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Life Jackets & Life Vests - Vest Selection And Other Tips
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USCG Safety Requirements & Types Choosing The Right Life Jacket Care & Maintenance

For all types of boaters and during all seasons of the year, a life jacket is the single most important piece of equipment. The PFD (Personal Flotation Device) is available in multiple forms, styles, and colors, and many are specifically manufactured for certain activities. But they all are designed with one purpose in mind – to save your life in the case of a boating emergency.

When Do Life Jackets Save Lives?

  • Capsized or sinking boats in heavy sea conditions
  • Overboard passengers after a collision
  • Inability to swim because of heavy clothing or gear
  • Injuries from rocks or other submerged objects
  • Lack of consciousness in the water from carbon monoxide fumes
  • Extreme fatigue after water activities

Whether you’re fishing, cruising, or recreational boating, there must be a life jacket in good condition and appropriately sized for every passenger onboard. These life vests need to be readily accessible so they can be put on in a reasonable amount of time, should the need arise. In most areas, children must wear a US Coast Guard approved vest while any vessel is underway, but each state has its own regulations regarding life jacket policies. And since such policies are frequently modified, boaters should check with local authorities to ensure their vessel is properly equipped with safety PFDs.

At Overton’s, we understand how important it is for your fun-filled boat adventures to stay safe. That’s why we’ve compiled this vest information so you’re better able to select the best life jackets for all your friends and family. Happy boating!


To meet US Coast Guard requirements, a boat must have a US Coast Guard approved vest for each person aboard. Among the many different life jacket options, life vests are categorized with 3 basic kinds of flotation in 5 different types of USCG approved PFDs.


These vests feature a construction that includes flotation and do not require manual inflation to provide buoyancy to wearers. Available in adult, youth, child, and infant sizes, inherently buoyant life jackets are designed for swimmers and non-swimmers alike. The minimum buoyancy requirements listed here refer to the amount of flotation needed to keep a wearer’s head above water.

  USCG Type Minimum Buoyancy
Adult Type I 22 lbs.
Type II, III 15.5 lbs.
Type V 15.5 to 22 lbs.
Youth Type II, III 11 lbs.
Type V 11 to 15.5 lbs.
Child/Infant Type II 7 lbs.


Featuring the most compact types of flotation, inflatable vests are sized for adults only. Designed in wearable styles, they are inflated only in emergencies. Therefore, this type of life jacket is recommended for adults who can swim.

  USCG Type Minimum Buoyancy
Adult Type I, II 34 lbs.
Type III 22.5 lbs.
Type V 22.5 to 34 lbs.


This reliable form of flotation is available in adult, youth, and child sizes. A hybrid inflatable PFD uses a mixture of inherently buoyant material and an inflatable chamber to provide flotation. Like the inherently buoyant vests, they can be worn both by swimmers and non-swimmers.

  USCG Type Minimum Buoyancy
Adult Type II, III 10 lbs. inherent buoyancy/22 lbs. total
Type V 7.5 lbs. inherent buoyancy/22 lbs. total
Youth Type II, III 9 lbs. inherent buoyancy/15 lbs. total
Type V 7.5 lbs. inherent buoyancy/15 lbs. total
Child/Infant Type II 7 lbs. inherent buoyancy/12 lbs. total


  • US Coast Guard Type I PFDType I: This offshore PFD is designed for extended survival in rough, open water. Use this type of vest to keep passengers afloat in remote regions where rescue operations may be slow to arrive.
  • US Coast Guard Type II PFDType II: This classic life jacket is for wear around calm inland water where you can easily be rescued. The vest type will usually turn an unconscious person face-up in the water.
  • US Coast Guard Type III PFDType III: A Type III life vest is generally considered the most comfortable, with various styles for different boating activities and sports. This life jacket will not always turn an unconscious person face-up, so it is recommended for use near shore where it’s possible to receive fast assistance.
  • US Coast Guard Type IV PFDType IV: A throwable device, such as a boat cushion or ring buoy, is convenient in emergencies but must be supplemented by a wearable life jacket. This type of PFD should never be used for small children, non-swimmers, or unconscious people.
  • US Coast Guard Type V PFDType V: A Type V rated PFD is designed for special purposes such as a work vest, survival suit, or hybrid life jacket for restricted use. It will also include some other type of performance rating (type I, II, or III) and is only considered a PFD when worn properly.


The life jacket you choose depends largely upon your personal preferences. It’s critical to always consider your activities and how easily you can receive assistance in an emergency. For children, you should always select a USCG approved life vest as the best option.


  • USCG Approved Life JacketAmong the countless different life jackets available, many will be USCG approved. Though the safety advantages make approved vests an excellent choice, they may feel bulky, reduce mobility behind the boat, and tend to be more expensive than other life vests.
  • Non-USCG Approved Life JacketLife jackets that are not approved by the USCG will still provide buoyancy and impact protection, even though they’re designed with less padding. However, with a looser standard for safety, non-approved vests may not float you face-up if you’re knocked unconscious and are less resistant to rough water conditions.


Sailing/Cruising Vest: The preferred style for sailers and cruisers will offer some freedom of movement but fit snugly around the chest so it doesn’t “ride up” in the water. This secure fit is important since these offshore activities are usually several miles away from land and in locations where turbulent water conditions are possible.

Fishing Vest: For avid fishermen, this life vest style usually features wider cuts around the arms for freedom of movement and easier casting. A fishing vest will include multiple tool hangers and loops for gear and accessories.

Kayaking/Canoeing Vest: A paddlesports life jacket will offer wide armholes for easier paddling maneuvers and typically has a thin nylon backing to ensure comfort while you’re seated.

Waterskiing Vest: This tighter fitting life jacket with wide-cut arms commonly has buckles for an adjustable, yet secure fit.

Wakeboarding Vest: Many wakeboarders choose this style vest for its flexibility. Segmented panels and additional hinge points make it easier to perform tricks while out on the water.


Nylon: Perhaps the most common vest shell material is nylon, which is a tough, lightweight synthetic polymer. Relatively inexpensive to purchase, nylon life jackets are extremely durable and easy to clean. Though long-lasting, nylon is not smooth to the touch and can cause chafing around the neck or arm area after extended wear times.

Neoprene: Neoprene is also a synthetic polymer, but it’s constructed to have a softer feel and fit more comfortably around the body. Contoured fit, breathability, and more flexibility rank high on the list of pros, but a neoprene life jacket will often cost a little more as well.

BioLite: BioLite material looks and feels soft like neoprene, but it’s lighter weight since it contains no rubber foam. During construction, there is no lamination process or Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), making this breathable material more environmentally friendly to produce.


Keeping your life jackets and vests properly cleaned and stored will ensure a longer life. Plus, boaters can venture out in confidence knowing their PFDs are in good condition and able to provide necessary protection to all passengers aboard.


Always check life jackets before each boating session. If any vests show signs of deterioration, they should be discarded and replaced immediately.

  • Hardware and straps should be in good shape and firmly attached to the life jacket.
  • No significant tears or rips should be present.
  • Labels stating USCG approval ratings should be readable.
  • Inspect CO2 cartridges of inflatable vests to ensure they haven’t been discharged.
  • Equip hydrostatic or automatic inflatable life jackets with new pills or bobbins if the existing ones show signs of dissolving.


  • Don’t use a life vest as a kneeling pad or boat fender as this will jeopardize its flotation characteristics.
  • Don’t use harsh detergents or oils for cleaning.
  • Don’t sew any patches or monograms to life jackets.


  • Rinse vests thoroughly with fresh water. Very mild detergents and a soft brush may be used to help loosen dirt and other stains.
  • Allow all life jackets to completely air-dry before storage.
  • Store in an area with good ventilation to prevent mold and mildew formations.