Best life vest

What are peoples opinion on best life vest for sailing? Full vest vs inflatable type? Pros/cons?

Gray Amick
Chapin, SC
'77 NACRA 5.2
inflatables are not good on cats, they can self inflate when splashed, and if you wear them on your hip, what happens if you get knocked out with a boom or other?

edited by: andrewscott, Jun 03, 2010 - 09:48 AM
I like kayak style PFD's with are short and allow you to access your trap harness without interfering. I use an Extrasport Retroglide Sabre and love it. It has a pocket for my radio and a pocket to hold a catkey and whistle. Inflatable are not a good option as Andrew mentioned.

‘92 H18 w/SX wings
‘95 Hobie Funseeker 12 (Holder 12)
‘96/‘01 Hobie Waves
The best one is::: the Orange ones with the flotation on yer chest and it goes on the back of yer neck... ( it helps hold your head up), thats good if ya get knocked out, but as safety minded as I'am... I have one with zippered pockets to keep a whistle & small flashlight/ ETC and it's also blue, same color as water~ that sucks too, I could never find a good yellow one that I like.......... icon_frown

~ Vietnam Vet 69-71~ 17 Hobie w/big jib, ~18 Hobie mag,~DN Ice sailor,
and other toys.......
~~ I live in NY state on the north shore of Oneida lake in
Bernhards Bay. ~~~~~~
The best one is the one that saves your life. Where I sail on the Atlantic side of South Florida I see a lot of cat sailors who do not wear one or even have any on board. I do remember reading in Readers Digest a few years ago that the Coast Guard trained piegons (birds) to detect the color orange. The birds ride in a glass bubble on the underside of the rescue plane and respond to orange when they see it. I can not remember how much better thier eye sight was then a humans but it was quite significant. A cat sailor must consider that if he is in the water he will be very hard to see if the seas are just a little bit rough. The only thing above the water will be his head a maybe his shoulders. Most power boats at full speed will not see him if he is separated from his boat. A bright colored life jacket could save your life more than one way.
Good point on visibility. I have red life-jackets and yellow spray tops for that reason.

‘92 H18 w/SX wings
‘95 Hobie Funseeker 12 (Holder 12)
‘96/‘01 Hobie Waves
Well, personally I would like to wear a full vest instead of an inflatable vest just because they are much safer in case something unexpected happens instantly.
Source - https://lifejacketexpert.…ife-jackets-for-sailing/
Adding to the discussion, you might consider an orange ball cap like hunters wear in the woods.

Seen above the water and many styles depending on water temperature

I-20 USA-645
Hernando, Florida
"There's not enough rum in the drum"
First, I agree with the suggestions about the short waisted vests for kayaking, but I think that the performance sailing specific PFD's have come a long way in the last couple of years, so don't rule them out.

The answer for me varies depending on the race/conditions. Round the cans and short inland distance races I LOVE my Zhik vest.... yes, I have an older one that isn't USCG approved, but it's very comfortable and super clean so it doesn't hang up on anything. Only complaint is the pocket; yeah, it's huge, but only has a velcro closure and no way to organize/segregate items.

For longer distance races where we go more than a mile or two offshore, I wear a Kokatat MSFit Tour. It's nice and short, fits close to the body and has plenty of pockets (you never have enough on a distance race though). Biggest problem is that it has quite a few exposed buckles that can and do snag occasionally.

To complicate things, I've sailed with a big name cat sailor who will NOT wear a typical PFD and only wears inflatables. MN3 is a bit wrong b/c not all of them are equipped with auto inflate; the one he wore when I sailed with him certainly wasn't (we had a high speed double trap pitchpole with the kite up). The belief is that the flotation is a liability if you get tangled up. There's at least one case of a cat sailor drowning when he got tangled in a flip and his vest kept him from getting free b/c it was pulling him up against the obstruction he was caught on.

Personally, I disagree with that line of thought (risk frequency and severity), but we're all free to make those choices for ourselves. I've had too many hard flips or taken big hits where if things went a little differently, I could have been knocked out to use a manual inflation PFD.

Edited by wlrottge on Dec 02, 2019 - 05:44 PM.
I use a pullover wake boarding vest. Note this is not USCG approved and should you be knocked out your face could flop in the water (much like any non-Type I or II USCG jacket.. i.e. kayak vest). It provides excellent protection from falls on shrouds, etc and doesn't catch on anything and is very nice under a trapeze harness.

There is no "one size fits all" solution to this often discussed topic. There are different types of lifejackets for a reason. Lifejackets are made for different conditions and applications.

Brad in Jacksonville, FL
2x Stiletto 27's (one for sale soon)
Beware of getting so much crap on your chest that you cannot climb back on board after a capsize without removing a lot of equipment that you might drop into the water...
My buddy had a vest that was so thick in front (without equipment) that I had to remove it to get close enough to the cat to scramble on board.
Granted this was a catamaran with really round hulls that sat high above the water, but I never considered any of that until I was in the water, wanting to get out.

Sheet In!
Prindle 18-2 #244 "Wakizashi"
Prindle 16 #3690 "Pegasus" Sold (sigh)
AZ Multihull Fleet 42 member
(Way) Past Commodore of Prindle Fleet 14
Arizona, USA
I'm a big advocate of the full vest, paddlers style with pockets. Breathable, inexpensive, functional.
If racing or something where utility isn't as big of a focus, then I'd go with a sleek buoyancy aid style.


Texas Gulf Coast
'82 Prindle 16 (Badfish)
'02 Hobie Wave (Unnamed Project)
‘87 Hobie 18 (Sold)
‘89 Hobie 17 (ill-advised project boat, Sold)
I wear a kokatat bahia pro, it has a pocket for my radio and two other pockets in it for tools and other junk, as well as attach points for my rescue knife

Captain Chris Holley
Fulshear, TX
'87 Prindle 19 "¡Hijole!"
'74 sunfish "1fish"
I always wear a hard vest, even offshore. I'm not a fan of relying on an inflatable if I get smacked overboard. I have been very luck in this aspect, but would rather not take the chance. If I'm doing a speed run, I keep the phone on me with the Spot Tracker on the boat. When I was racing a lot, I had one that I modified the front to keep the zipper high and not get tangled in the trapeze hook.


Prindle 18-2 Mod "FrankenKitty"
Tornado Classic "Fast Furniture"
Prindle 19 "Mr. Wiggly" - gone
Nacra 5.8 "De ja vu"
Nacra 5.0
Nacra 5.8
Tornadoes (Reg White)
i have used the west marine yellow Medalist jacket for a decade now
it is not too bulky, has pockets, is bright yellow, makes for a pretty comfy backrest/pillow in light air when laying down while drifting and works well for this type of sailing

in a race i would pull a flex-able long sleeve shirt over it so it is snag-less but it's not really a racing pfd

it does not sit well while on the wire so i wear it unzipped but it has a web belt/plastic buckle that i keep on at all times.