17 Activities Where a Life Jacket Should Be Worn

When you think of a life jacket, emergencies or extreme water sports might come to mind. Yet having a good life jacket is an important safety measure for a wide range of water-based activities. The following 17 activities should all involve wearing a PFD (personal floatation device), and we’ll tell you why.


boating pfd

It should come as no surprise that a life jacket is required for boating, and it’s an actual Coast Guard requirement that there be a personal floatation device present for each person on board. Depending upon the activity, you will need a Type I, II, or III PFD. A Type IV device is also suggested on boats larger than a canoe or kayak, but these are only meant to serve as a backup to vests.

What we recommend:  Men’s O’Neill Superlite or Women’s O’Brien Impulse


canoeing pfd

The narrow nature of a canoe makes it great for cutting through water, but can also result in easier capsizing in rough weather. Type III PFDs are some of the best canoe life vests and most popular among adults, but Type IIs and Type V vests designed for rowing are also excellent choices.

What we recommend:  Onyx MoveVent Dynamic


canyoning pfd

The sport of canyoning often means coming in contact with rapids or climbing potentially unstable surfaces near water. A Type III or V designed for these conditions is the best choice and should be complemented with other safety gear to cover any potential obstacles. At times, a wetsuit provides enough floatation and is often recommended in cooler conditions.

What we recommend:  Stohlquist Trekker


fishing pfd

One of the most relaxing sports, fishing trips can be interrupted by sudden storms or choppy water. A Type II or III PFD is recommended for shoreline or inland fishing, while a Type I is required for offshore trips.

What we recommend:  Stohlquist Fisherman

Floating the River

floating the river pfd

Floating the river generally involves an inflatable float tube or raft, and Type IV PFDs are thus a common choice for this relaxing pastime. A Type II or Type III vest may also be used with the later being more comfortable. Generally, the Type III is preferred among adults, as it doesn’t flip the wearer onto their back.

What we recommend:  Stearns Classic Series

Jet Skiing

jet skiing pfd

As can be expected from the aquatic version of a motorcycle, jet skiing is fast and dangerous. Falling off of a jet ski of having it flip can lead to serious injury, especially in choppy waters. Wearing a Type III or V PFD can literally save your life in such an accident.

What we recommend:  O’Neill Superlite


kayaking pfd

While smaller and less at risk of capsizing than a canoe, kayaks can still run into problems where having a PFD specifically for kayaking can save your life. This is especially true of seemingly calm rivers that have a nasty undertow. You can get a Type V vest made specifically for kayaking, although the popular Type III also works well.

What we recommend:  Onyx MoveVent Dynamic


parasailing pfd

A wise person once asked why anyone would want to jump out of a perfectly good plane. Parasailing is the sport of parachuting in reverse, using a parachute pulled by a vehicle to catch air and lift one or two people into the air. It goes without saying that you’re going to want a Type III or V PFD in case things turn ugly.

What we recommend:  O’Neill Superlite


rowing pfd

Even the most experienced rowers can be caught off-guard by sudden squalls or capsized by the wakes of reckless speedboaters, leaving them in the water with already tired arms. Type III and V vests are perfect for rowing, and having a Type IV device or two on board for backup never hurts.

What we recommend:  Onyx MoveVent Dynamic


sailing pfd

Traditionally, sailors could rarely swim and always went down with the ship. These days, we have Type III and Type IV PFDs to ensure everyone on board remains safe, regardless of how well they can swim. The ocean is unpredictable, making these not only a good idea to have one for each person, but also a legal requirement for sailing. Inflatable PFDs are popular but expensive.

What we recommend:  Astral Buoyancy V-Eight

Stand-Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)

SUP pfd

Even experienced SUPs can have a difficult time remaining afloat. Stand-up paddle boarding requires a high degree of skill and sudden changes in the surface can easily knock the best boarder off his feet. Depending upon where you choose to engage in this sport, a Type II or III is your best bet for keeping safe.

What we recommend:  Onyx MoveVent Dynamic

Tubing (Towable)


Being on a towable tube can be a super fun way to enjoy the water, but there is always a chance of ending up further in the water than you’d like. A Type III vest can keep you or your loved one safe while tubing behind a boat or behind a jet ski. Keep in mind, younger children should only use Type II vests or better.

What we recommend:  O’Neill Reactor



One of several sports that evolved from surfing, wakeboarding can be quite dangerous, but also a great thrill. You will want a Type III or V vest for this sport. Impact vests are another PFD option, although these aren’t USCG approved and thus might not be permitted in the waters you plan to explore.

What we recommend:  O’Neill Superlite

Water Skiing

waterskiing pfd

If you’ve never seen a painful wipeout, you haven’t really seen water skiing. It’s easy to lose balance over a wake and get pulled under, or to lose your grip and tumble at high speeds. A Type III or V is best for this type of sport, although a Type II might be best when on more open waters.

What we recommend:  O’Neill Superlite

Water Trampoline

water trampoline pfd

What’s more fun than jumping off of a floating platform? Launching from a floating trampoline, of course! A Type III vest can help ensure that high-bounce dive won’t end poorly.

What we recommend:  Stearns Classic Series

Whitewater Rafting

whitewater rafting pfd

It goes without saying that whitewater rafting can be a highly dangerous sport. Protruding rocks can easily be hidden in the foam, and the risk of ending up in the water being pulled along by the turbulent currents is a major risk for even the most experienced. A Type III or V vest designed specifically for whitewater is the best choice, as a Type II may be a bit too bulky.

What we recommend:  Stohlquist Trekker

Wind Surfing / Kite Boarding


These two surfing-derived sports may function differently, but they share the same PFD requirements due to the similar risks of falling off the board. A good Type III will help in case of an accident, and there are Type V vests designed specifically for these sports.

What we recommend:  O’Brien Traditional


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