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Life Vests

Personal Flotation Devices (PFD) — or Life Jackets/Vests — are essential for your safety and can even be required by law. No matter how strong of a swimmer you are, you may find yourself in an unexpectedly dangerous situation, like passing out, getting hit by a speed boat, or losing your kayak.

You should check the Country’s and State’s regulations before heading out.

Life Jacket, iSUP, and Kayak Seat

Life Jacket, iSUP, and Kayak Seat

There are laws that require you, especially children, to wear (not just carry) a life jacket.

In California, children under 13 years must WEAR a PFD. Failure to do so can result in an infraction and a $150 fine. In some States, the penalty could even be a criminal citation and/or misdemeanor! Wearing (not just carrying) a PFD is good practice as you never know when you could find yourself in a dangerous situation. The strongest swimmer could still be overcome by unforeseen circumstances, including:

  • Cramp paralyzing you
  • Speed boat knocking you unconscious
  • Kayak or paddle board getting swept away by waves or a current after you fall
  • Hyperthermia, fatigue, and/or dehydration draining your energy
  • Rip current pulling you far out into the deep ocean
  • Falling into a recirculating current that spins and traps you like a washing machine
  • Having your foot pinned by a branch and you entrapped underneath the water
  • Panicked person dragging you under water
  • Falling into the water and losing orientation on which way is up or down
  • Shark biting or a jelly fish stinging you

Wear a life jacket! It could save you or your loved one’s life!

There are many factors that could pull even the strongest swimmer into a life-threatening situation. You may feel that wearing a life jacket makes you look “stupid” — I felt that way at first, but the truth is: nobody cares how you look in one! It became second nature to wear one in no time.

Life Vests /

Choosing a Life Jacket

How do you pick a flotation device that fits you? It depends on your swimming ability, weight and size, activity type, and many other factors. Start with these resources:

Life jackets are essential for your safety — and can even be required by law.

Performance Types

There are three common types of PFD’s designed for different scenarios and purposes.

Onyx & Stearns Life Jackets

Onyx & Stearns Life Jackets

  • Type III
    • Best comfort and freedom to move
    • Swimmers need to know how to turn themselves onto a face-up position and may need to tilt head back to keep it above water
      • An unconscious person will likely be in trouble with this classification of PFDs
    • For when a quick rescue is possible (ie. close to the shore)
    • Usually the least expensive
  • Type I
    • Bulky with least freedom to move
    • Turns most swimmers onto a face-up position
    • For when rescue may take a while to reach you (ie. remote or rough areas)
    • Most commonly found on commercial boats and tend to be expensive
  • Type II
    • Good comfort and freedom to move
    • Turns some, not all, swimmers onto a face-up position
    • For when a quick rescue is possible (ie. close to the shore)
    • Meant for calm inland waters
    • Good compromise between Types I and II

Test your Life Jacket before heading out especially if you do not know how to swim!

What We Bought

Infant Classic & Heads-Up Child /Stearns


For my young children, I wanted a Type II PFD with bright colors that would stand out for rescuers:

Both kept my children buoyant with their heads out of the water once they were floating on their backs. They needed some help getting turned face-up as they did not know how to swim yet.


I had a hard time finding a Type II for myself and browsed for Type III instead. I wanted one that provides (1) a great range of motion and (2) could comfortably be used for kayaking. Ultimately, the below were the choices I narrowed down to because their higher backs allowed one to enjoyably sit in a kayak seat without having to slouch forward.

  • Onyx MoveVent / Weight limit: over 90 lbs / Type: III
    • Torsion: All-red color for visibility, 2 zippered pockets, 1 accessory attachment (ie. for knife), 1 whistle
      • This is the one I bought
    • Dynamic: Colored accents (instead of a single, solid color) provides the least, overall visibility of the MoveVent series; 1 zippered pocket, 1 accessory attachment, 1 whistle
    • Curve: All-yellow or blue color for visibility, no pockets or accessory attachment
  • NRS Chinook / Weight limit: over 90 lbs / Type: III
    • All-orange color for visibility and impressive number of pockets
    • Had one of the most recommendations by enthusiasts and checked every box I was looking for
    • $160 price tag was too high for me for recreational paddle boarding
NRS Chinook, Onyx MoveVent (Dynamic & Torsion) /NRS and Onyx

NRS Chinook, Onyx MoveVent (Dynamic & Torsion) /NRS and Onyx

The Onyx Torsion MoveVent felt very comfortable. I purchased the Medium-Large in Red for my chest circumference of 40″ — you measure just below the armpit for men and around the breast for women. The vest kept my 195 lbs well afloat. If you do not know how to swim or are a weak swimmer, I strongly suggest you test out the life jacket before you head out onto open waters. You may be surprised to see that you will not sink if you are within the weight limit :)

Where To Buy

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