How To Choose The Right Life Jacket

Just 22 percent.

That’s how many American recreational boaters report using life jackets regularly, according to a 2016 survey by the U.S. Coast Guard. The likely reason? Many boating enthusiasts consider life jackets burdensome impediments to swimming, paddling and getting an even tan.

“We’ve heard all the excuses,” said Ted Sensenbrenner, assistant director of boating safety programs at the BoatUS Foundation. “Some people say they’re excellent swimmers, or that wearing a life jacket hinders their movement. A lot say they just don’t think it looks good to be seen in a bright orange horse collar.”

But skipping a life jacket isn’t just unwise from a safety standpoint (it’s been amply proven that they save lives) or a legal view (many states require that boaters wear one, not just carry it aboard). It’s also outdated—because in addition to being far more reliable than bulky life jackets of yore (the first ones appeared in the mid-1800s), today’s life jackets look pretty cool, too.

How to Choose

Currently, life jackets approved by the U.S. Coast Guard are categorized as either throwable (life rings, for example) or wearable—these can range from basic foam vests to heavy-duty survival options used on deep-sea fishing vessels. Older jackets are rated as class I through V, so read the jacket label to determine suitability for your activity. Here are some guidelines:

How to Fit Foam Life Jackets

Modern life jackets are easier than ever to fit properly. All the manufacturers now offer detailed measurement charts for sizing—but you should still test yours out before using it.

How to Maintain Foam Life Jackets

A few easy steps every season can help prolong the life of your life jacket.

With proper care, a good life jacket will be able to take care of you—and let you spend more time out on the water, doing what you love.

Life jackets protect you—but to protect your boat, make sure you’re covered with boat insurance. Get a fast, free quote today.

Read More: Before trying popular water sports, do these five things.