Whether you’re a watersports pro, or a lake weekend novice, when the weather’s even remotely warm, we know people are itching to get out on the water and are ready to go swimming, fishing, boating and every other water activity summers are perfect for. Others are less experienced on the water and they might be planning to hit the lake or ocean for the first time in years this summer. Regardless which side you fall on, one thing is sure. You need to know how to choose the right life jacket for you.

Life jackets come in many different sizes and types. It’s important that they fit your body correctly, of course, but you should also be sure you have the right life jacket for the activity you’re doing. The best life jacket for canoeing might be different from the best paddling life jacket, or maybe you want to know what you need just for lounging on the boat. Whatever it is you’re looking for in a life jacket, our experts at Bluestorm hope you find this guide useful!

What is the difference between a life jacket and a PFD?

People are usually familiar with the concept of a life jacket, even if they don’t spend their summers on the lake or near other bodies of water. A PFD may not ring a bell as commonly. PFD stands for personal flotation device. Though similar, life jackets and PFDs are actually not the exact same thing. Here are some identifying elements of each that differentiate them from one another:

Life Jackets: Not focused around comfort, as their sole purpose is to save lives if something were to happen. Designed for in case of an emergency, the person had to spend an extended amount of time in the water. These are relied on more by weaker swimmers. Commonly orange, red, or another bright color so someone wearing one in the water can easily be spotted in case of an emergency.

PFDs: Favored by kayakers, paddleboarders, and other water sport enthusiasts because they allow for more movement, in addition to safety. All life jackets are PFDs, however not all PFDs are life jackets.

What are the five different types of PFDs?

Within the category of personal flotation divides, or PFDs, there are five main types, based on water conditions and activity, among other things. You might be wondering which type of PFD turns a person face-up, or maybe which type of PFD is recommended for a certain activity. Find out below:

Type I PFD: These are used for rough or remote waters, or areas where it could take longer to be rescued. These are the most buoyant type, and will turn an unconscious person into a face-up position. It’s unlikely you’ve ever worn a Type 1 PFD, unless you’ve been on a cruise ship or on another vessel in international waters.

Type II PFD: These are less bulky because they’re made for calmer waters, and in places where fast rescue is likely. These will turn some unconscious wearers face-up, depending on their weight.

Type III PFD: The best alternative to a life jacket for kayaking and other types of boating that require paddling and large arm movements, as this type allows a lot of arm mobility. These are meant to be worn at all times when you’re on the water, so they do prioritize comfort

Best life jacket for: kayaking, canoeing, paddling

Type IV PFD: These actually aren’t meant to be worn regularly. Instead they’re emergency PFDs to be thrown out to a struggling conscious person. Examples of this type of PFD would be life rings or cushions.

Type V PFD: These are meant to be worn at all times while in the water.

Best life jacket for: kayaking, windsurfing and waterskiing

What are the PFD sizes?

PFDs come in all sizes for adults, kids and even for dogs! Wearing a PFD is definitely important, but it’s even more important that you’re wearing the right size for your body! For adults, PFD sizing is based on your chest circumference. For kids, it’s based on their weight.

When trying on PFDs, it’s important that you wear what you’d wear out on the water so you know for sure it’ll fit right when you need it. You want them to fit snugly, but not too tight. Make sure you’re able to move your arms and shoulders. The PFD should be able to move a little, but not be able to be brought up past your nose or head. This means it’s too large. If you’re going to be wearing your PFD while you paddle a boat, make sure you’re able to move comfortably, and that you’re able to sit in the boat correctly and comfortably while you have your PFD on.

What is an Inflatable Life Jacket, and When is it the Right Option?

An inflatable life is just that: a life jacket and PFD, that lays flat and empty of air on your body when you’re using it. It will then inflate automatically or when you pull a cord manually when you need it to inflate. What gives these life jackets the ability to inflate when needed, are CO2 cartridges inside the jacket.

Inflatable life jackets can be super convenient for when you’re doing activities on the water, but not in the water. Their light weight and mobility-allowing design make them a favorite for those in canoes or bigger boats. The reason they’re not as great for in-water activities, is because once you inflate them, you’ll need to replace the CO2 cartridge, a process known as “re-arming,” before it’s able to inflate again. This means it’s important to always have extra cartridges handy.

Depending on your water activity and how often you’ll actually be submerged, you’ll know if an inflatable life jacket is right for you, or if you should stick with a more traditional PFD.

How to Choose a Life Jacket Before Getting to the Water

As you know now, there’s a lot to consider before you can jump onto that pontoon, or get on those water skis this summer! Your safety should always come first, and now you know how to choose the right life jacket or PFD. Use the information we’ve outlined here, as well as any instructions on the tags of your life jacket or PFD before you use them.

With over 85 years creating life-saving products, we know our water safety at Bluestorm. All of our Bluestorm personal flotation devices are US Coast Guard tested and approved. Whether you’re sailing in the ocean or cruising the lake, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the water, knowing your safety is taken care of.

Shop Bluestorm PFDs now.