Gear, Sailing

The 9 Best Inflatable Life Vests for Water Enthusiasts

Last updated on August 23, 2022 by Ben Snatler

EDITOR'S PICKS

Recommended
Best for Adults
Onyx A/M-24 Inflatable Life Vest

4.8/5

  • USCG-approved Type V
  • Fits 30- 52-inch chest
  • Recommended Use: Fishing and Safety
  • Quis nostrud exercitation
 BBest for Boating

Eyson Children's Inflatable Life Jacket thumbnail

4.9/5

  • US Coast Guard Approved Type II Personal Flotation Device
  • Lightweight, cool and comfortable
  • Large easy access zippered front pocket
Recommended
Best for Paddle Boarding
Onyx Belt Pack Manual Inflatable Life Jacket thumbnail

4.6/5

  • USCG-approved Type V PFD with Type III performance
  • Fits 30-52-inch chest
  • Approved for persons 16 years of age and older

MORE PICKS TO CHOOSE FROM

Inflatable life vests are a versatile, Coast Guard-approved type of personal flotation device designed to increase your safety on the water without adding unnecessary bulk. They're lightweight enough for paddle boarding and kayaking adventures, comfortable enough for all-day boating and fishing excursions, and durable enough for the season after season of use.

To help you find the right one for your preferred water activities, we've rounded up seven of the best inflatable life vests below— along with answers to commonly asked questions about safety and fit.

The Best Inflatable Life Vests for Every Water Activity

Onxy A/M-24 Inflatable Life Vest

Best for Adults

overall 

4.8/5

Quality

Inflation Speed

Ease of Use

Cost

Onyx A/M-24 Inflatable Life Vest

Features:

  • USCG-approved Type V
  • Fits 30- 52-inch chest
  • Recommended Use: Fishing and Safety
  • Durable fabric resists tears and punctures

The Onyx A/M-24 Inflatable Life Vest is a practical choice for virtually any water activity. Made from durable rip-stop fabric, the automatic inflatable life jacket is tear- and puncture-resistant. A neoprene neckline and V-back design ensure it's lightweight and comfortable enough for long fishing and boating excursions.

Automatic inflation design and will inflate when submerged underwater or when the wearer pulls the ReliaPull tab. Purchase a few of Onyx's Rearm Kit so you can repack your jacket and reuse it right away after each inflation. The versatile inflatable life vest is offered in two color options: dark blue and green.

Materials

Ripstop fabric, Neoprene neckline

Spec

Recommended for adults weighing over 80 lbs.

Age Limit

Not approved for children under 16 years

Auto/Manual

Both

Pros:

  • Lightweight and comfortable
  • Ability to switch between manual only and auto
  • Inflates fast and held it's air very well

Cons:

  • Not easy to reload

Bluestorm Gear Atmos 40 Automatic/Manual Inflatable PFD Life Jacket for Adults

Best for Boating

overall 

4.9/5

Quality

Inflation Speed

Ease of Use

Cost

Eyson Children's Inflatable Life Jacket

Features:

  • US Coast Guard Approved Type II Personal Flotation Device
  • Lightweight, cool and comfortable
  • Large easy access zippered front pocket
  • Adjusts To Fit Chest Sizes 30” To 56”

Bluestorm Gear Atmos 40 Automatic/Manual Inflatable PDF Life Jacket For Adults was designed to protect you during boating and sailing adventures in open water, offshore, and so much more. US Coast Guard Approved, this life jack will inflate automatically upon water immersion or with a backup oral inflation tube for added peace of mind with minimal bulk.

An adjustable webbed waist strap provides a secure fit on your body. Crafted from an ergonomic neoprene collar to prevent chaffing, it reduces moisture around the neck and dries quickly. The 3D mesh at the shoulder, neck, and waist promotes air circulation. With a large and easy-access zippered front pocket, you can store essentials like sunglasses, sunscreen, and more during your adventure on the water.

Materials

Polyester

Spec

40 pounds of Buoyancy

Age Limit

N/A

Auto/Manual

Both

Pros:

  • Mesh helps with high humidity and heat
  • Comfortable to wear
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to put on and take off

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • No reflective tape

Onyx Belt Pack Manual Inflatable Life Jacket

Best for Paddle Boarding

overall 

4.6/5

Quality

Inflation Speed

Ease of Use

Cost

Onyx Belt Pack Manual Inflatable Life Jacket

Features:

  • USCG-approved Type V PFD with Type III performance
  • Fits 30-52-inch chest
  • Approved for persons 16 years of age and older

Worn around the waist instead of as a traditional jacket, life vest belts are a compact, convenient option for paddle boarding and kayaking. This Belt Pack Manual Inflatable Life Jacket from Onyx features a comfortable design with superior performance approved by the United States Coast Guard.

Simply pull on the manual inflation cord to activate the CO2 cartridge that inflates the airbag. An oral inflation tube allows for manual inflation and additional buoyancy. Paddleboard enthusiasts can choose between bright teal and all-black color options.

Materials

Nylon

Spec

People over over 80 lbs

Age Limit

Not approved for children under 16 years old

Auto/Manual

Manual

Pros:

  • Great quality
  • Slim design
  • Doesn’t get in the way of you paddling
  • Easy to assemble

Cons:

  • May not be best for rough waves

Bluestorm Gear Stratus 35 Inflatable PFD Life Jacket

Best For Large Body Of Water

overall 

4.7/5

Quality

Inflation Speed

Ease of Use

Cost

Bluestorm Gear Stratus 35 Inflatable PFD Life Jacket

Features:

  • US Coast Guard Approved
  • Fits 30” and 56” chest
  • Large easy access zippered front pocket

Heading to a large body of water adventure? You must check out Bluestorm Gear Stratus 35 Inflatable Life Jacket. Design for large bodies of water and offshore where rescue may not be close. US Coast Guard Approved, this life jacket is crafted from ultra-breathable soft polyester that wicks moisture away. A 2" wide waist belt and a large slider ensure a secure and comfortable fit for all-day wear.

The Stratus 35 inflatable life jacket features an easy fold bladder that allows you to repack the inflatable life jacket in 4 easy steps. Designed for you to Re-Pack, Re-arm, and get back on the water as quickly as possible.

Materials

Polyester

Spec

35 pounds of Buoyancy

Age Limit

N/A

Auto/Manual

Both

Pros:

  • Super comfortable to wear
  • Enough room is around the neck to not interfere with head movements or comfort
  • Easy to install charging cylinder
  • Very light weight

Cons:

  • Expensive

overall 

4.8/5

Quality

Inflation Speed

Ease of Use

Cost

BLUESTORM Gear Cirrus26 Inflatable PFD Adult Life Jackets

Features:

  • US Coastal Approved
  • Comfort Wear
  • Highest Performance Materials
  • Adjusts To Fit Chest Sizes 30” To 56”

Heading on a tropical vacation? Pack this EVO Inflatable Snorkel Vest for improved safety, visibility, and buoyancy during snorkeling and swimming. It can be lifesaving for inexperienced swimmers heading out in choppy waters.

Manual-only inflation, this vest is equipped with an oral inflator and a manual deflation valve. The affordable life jacket inflates easily and stores compactly. It's offered in a range of highly visible colors in adult, child, and extra-large size options— all of which come fitted with adjustable chest and crotch straps for a secure, comfortable fit every time.

Materials

Foam

Spec

26 pounds of Buoyancy

Age Limit

N/A

Auto/Manual

Both

Pros:

  • stylish design
  • Feels light and unobtrusive
  • Super like and does not interfere with your activities 

Cons:

  • Black color can attract heat

EVO Inflatable Snorkel Vest

Best for Snorkeling

overall 

4.8/5

Quality

Inflation Speed

Ease of Use

Cost

EVO Inflatable Snorkel Vest

Features:

  • Fits 30-52-inch chest
  • High visibility colors

Heading on a tropical vacation? Pack this EVO Inflatable Snorkel Vest for improved safety, visibility, and buoyancy during snorkeling and swimming. It can be lifesaving for inexperienced swimmers heading out in choppy waters.

Manual-only inflation, this vest is equipped with an oral inflator and a manual deflation valve. The affordable life jacket inflates easily and stores compactly. It's offered in a range of highly visible colors in adult, child, and extra-large size options— all of which come fitted with adjustable chest and crotch straps for a secure, comfortable fit every time.

Materials

N/A

Spec

Recommended for adults weighing between 100-190 lbs

Age Limit

N/A

Auto/Manual

Manual

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Useful in choppy waters
  • Available in two different color

Cons:

  • Will need to give it a view breaths to inflate

Eyson Highly Visible Automatic Inflatable Life Jacket

Best High-Visibility

overall 

4.5/5

Quality

Inflation Speed

Ease of Use

Cost

Eyson Highly Visible Automatic Inflatable Life Jacket

Features:

  • CE Certificated & SOLAS Approved 3M Reflectors
  • Fits 25-50-inch chest
  • Lightweight & durable fabric
  • Adjustable belt fit for adult and youth under 330 lbs
  • Reusable, washable and easy to air dry

Increase your safety on the water at night in Eyson's Highly-Visible Automatic Inflatable Life Jacket. It's equipped with CE-certificated and SOLAS-approved 3M reflectors to increase visibility. Submerged underwater, the airbag inside automatic life jackets inflates in approximately 3-5 seconds. Should you want to inflate it outside of the water, just pull on the oversized pull cord, and the chamber will immediately inflate. A backup oral inflation tube offers peace of mind in case of emergency.

Adjustable webbed straps ensure a comfortable fit on bodies of every shape and size. Finished with a soft neoprene neckline and stainless steel D-ring, its lightweight, low-profile design is surprisingly comfortable and easy to wear.

Materials

Waterproof Polyester Oxford

Spec

Recommended for adults and children weighing between 80-330 lbs 

Age Limit

N/A

Auto/Manual

Both

Pros:

  • Very comfortable and lightweight
  • Easy to move
  • Fast inflation

Cons:

  • Not coast guard approved

Rrtizan Manual Inflatable Life Jacket

Best on a Budget

overall 

4/5

Quality

Inflation Speed

Ease of Use

Cost

Rrtizan Manual Inflatable Life Jacket

Features:

  • Fits 25-48-inch chest
  • Made of Tear-resistant Polyester
  • Extra buoyancy

Safety doesn't have to cost a fortune. At least not with this Manual Inflatable Life Jacket from Rrtizan. The versatile floatation aid can be used for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, boating, and other low-impact water sports. It's made from tear-resistant polyester and PVC with a heavy-duty front zipper closure and a breathable mesh panel in the back to keep you dry and comfortable.

The manual inflation life jacket manually inflates in about ten seconds. It's got adjustable waist and leg straps to keep the vest comfortably in place as you float. With five highly visible color options and two sizes to choose from, it's a reliable option for any water enthusiast.

Materials

Polyester, PVC

Spec

Recommended for children and adults weighing between 60-160 lbs

Age Limit

Suitable for children and adults between 60-160 lbs

Auto/Manual

Manual

Pros:

  • Affordable price
  • Available in different sizes
  • Comfortable and easy to wear
  • Inflated in seconds

Cons:

  • Can run small

Mustang Survival Automatic Inflatable Sailing Life Vest

Worth the Splurge

overall 

4.8/5

Quality

Inflation Speed

Ease of Use

Cost

Mustang Survival Automatic Inflatable Sailing Life Vest

Features:

  • USCG-approved Type V with type II performance
  • Fits 30-52-inch chest
  • A safety whistle and water-resistant pocket

If you're going to splurge on one inflatable life vest, make it this USCG-approved Automatic Inflatable Sailing Life Vest from Mustang Survival. It utilizes industry-leading hydrostatic inflator technology to inflate under water pressure automatically. Wearers can also use the manual handle or oral tube to inflate the PFD at any time.

Equipped with a water-resistant pocket and two heavy-duty D-rings, the lifesaving vest makes it easy to tether yourself to the boat or keep your waterproof phone holder close at hand. A lightweight 500D Cordura outer shell provides superior durability, while a convenient window allows wearers to check the inflator's indicator status. For added peace of mind, SOLAR reflective tape and an attached safety whistle ensure you're seen and heard in an emergency.

Materials

500D Cordura and neoprene

Spec

Recommended for children and adults weighing over 80 lbs

Age Limit

N/A

Auto/Manual

auto

Pros:

  • US coast guard approved
  • Lightweight and mobility-enhancing
  • Comfortable wear

Cons:

  • Expensive

Inflatable Life Vest FAQ

Have questions about inflatable life jackets? We've got answers. Below, we've answered commonly asked questions about safety, sizing, and product maintenance. Give them a quick read before you begin shopping to guarantee you find just the right one.

Are inflatable life vests safe?

According to the US Coast Guard, inflatable personal floatation devices (PFD) are safe for recreational use for paddle-boarding, kayaking, and other low-impact water activities. They're incompatible with water skiing, white water rafting, tubing, and other high-intensity water sports. Inflatable life jackets are best suited for competent swimmers aged 16 or older. Non-swimmers should use traditional life jackets that remain buoyant at all times.

Are inflatable life vests Coast Guard approved?

Yes. Some (but not all) inflatable life vests are Coast Guard-approved. According to the Department of Homeland Security, "an inflatable PFD may be approved without conditions as a Type I, II or III PFD for persons over 36.3 Kg/80 lbs" if it meets certain safety and performance requirements. Be sure to double-check a product's safety certifications before making a purchase. It's better to be diligent now than to have your life jacket fail during an emergency.

Can inflatable life jackets be reused?

Yes! After each use, you'll need to replace the single-use CO2 cylinder that fills the jacket's airbag upon submersion. Replacement inflation cylinders can be purchased through the jacket's manufacturer and installed at home. Manual vests can simply be deflated through a simple valve and stored away for subsequent use.

Why are there different types of inflatable PFDs?

Inflatable life jackets are classified into different categories based on their buoyancy, performance in the water, and intended end use. Here's a quick breakdown to help you differentiate them:

  • Type I PFDs or off-shore life jackets are effective in all waters, including rough and remote water, where rescue may be delayed. They offer the best buoyancy and visibility. Plus, they turn most unconscious wearers face up for improved safety.

  • Type II PFDs or near-shore buoyancy vests are designed for calmer inland waters where rescue can be expected quickly. They're highly visible when inflated.

  • Type III PFDs or floatation aids are intended for use in protected waters where a speedy rescue can be expected. While they'll keep wearers face-up after inflation, they're not recommended for long hours in the water.

  • Type IV PFDs or throwable devices are not designed to be worn continuously but instead thrown to the person in the water to use for support until rescued. There are currently no USCG-approved inflatable Type IV PFDs.

  • Type V PFDs or special-use devices offer performance equal to either Type I, II, or III, as noted n the label. They may require more than one step for proper inflation.

How long does an inflatable life jacket last?

Your inflatable life vest can last up to ten years with proper care and maintenance checks. Inspecting it for rips and tears between each use is crucial, and double-check the CO2 cylinder immediately before hitting the water. Wipe your vest thoroughly after every wear, and store it in a dry place to help extend the product life.

About the Author

Ben Snatler

Ben is a veteran boat captain, scuba instructor and sailing instructor. He grew up on boats and spent nearly the past 20 years working on all types of boats, yachts and even cruises doing all sorts of jobs, from maintenance to safety. He is fully certified with the american sailing association.