Choosing a wakeboarding life jacket is one of the most important decisions you will have to make in your journey as a wakeboarder. After all, no amount of fun should ever come second to your safety in the water.
If you’re looking for the best options available out there that’ll cover both your comfort and safety, then you’re in luck! In this guide, I will be discussing everything you need to know about a wakeboarding life jacket, as well as some options you can consider that are perfect for your wakeboarding needs!
What is Wakeboarding Life Jacket?
Essentially, a wakeboarding life jacket works in the same way as any other life jacket would—keep you afloat on the occasion that you fall over into the water and, well, save your life. Not only do these jackets work to keep you above water, but they also offer an extra layer of protection from collisions that could cause harm to your ribs and organs.
In an extreme sport such as wakeboarding, where crashes are an unavoidable experience you will have to go through, a reliable wakeboarding life jacket is a piece of equipment that you cannot afford to go without. And with the variety of designs and fits that cater to your every need, you won’t have a reason not to wear them.
Common Materials Used for the Wakeboarding Life Jacket
Neoprene and Nylon made wakeboarding life jackets are the most common options you will see on the market. But what exactly are they and how do they affect the quality of your life jacket?
Nylon Life Jackets
Nylon is a thermoplastic material that’s commonly used on wakeboarding life jackets. Because nylon-made life jackets are often sold cheap, they’re available everywhere with much-varied options (from kids to adults). However, vests made out of this material are usually heavier and are less flexible than a neoprene variant, making it uncomfortable for some to wear.
Neoprene Wakeboarding Life Jackets
On the other hand, neoprene is basically a type of synthetic rubber that is used on life jackets for added comfort and mobility. Apart from being lightweight, it could hold its own by providing an extra layer of cushioning for potential impacts. Being similar to rubber, neoprene on life vests are also much warmer compared to nylon variants due to its insulation qualities.
Types of Wakeboarding Life Jackets
U.S. Coast Guard Approved Wakeboarding Life Jacket
As I’ve stated earlier, wearing a life jacket is very important. In fact, it’s so important that not only does federal law require boat operators to provide life jackets for each boat passenger, but the life jackets themselves are given coast guard approval. So what’s so different about a U.S. Coast Guard Approved (USCGA or just CGA) wakeboarding life jacket?
USCGA life jackets are one of the most common types you’ll find on the market as most state regulations require their usage for water-based activities.
One of the main features of a USCGA life jacket is that it is designed to turn you over on your back and keep you afloat with your head above the water should you find yourself falling off the board.
Although these jackets are built to be a bit bulkier and less flexible compared to competition-type jackets, USCGA variants offer more foam and floatability, therefore being capable of securing your safety better on the water.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that the United States Coast Guard has several classifications for Life Jackets or what they call Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs). These classifications are:
Type I PFD
The Type I wakeboarding life jacket classification offers the most buoyancy among the others on the list. With their heavy-duty floatation capabilities, these types of life jackets are usually made to be worn when boating far from shore with potentially rough water conditions. They make sure that even unconscious wearers stay above the water especially in situations where rescue may arrive late.
Type II PFD
Type II life jackets work the same way as Type I would, however, these types are less buoyant, offering more comfort than a standard Type I. Because of its reduced buoyancy, Type II life jackets are only recommended when boating near the shore where a rescue is immediately available.
Type III PFD
Type III wakeboarding life jackets, on the other hand, are made for wearers engaging in water sport activities as they offer much more comfort than the two previously mentioned. They must be worn on calm waters however because they are again less buoyant and may require the wearer to be conscious in order to avoid floating with their head facing down.
Type IV PFD
The Type IV PFD is not necessarily a life jacket, but a type of floatation device that is meant to be thrown to a conscious person who may have fallen overboard and are in need of rescue. Examples of these are life rings or other cushions which are recommended to be used alongside a life jacket.
Type V PFD
Lastly, the Type V classification is intended for floatation devices with special usage. Being intended for specific water-based activities, these types must only be used according to what it is intentionally made for. Specially-made kayak/canoe vests are an example of this.
Competition Style Wakeboarding Life Jacket
In contrast to U.S. Coast Guard Approved types, a competition-style wakeboarding life jacket, or a comp vest for short, is not approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and is, for this reason, banned for use in several states.
However, this does not mean that these types of life jackets are completely useless. The only difference that exists between a USCGA and a comp life jacket would be the type of protection you would be getting as well as the level of comfort it provides you while engaging in your water activities. So what’s so different about a comp life jacket?
The purpose of a competition-style life jacket is that it is used exactly for what it’s labeled after—competitions. Being intended for water sports, these types specialize in keeping wearers comfortable with its lightweight design, which also allows for better mobility while wakeboarding.
However convenient these features are though, they do come at the cost of your safety.
Now don’t get me wrong, they do still offer some level of protection against impacts and a certain degree of floatation for its wearers, but they will not keep you afloat the way standard U.S. Coast Approved variants would.
Because of this, comp life jackets are usually worn by wakeboarders with enough skill and competence to traverse waters.
Note that, again, these comp types are not allowed to be worn in some areas depending on your state, so you may have to check in with local regulations first before going through with your wakeboarding plans. Never hurts to be well prepared and safe after all 😉
How to Choose
Having discussed the different types of life jackets available on the market, you now likely have a general idea about what each type is used for. So if you’re a beginner-level wakeboarder just learning the ropes, then a USCGA type will ensure maximum safety for you in case of accidents.
On the other hand, if you are a pro looking for much-needed flexibility for new tricks, then a competition-style jacket would be the most helpful gear for you. However, you may also want to consider your state’s regulations, especially with comp life jackets before taking your pick.
With this information on the two types of life jackets, you can at least determine for yourself which type would be perfect for your wakeboarding needs.
Now apart from your intended activity, and your skill level as a wakeboarder, you may also want to consider the jacket’s fit on your body. The first thing you should be looking out for is whether they’re tight enough yet comfortable to wear.
This is important to take note of because life jackets usually expand when wet, and while you thought leaving extra breathing room will lend you some much-needed ease, they may not protect you completely as they are intended when they float over your head from being too loose.
Much like your wakeboarding boots, your life jackets are not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. What may fit perfectly for a friend or family member may not always be appropriate for you. So, my advice is: invest in a nice wakeboarding life jacket that fits perfectly for you. After all, with your life on the line, you can never afford to be stingy with your choices.
There are plenty of choices out there for wakeboarding life jackets, and if you’re relatively new to this kind of stuff, it can get pretty overwhelming especially if you’re not sure which type or which brands to go for. Luckily, I’m here to help you out!
Below are some of the best wakeboarding life jackets I’ve found on the market, with some written descriptions for easier browsing. I’ve also added some specific factors you can consider when choosing the best life jacket option for you. These are: (1) type, (2) size options, (3) material, and (4) price.
O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG Life Vest
The O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG Life Vest is one of the most reliable choices on this list. Being a USCG Approved Type III PFD, this life jacket is easily recommended for anyone getting into all sorts of water activities.
Its outer shell is made out of nylon material to guarantee a lightweight vest that not only offers you protection, but comfort as well. At the same time, you won’t have to worry about keeping this jacket secure with its 4 heavy-duty 1.5 wide webbing belts that are easy to adjust and fasten.
And good news! These life jackets also come in a wide array of sizes from small to 4XL! You can check out their size chart on the link I’ve provided for exact measurements.
For those looking for a competitive alternative, O’Neill has the perfect wakeboarding life jacket available for you. The O’Neill Men’s Slasher Comp Life Vest is not USCG approved and is made specifically for competition Waterskiing and Wakeboarding.
With its performance-oriented build, this vest boasts its NytroLite foam, which is made to be lighter in order to offer unrestricted movement while engaging in high-pressure water sports.
You can secure this on your body with its front-zip feature which allows the vest to fit snugly around your body.
Hyperlite’s USCG Approved Type III entry is also an all-around life vest you can wear in any type of water activity.
Its segmented foam panels allow for full-body floatation that assures your safety on the water while at the same protecting you from potentially dangerous impacts. This variant boasts its superior drain ability which lets you shed off excess weight from water absorption.
Apart from the usual belt and buckle features, this life jacket also comes with a front-zip option that allows for better security around your body.
Next up is the Hyperlite NCGA Vagabond, which is not USCG approved but is geared towards more performative wakeboarders.
Specialized with keeping maximum flexibility for competitive wearers, Hyperlite’s comp vest entry boasts its lightweight construction and its ergonomic flex zones, making it comfortable and efficient for water sports.
For vest security, the Hyperlite NCGA Vagabond has a simple front-zip feature that makes it snug and comfortable to wear.
Type: Competition Style
Size: Small only
Billabong 2021 Pro (Stealth Camo Neo) Impact Vest
The Billabong 2021 Pro Impact Vest is another comp vest entry on this list. That said, this vest is not USCG approved, and is made especially for competitive water sports.
What stands out with this vest, however, is the technology that it uses to ensure maximum impact absorption, protecting wearers against high-risk impacts.
Similar to the other comp vest entries, this vest is also secured through a front-zip feature for a snug fit.
The Body Glove Method Nylon Life Vest is another USCG Approved Type III entry that’s perfect for all-around watersport usage. This wakeboarding life jacket shares the same qualities as the others on this list, both with its protection, floatation, and security features.
What’s unique about this Body Glove variant is that it has oversized armholes that allow for better mobility. At the same time, its design also features strategically placed drain holes to shed off any excess water that could add to its weight and quality.
Additionally, the Body Glove Method Nylon Life Vest is one of the cheapest selections available on this list for those with a tighter budget.
And well, that’s just about it! All you need to know about wakeboarding life jackets with some viable options that you can choose from. Whether you’re a beginner testing out the waters or a wakeboarding pro, I hope this guide was able to help you decide on which wakeboarding life jackets are best suited for your needs.
How did you like this buying guide? Let me know in the comments section! Also, feel free to follow me on Facebook and Instagram for other watersports-related content!
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