What Size Life Jacket Do I Need for Boating?

When an accident happens on the water, having a life jacket could mean the difference between life and death. According to a U.S. Coast Guard report analyzing 2019 boating accidents, more than half of all recreational boating-related deaths occurred on days when the water was calm and visibility was good.

To protect boaters from accidental drownings, the Coast Guard (USCG) mandates boats must have one USCG-approved wearable life jacket for every passenger along with one lifesaver ring or other throwable flotation devices.

The best life jacket is one fitted properly and comfortable enough to wear at all times. Wearing a life jacket without a proper fit is almost as bad as not wearing one at all — and if it’s not comfortable, you’ll be less likely to wear it in the first place.

Life Jacket Types

There are two primary kinds of life jacket construction — inherently buoyant foam and inflatable. Some manufacturers also offer a hybrid version with some foam and some inflatable parts for additional buoyancy.

Foam-based life jackets are typically made out of neoprene or nylon. New neoprene-hybrid life jackets are also available. These contain closed cell marine foam that is lighter and dryer when wet.

The USCG classifies life jackets according to the following types:

  • Type I: Offer the most buoyancy and almost always turn unconscious wearers face-up. They provide the best protection but are somewhat bulky. They’re best for offshore or boating activities in inclement conditions.
  • Type II: Best for inland day cruising, light craft boating, or sailing. They offer less buoyancy and are not ideal for rough waters, but they’re more comfortable to wear. Inflatable type II life jackets are available.
  • Type III: Use for inland, supervised activities like sailing, canoeing, and kayaking. They’re not safe for rough water survival. Inflatable versions are available.
  • Type V: Meant for specialty activities, not average use for general activities.

Life Jacket Sizes

Life jackets should be appropriately sized to make sure everyone is properly protected in the event of an accident. For babies and children, specially sized life jackets should be chosen according to their weight. Adult life jackets do not protect small children because they are too big.

USCG-approved life jackets for adults are rated by chest size rather than weight. If your life jacket fits properly, it should be able to float your weight safely. To determine your chest size, measure around the broadest part of your chest.

Most adult life jackets are sized XS to XL with a range of chest sizes that will fit. Many manufacturers also offer life jacket sizes up to 7XL.

How to Test the Fit of Your Life Jacket

There are a couple of ways you can test for proper life jacket fitting.

First, put on your life jacket and fasten all zippers, straps, and buckles. Have someone lift the life jacket from the shoulders. This is how the life jacket will lift in the water. If you can fit more than three finger-widths in the gap between your life jacket and shoulder, then the life jacket is too big. 

You can also test the fit of your life jacket by wearing it in a pool. If your life jacket keeps your mouth above the water level, it fits correctly. If it floats up and your mouth is still underwater, then the life jacket does not fit and will not keep you safe. 

Life Jacket Storage From EZ Dock

Now that you know how to choose a life jacket, you’ll need a place to store it. Browse our online catalog of products, including life jacket storage boxes. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions!