Whenever venturing out for any water-based activity, life jackets are essential to ensure your safety. A consensus among people is that life jackets are mainly meant for non-swimmers, which is untrue.

You may fall unconscious into the water, or your muscles may become too exhausted or cramped.

You would not be able to use your swimming skills in such scenarios. Life jackets serve the purpose of keeping people afloat to secure their survival.

Among most of the drowning deaths reported each year, the majority of them occur during water-based or waterside activities.

That is why you should always wear a well-fitted, suitable, and well-maintained life jacket. While buying a life jacket, people often face the challenge of choosing the best option for themselves.

There are several factors you should consider before buying one. Below mentioned are the general factors you should look out for:

Type

There are basically three types of life jackets. Depending on the activity you should choose the type of jacket most preferable to you.

  • Inherently Buoyant PFDs (Personal Floatation Devices)

Inherently Buoyant PFDs have a foam material to maintain the buoyancy and are usually bulky but require less maintenance.

  • Inflatable life vests

Inflatable life vests contain a CO2 cartridge, which can either be automatically or manually inflatable. They have gas chambers in them which get inflated and are high-maintenance.

  • Hybrid life jackets

Hybrid life jackets are a combination of both types. They have foam material and gas chambers too. Although costly, they are neither bulky nor unreliable.

Size

You should always check the size and fitting of the life jacket before you buy it. Although most inflatable life jackets come in a single size suitable for all adults that weigh over 40kgs.

The varying factor could be the waist and chest belt, which differ between manufacturers. Because of your buoyancy, regardless of your size, have a net weight of around 5 kg when immersed in water.

Hence you must check the fitting of the life jacket by wearing one and fastening all the belts, strap, and buckles.

Whatever life jacket you choose should fit you tightly and snugly to avoid letting the life jacket ride-up while in water.

It should also be comfortable for you to wear for extended periods of time.

Color

Life jackets are not meant to be fashionable, which is why you always need to pick a bright colored life jacket.

Due to the bright colors, it can be spotted from a long distance and makes a rescue operation much easier. Colors like red, orange, yellow, or fluorescent would be a better choice.

Activity

Depending on your water-based activity, you will need a life jacket designed specifically for that activity. You can not wear a boating or fishing life jacket while water skiing or kayaking.

Usual boating life jackets can either be bulky PFDs or inflatable life vests, both of which are unsuitable for kayaking. Life jackets that are designed specifically for kayaking have larger arm opening allowing more flexibility and arm maneuverability.

Similarly, riskier and higher intensity activities have all specifically designed life jackets, which you should check out before buying one.

Tips while choosing a life jacket

  • You should check the label of the life jacket before buying it. It may contain information about what type of activity it was designed for.
  • Verify the life jacket you choose, meet your national or regional safety guidelines.
  • Check all the belts, straps, buckles, and zippers work perfectly.
  • Do not choose a life jacket that is too bulky or restricts your natural body movements.
  • Life jackets for children are different based on their age and weight. Check those criteria and fitting before buying one.

Maintaining your Life Jacket

The durability of your life jacket depends on its material but mostly how you take care of it. For the increased life span of your life jacket, you will need to take care of it on a regular basis. Below mentioned are a few tips on maintaining your life jacket.

  • Always store your life jacket in a cool and dry environment when not in use. Incorrect storage conditions make the foam material compress, thus affecting the foam buoyancy.
  • Never use your life jacket as cushion, bumpers, or knee pads as they might get damaged and lose their efficiency. Life jackets used for any other purpose than intended initially to may result in decreased buoyancy.
  • You constantly need to keep your life jacket for any cuts, tears, or whether it is ripped or crushed in any way. Any of those factors can lessen the efficiency of the life jacket.
  • Inflatable life jackets need to be checked for expiration dates of the CO2 tanks or cartridges. You should also inspect the cartridge to ensure there is no discharge or no corrosion. Even not in use, you must replace the CO2 cartridges every 1-3 years, depending on the instructions of the life jacket.
  • To check inflatable life jackets, you need to inflate them and verify that it holds air for 16-24 hours. If it holds air for the said period, you can repack and use it again.
  • You also need to check for cuts, corrosion, or any other defects in the gas chambers of the inflatable life jackets.
  • Always wash your life jackets with fresh water after use. Be it in saltwater or not, the salt from your sweat can also shorten the lifespan of your life jacket. Dry them in a breezy and shady environment with all the belts, straps, and buckles open.
  • While cleaning your life jacket, use mild soap and water and rinse thoroughly.
  • Do not dry-clean or use strong detergents, chemicals while washing or otherwise.
  • You can check the buoyancy of your life jacket by measuring the jacket’s displacement in water. Test your life jacket in calm inland waters before going into deep waters or any activities.
  • It is recommended that after every 12 months, you either return your life jacket to the manufacturer or qualified service personnel for a full service of the life jacket.