A Guide to Recreational Inflatable Life Jackets
Inflatable life jackets are designed to be lightweight and low profile, providing you the maximum amount of mobility for your water life. Their compact design allows you to easily wear them over your foul weather gear or rash guard all day long.
Inflatable life vests are given a Coast Guard type, just like non-inflatables, but they are also given a performance type and a designation as to whether they have to be worn to be counted in the vessel’s life jacket inventory. Knowing how inflatables are classified will help you determine which type is best for you.
Type II Inflatable
Providing a minimum of 22-34lb. of buoyancy, Type II Inflatable Life Jackets are designed to be worn during near shore or offshore cruising. Type II inflatables a minimum buoyancy of 22.5lb. and lower are considered near shore while Type II inflatables with a minimum buoyancy of 34lb. are considered offshore.
Although built to be more comfortable, less obtrusive and more buoyant than Type II inherently buoyant life vests, not all Type II inflatable life vests are guaranteed to turn unconscious wearers face up in an emergency. They are also not meant to be worn by children under 16 years old.
Shop our selection of Type II Inflatable Life Jackets.
Type III Inflatable
Built to be compact, unobtrusive and comfortable for extended wear, Type III inflatable life jackets are great for inshore and offshore boating, sailing, dinghy racing and canoeing. Type III inflatable life vests provide a minimum of 22.5lb. of buoyancy and are more comfortable than Type III inherent while providing more mobility. However, these inflatable life jackets are not guaranteed to turn people face up when unconscious and they are not meant for children 16 and under.
Shop our selection of Type III Inflatable Life Jackets.
Type V Automatic Inflation
Type V automatic inflation life jackets are designed for specific uses and are restricted only for that designated/stated use; i.e. belt packs, deck suits, floats coats. Providing a minimum of 25.5-34lb. of buoyancy depending on style, these inflatable life vests must be worn to meet federal requirements for their stated use/activity. Some of these life jackets are built as a combination of CO2 inflation and inherently buoyant foam to provide 15.5-22lb. of buoyancy.
Shop our entire selection of Type V Life Jackets.
Belt pack inflatables are Type V life jackets with Type III performance. Once inflated, these belt pack life jackets must be manually placed over your head. We recommend they be worn by competent swimmers only.
The Coast Guard requires that water-activated “automatic” inflatables with non-1F inflators have to be worn to be counted in the vessel’s inventory of life jackets. The most recent models with 1F inflators, so-called “stowables,” don’t have to be worn to be counted as inventory. Finally, the inshore Coastal Series inflatables use a 25g. cylinder, and provide 26lb. of flotation. They are only counted as inventory when worn.
Be sure to visually inspect your inflatable life jacket for leaks or tears every few months and to service your automatic inflator yearly. For more information about checking and servicing your inflatable life vest, check out our West Advisor article Do-It-Yourself: Check Your Inflatable Life Vest.
For in-depth information, consult our West Advisor article “Selecting a Life Vest”.