescue options nearby, and who are generally close to a bank or shore.
- Level 70: Level 70 life jackets are intended for those who are close to a bank or shore and have means of help or rescue nearby, but they are not expected to keep you safe in disturbed water for an extended time period
- Level 100: These life jackets are designed for people who may have to wait for a rescue, but are not recommended for rough water.
- Level 150: Level 150 PFDs are designed for general use or if you have appropriate foul weather clothing. It will turn you to a safe position if you’re unconscious and should maintain you in that position.
- Level 275: PFDs at level 275 are designed for off-shore use and are applicable for extreme conditions.
Life Jacket Styles
We’re almost ready to share some top-rated adult life jackets, but first, did you know there are several life jacket styles from which you can choose?
- Auto-inflatable lifejackets automatically inflate when they are immersed in water or you can manually activate them.
- There are also manual inflatable lifejackets that only inflate if you manually activate them, like pulling a cord or breathing into a straw or tube.
- Some recreational boaters may opt for a belt-pack inflatable PFD. These smaller belt packs inflate automatically when immersed or you can manually activate them. Once inflated, your belt back PFD must be placed over your head.
- Finally, the most common life jacket type is the life vest. These are good for non-swimmers and flotation. Unlike the previously mentioned types, standard vests often require less maintenance than other varieties.
Now, let’s take a look at some highly rated adult life jackets you can purchase before your next trip to the water.
For these purposes, based on USCG recommendations, adult life jackets are for users who weigh 88 pounds or more. Youth, child, and infant life jackets are available for smaller weight limits.
Also, most adults only need 7-12 pounds of buoyancy to keep their heads above water.
Still need help selecting the perfect adult life jacket for your next boating excursion? Check out the USCG’s guide on “How to Choose the Right Life Jacket,” for more information.