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Article: Purchasing a Life Jacket and Competition Vest 101

Purchasing a Life Jacket and Competition Vest 101

Purchasing a Life Jacket and Competition Vest 101

Selecting the proper life vest can be difficult when it comes to sizing, material, and activity, so choosing the right vest all depends on your individual needs/wants and intended use. When on the water, it is essential that you are confident in your purchase because, by law, you are required to have a Canadian Coast Guard-approved life jacket or PFD on board for each person on a watercraft, whether motorized or human-powered. Some examples of human-powered watercrafts include paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes. 

Life Jackets vs. Comp Vests: What’s the difference?

When participating in higher-level water activities like water skiing, wakeboarding, or surfing, you should begin to consider a competition-style vest. Comp vests work to protect your body against impact, and they refrain from interfering with your performance, whereas a life jacket/PFD works to keep you afloat and is stylistically much bulkier. However, it is important to note that competition style is only recommended for advanced/experienced riders and does not take the placement of a PFD that should still be aboard regardless. Beginners should continue to wear a life jacket since a comp vest does not possess the same degree of front and back flotation that rolls you onto your back, keeping your face above the water. Without this additional padding, a comp vest will, therefore, NOT roll you onto your back. Although they have some flotation, if you have difficulties swimming, are not in high performance, and don’t have spotters, a comp vest should not be worn, and you should opt for a safer option, like a PFD. 


Life Jackets: Picking the right size

Regardless of the style, as an adult, you should measure the circumference of the largest part of your chest and then refer to the manufacturer’s specific size chart. For children, the sizing will be indicated by weight

In comparison to a comp vest, a life jacket should not be as snug; it should not be big enough that you can pull the vest over your ears, but it will be too small if you cannot fasten all buckles and straps. Similarly, your child’s life jacket should not ride up on their chin or ears; there should be less than 3 inches between your child’s shoulders and the device. If too big, a PFD can do more harm than good; therefore, be sure your life jacket fits comfortably, like a glove. 

Life Jackets: Do they all work the same?

When looking at the information tag on life vests in store, you will notice there is a different degree of flotation indicated at levels 50, 70, 100, and 150. When operating in a calm, near shore environment, and you are using a watercraft such as a paddleboard, you will only need a flotation of about 50-70. Whereas for rougher water conditions that are farther away from shore, you should be looking at a 70-150 flotation. The flotation level you choose additionally depends on your abilities and comfort as a swimmer.


Comp Vests: Picking the right size

Sizing is also drastically different when looking at a neoprene or comp vest vs. a PFD or a nylon vest. Comp vests should be purchased so that when dry, you must pull the jacket together to zip it up. During the case of being in-between indicated sizes, always size down since the vest should fit tighter than looser. Again, always refer to the manufacturer’s specific size chart

Life Jackets & Comp vests: Differing material

Like style, becoming knowledgeable about the material of your vest is important when considering water conditions. Most comp vests are made of neoprene, a synthetic rubber material that is form-fitting, flexible, often feels warmer than vests made of nylon, and is a heavier material. Therefore, neoprene is most recommended for use during the colder months. A nylon vest, on the other hand (what most PFDs are wrapped in), feels much silkier and will not be as warm as neoprene; however, nylon is water-repellent and lighter weight, allowing the vest to dry quickly. 

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