How to Choose the Right Life Jacket

people wearing life jackets while tubing

Whether you’re looking for a new life jacket to wear for weekends at the lake or you’re searching for the best comp vest for your upcoming season, SCHEELS has the perfect life jacket for you. There are several different names people use when talking about life jackets including life vests or PFDs. The acronym PFD stands for personal floatation device and is commonly used by the Coast Guard. No matter what type of life jacket you’re looking for, you can make SCHEELS your one-stop-shop for water safety.

Determining the best size and fit for your life jacket depends on if you’re shopping for adult life jackets or kids’ life jackets. For kids, all life jackets are sized based on weight. 

  • Infant Life Jackets: 0-30 lbs.
  • Child Life Jackets: 30-50 lbs. 
  • Youth Life Jackets: 50-90 lbs. 
  • Teen Life Jackets: 󠀾≥90 lbs.

Adult life jackets are measured by chest size. To find your chest size, take a tape measure and wrap it around at the fullest part of your chest. Make sure you’re standing up straight and not puffing your chest out. It’s also important that the tape measure isn’t squeezing too tightly. The number where the two ends meet will be your chest size. When looking for a life jacket on, you can find the correct size for your chest based on our size charts on the product page. 

When it comes to a proper fit for your new life jacket, there are a few factors to consider. All life jackets should have a snug fit when you try them on. There should not be much of a gap around the back of your shoulders when wearing the life vest. If you can easily slide your hand between your shoulder blades and the vest, the life jacket is too big! 

The life jacket materials we carry at SCHEELS are nylon and neoprene. Nylon life jackets are usually less expensive than neoprene life jackets and typically have a buckle closure. These life jackets are very durable and great for casual boating and paddle sports. Neoprene life jackets are best used for water sports like skiing, tubing, and wakeboarding. These life jackets have soft, comfortable fabric that moves with your body and usually have both buckle and zipper closure. For expert water sport athletes, we also carry comp vests which allow maximum movement for tricks and spins when participating in water competitions. 

You should inspect your life jacket on a regular basis, especially at the beginning and end of the season. We recommend looking over your life jacket each time you put it on as well. Check if the buckles and zipper work properly and make sure the life jacket doesn’t have any stitches or seams that are unraveled or torn. If you notice anything that is broken or torn, you should replace your life jacket immediately. 

Non Coast Guard-Approved Life Jacket

The two types of life jackets we carry are Coast Guard-Approved life jackets and Non Coast Guard-Approved life jackets, which are also called “comp vests.” Comp vests are not certified life jackets and should only be worn for water sport competitions. They are thinner and lighter than Coast Guard-Approved life jackets and use a low profile style that allows the user to move freely and do tricks without restrictions. 

If you’re not a water sports competitor, we highly recommend using a Coast Guard-Approved life jacket for all recreational water activities. There are three common Coast Guard-Approved life jackets:  

Type I PFD — Off-Shore Life Jacket

  • Provides the highest level of buoyancy
  • Commercial styles are reversible and easy to put on
  • Provides safety in most waters - especially where rescues may be delayed
  • Designed to turn most unconscious users to a face-up position in the water
  • Ideal for: Cruising, racing, and fishing offshore, or when alone in stormy conditions

Type II PFD — Near-Shore Buoyancy Vest

  • Ideal for calm waters where quick rescue is possible
  • Will turn some unconscious users to a face-up position in the water
  • Ideal For: Inland day cruising, fishing, and sailing

Type III PFD — Flotation Aid

  • Lightweight and comfortable for continuous wear
  • Designed so users can place themselves in a face-up position
  • Ideal for conscious users in calm, inland water where quick rescue is possible
  • Ideal For: Supervised activities such as water skiing, fishing canoeing, or kayaking


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