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Life Jacket Buying Guide

Life Jacket Buying Guide

Whether you’re setting out for the first time or an experienced captain, it is extremely important to know what type of life jacket to have on board. Being prepared with the proper life vests and knowing how to wear them could potentially save a life. PFDs vary by size and type, so in this post we break down the differences between each type, how to wear them as well as the best way to maintain them.

While we as boaters love to be adventurous and enjoy our time on the water we should always have preventative safety measures in place. Personal Flotation Devices are the most important piece of safety equipment that you carry on your vessel, so it's imperative to understand the differences between them, because not all life jackets are the same. Bluewater Boat Supply is proud to carry life jackets from the best manufacturers in the industry including Stearns, Mustang, and Kent. Don't hesitate to give us a call for further guidance on what life jacket fits your specific needs. 

Types of Life Jackets and Their Uses

Type I – Offshore Life Jackets 

Best used for:

  • Offshore boating 

  • Open water

  • Rough seas 

  • Abandon-ship life jacket for commercial vessels

  • All vessels carrying passengers for hire 

Type II  – Near-shore Vests 

Best used for:

  • Calm, inland waters

  • Good chance for quick rescue

  • General boating activities 

Type III – Flotation Aids 

Best used for:

  • Calm, inland waters

  • Good chance for quick rescue

  • General boating activities

  • Specialized activities such as: waterskiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, wakeboarding, etc. 

Type IV – Throwables 

Best used for:

  • Throwing to someone who has fallen overboard 

  • Extra flotation in use with a wearable PFD 

Type V –  Special-use Devices

Best used for: 

  • Canoeing/Kayaking 

  • Deck Suits

  • Sailing

    • Inflatable overhead jackets with harness

    • Overhead entry foam for dinghy sailing 

How to wear your PFD

In order for your life jacket to do it's job, you must be WEARING IT. All zippers, straps and buckles should fasten securely and your life jacket should be snug and comfortable. 

It's important that you don't alter your life vest to make it fit better. Changing the way a life jacket is made could result in ruining it. Talk to one of our experienced staff members to find out which life jacket is the best fit you and your boating style.

PFD Maintenance

Proper care of your PFD will make it last longer and help it protect you better. So double check and make sure that they are in working order before setting out. Below are some quick tips for extending the life of your PFD.

  • Let it air dry. Never dry with a heater or any direct heat source.

  • Rinse with fresh water.

  • Avoid stowing in the boat for long periods of time when the vessel is not in use.

  • Check your PFD regularly for tears, holes, or any sort of damage. Water-logging, mildew odor, or shrinkage of the buoyant materials means that it’s time for a new one.

PFDs for Pups

Even if your dog is a great swimmer, things like strong current, bad weather conditions, fatigue, and general distractions on the water, could potentially harm your pet. When you're on or around the water, having your dog in the life vest prevents the likelihood of an incident occurring.

Bluewater Boat Supply carries Dog Life vests from both First Watch and Onyx, two of the most trusted PFD manufacturers. Before choosing one be sure to give us a call for further guidance while also considering the following: 

  • Weight and size of your dog. Comfort is important for their safety too!

  • Do you prefer a handle on the back so it's easy to attach a leash?

  • Proper head and neck support is important to help keep their head above water.

  • Is it easy to put on and take off? No one wants to wrestle with a wet dog.


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