As far as kit for kayaking, sailing and paddle boarding goes, we’d say the bit that could save your life is probably the most important.
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the best life jackets on the market right now for grown-ups, kids, and even pets to have a safe, enjoyable, and thoroughly buoyant time out on the water.
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So how exactly do you decide on the best life jacket? Well, in some ways it’s more cut-and-dry than you might think.
Without going into too much nerdly detail or giving you flashbacks to GCSE physics, buoyancy is measured in newtons, and each of our top-pick life jackets has a rating between 50 and 290N to help you ascertain just how well they perform in the water.
We’ve also noted which CE standard each jacket conforms to, each showing that the jacket is approved safe by rigorous international testing standards, and whether they’re automatic (self-inflating) or foam.
For comfort and buoyancy, our top choice is the Crewsaver Crewfit, which reviewers said they could barely feel while on, despite offering an impressive 165N buoyancy rating, but for our top picks for water sports, kids, pets and more, keep reading below.
One expert reviewer declared this Crewsaver lifejacket “remarkably comfortable and easy to wear”, and commented that after a few minutes, you all but forget you have it on.
That really gets to the heart of the Crewfit’s charm: a lightweight, low profile design that doesn’t intrude on all the funny angles (or, indeed, angling) you have to pull to get the most out of your waterside sport of choice. Add to that automatic inflation and a buoyancy rating 15 newtons above the recommended 150, all for under £100, and you have our best life jacket.
Having been designed specially for the RNLI’s Useless Unless Worn campaign, you know this Secumar life jacket is going to come up with the goods should you need it.
Its flat straps and compact shape ensure you won’t feel lumbered down, and although it isn’t overly padded at the front, there’s a cosy fleece neck to avoid rubbing and a sprayhood to keep pesky spray from getting in your eyes and airways on choppy days, so comfort certainly isn’t compromised on.
This Helly Hansen kids’ jacket differs from our previous picks in that it doesn’t inflate automatically, but rather comes pre-filled with buoyant foam so it’s always ready to go at a moment’s notice.
This does, of course, mean it’s a darn sight bulkier than our other choices so far, but when it comes to famously accident-prone kids, it’s a small price to pay. It comes with a whistle and decent-sized reflective elements for safety in low light, and the patented foam shape ensures maximum turning force.
This ultra-slim life jacket might not look much, but wait ‘til you get it in the water. With a buoyancy rating of 290N, it’s far and away the most fantastically floaty option on our list.
It has a cited turn speed (that’s how quickly it’ll turn you from face down to face up) of under two seconds, and strong, easy-access twin lifting beckets to get men overboard out of the water as quickly as possible. All that, but in a super duper compact package, is a winning combination.
This rollercoaster harness-style flotation vest is easily the snazziest on our list thanks to its unusual shape and choice of four colours, but does it do the business?
Well, while it’s verifiably not for very heavy weather or heading offshore, users commended it for its barely-there feel and automatic inflation, and were happy to have the peace of mind that comes with backup in lively conditions, along with a not remotely annoying fit.
So long as you remember to secure the crotch strap, you’re in for a pleasingly lightweight design that Spinlock describe as “streamlined for ultimate comfort and agility”.
This Helly Hansen life jacket is specially designed for watersports, with a light and comfortable construction and very low bulk so as not to get in the way of any daring twists and turns.
Windsurfers, kitesurfers and water-skiers are sure to be on board with the flexibility, and with a combination of soft foam up front for comfort, and stability-promoting PE foam at the back, it’s a lovely light lifesaver if we ever saw one.
The Petfloat by Crewsaver is exactly what it sounds like: a life jacket for pets that ensures your paddleboarding pup or cruising kitty is kept safe out on the water. They may not like it, but you know it’s for their own good. Should they somehow end up overboard, this pet life jacket comes with a sturdy handle on the back to easily lift them out of the waves. Reviewers commended it for its great snug fit and tangible quality of materials and construction, and even self-professed owners of ‘odd-shaped’ dogs found it worked a treat.