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How to Choose the Right Life Jacket for Kayaking

The life jacket is your most important on-the-water safety tool. Choose one that fits well so it won’t ride up and will be comfortable enough to always wear when you kayak. Kayaking instructor Ken Whiting gives tips on fit and features that will help you choose the right life jacket.

The technical name for a US Coast Guard Approved life jacket is a Personal Flotation Device (PFD). We prefer the term “life jacket” because it really is a life-saving device. While some say the best life jacket is the one you’re wearing when you need it; you are much more likely to be wearing a jacket that fits well and is all-day comfortable. The good news is that with all the life jackets on the market, there are probably many that are just right for you.

What to look for:

Most kayakers will choose either a US Coast Guard Approved Type III or Type V life jacket. Most kayaking jackets are Type IIIs. Type Vs will include rescue jackets and pullover jackets.

Kayaking requires good upper body and arm mobility. Look for a jacket with large arm holes and multiple adjustment straps. Pockets for stowing gear you want close at hand and hand warmer pouches are nice. If you’re kayaking offshore look for a jacket with a pocket for a marine VHF radio. If you want to carry a knife on the outside of the jacket, you’ll want a lash tab for securing the sheath. If your kayak has a high seat back, choose a jacket with either a mesh or thin-foam back.

When first donning the jacket, loosen all the adjustment straps. Cinch the lower adjustment strap below the rib cage; this will anchor the jacket to prevent it riding up. Move up the jacket, snugly tightening the straps. Last, tighten the shoulder straps. Have someone lift up on the shoulder straps. If the jacket rides up, retighten the lower strap, or choose another jacket.

Now that you’ve got a comfortable life jacket, always wear it on the water. It can save your life!