No matter how you choose to enjoy the water, life jackets are an essential part of boating safety. A life jacket, or PFD (Personal Flotation Device), allows you to stay afloat if you fall into the water. Boating laws require everyone on a boat to have an approved life jacket and children should wear one. Check with your local government agency for information on boating laws in your area.
The US Coast Guard groups PFDs into several main categories. These categories can help you decide what type of PFD you need, but additional features can make life jackets more comfortable for certain activities. Pay attention to these features if you plan to use your life jacket primarily while fishing.
Fishing life jackets features
Low bulk design: Look for life jackets with swim inserts in the front and back with low volume on the shoulders, neck and sides. Having a minimum of volume and fabric on the top and sides of the life jacket will give your arms more flexibility so you can throw naturally.
Bags & Gear Loops: Fishing life jackets often have zip pockets and lanyards. Bags can serve as mini tackle boxes for bait, flies, tongs, and other fishing tackle. To be on the safe side, you can also keep a pipe and a small flashlight in a pocket. Gear loops work the same way, but you can store tools by attaching them to the outside of your life jacket rather than in a pocket.
Panel positioning: If kayak fishing is your thing, look for a high-backed life jacket. The back of a kayak life jacket sits directly above the kayak for maximum comfort. Look for breathable mesh panels if you want to fish in the heat.
Inflatable: Using an inflatable PFD instead of an inherently buoyant PFD is one way to keep mass to a minimum. Inflatable PFDs are designed to inflate when you’re already overboard, usually with a small pull tab. Inflatable life jackets, intended for adults only, are best used in calm waters rather than fast flowing rivers or streams.
Boat safety: attaching a life jacket
Fit should be the most important part when choosing a life jacket. Life jackets must be properly attached to do their job. For adults, sizes are based on breast size, while life jackets for teenagers are based on weight. Check the manufacturer-specific size charts to determine which size is required.
To properly clip and fasten your life jacket, first position it in the center around your torso. From there, attach the bottom buckle and close the front zip. For life jackets with more buckles on the torso, keep bending from the bottom up and then tightening them in the same order. Shoulder straps (if applicable) should be the last part of the life jacket that needs to be adjusted.
You can test the fit of your life jacket by putting your thumbs under the shoulder straps and pushing up. The life jacket should stay in place when properly seated.
Now that you know what to look for when choosing and fitting a life jacket, you are better prepared for a safe and comfortable day on the water! For more information on life jackets, see our life jacket buying guide.
This post is part of a series of sponsored content with Sierra Trading Post.
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Lauren Seidl blogs for budget retailer Sierra Trading Post, a partner of TakeMeFishing.org. She hikes, camps, climbs rocks and explores the Rocky Mountains as often as she can. When Lauren can’t find adventures in her home state of Colorado, she can sip on a great Colorado microbrewery.