Hey there my fellow fishing enthusiasts. Today I am going to check out my 3 best life jackets for kayak fishing to float with this year. As some of you may know, kayak fishing is one of my favourite fishing past times and I try and get out at least once a week to float on the water, catch some rays (sun rays that is) and hopefully the odd fish as well. Last week when I was out and about, I was approached and stopped by the local Fisheries Officers to check that:
a. I had a valid fishing license (we need them here), and
b. That I was wearing a proper life jacket (I was on my own).
Luckily for me, I have a valid license and yes, I was wearing a life jacket suitable for the type of craft and water I was in. They laughed at the tiny fish I just happened to catch as they pulled up beside me, then when on their way.
What that experience also did of course was motivate me to do some more research to come up with my 3 options for this post. So without any further carry on, let’s check them out…
My 3 recommended life jackets for the kayak
I will review these in more detail below but if you just want to get moving without all the carry on, my 3 are listed here for your convenience:
Note: The three I have listed here are recommended based on their suitability for kayak fishing only. ALWAYS check with your local authorities before purchasing any life jacket.
What are Life Jackets?
Also often referred to as Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs), Life Jackets are a piece of equipment (usually a vest or piece of clothing) that are designed to keep a person afloat in the water. They come in a number of shapes and sizes and are usually rated depending on the type of craft and location where it will be needed (open or closed waters for example).
Unfortunately, the ratings and requirements for the wearing of a PFD for a kayak vary greatly from location to location – In Australia where I live, they are even differ from state to state. So, as an example, I have outlined below the legal requirements for New South Wales, Australia (the state in which I live) and also for Texas in the Untied Stated (as I have fished there as well).
New South Wales – Australia
Closed waters – Level 50S or greater at all times when:
- Kayaking between sunset and sunrise
- Kayaking on alpine waters
- Kayaking alone (without an accompanying person 12 years of age or more on the same vessel).
- Kayaker is under 12 years of age
Open waters (ocean) – Level 100 or greater at all times
Texas – United States
- All vessels (including canoes, kayaks, and other paddle craft) must have at least one USCG–approved Type I, II, III, or V (wearable) PFD for each person on board.
- All children under 13 years of age must wear a USCG–approved Type I, II, III, or V (wearable) PFD while underway (not at anchor, moored, or aground) on any vessel less than 26 feet long, including canoes, kayaks, and other paddle craft.
In both jurisdictions however, it is recommended that PFDs be worn at all times – after all they can’t save you if they are not being worn.
What should you be looking for?
Ok, so as it is with anything else to do with kayaking, space and movement are key elements to success and comfort on the water. So as you do your own research, there are some things to keep in mind as you look into getting yourself a good life jacket for your kayak as per below:
Types of Kayaks
In terms of kayaks, there are three main types that may affect the type of life jacket that you may look at. These are:
1. Sit on Top kayak
As the name suggests, these are the style that you sit on top of as you paddle along. They can range in size from around 8 to 13ft in length and work in both open and closed water settings. As you are on top of the kayak, the width of the life jacket will only be determined by your own personal preferences.
2. Sit in Kayaks
These are the ones where you site inside the kayak (via the little ‘hole’ or cockpit at the top). This can mean that if a thicker PFD is chosen, then things may get a bit squishy inside.
3. Inflatable Kayaks
Again as the name suggests, inflatable kayaks are pumped up with air for use and come in both sit on or sit in options so again, choose accordingly.
In simple terms, location is all about where you will be planning to use your kayak. Think about:
- Water type – Will you be on a lake, in an estuary or on the open sea? The bigger the body of water, the more likely it is that will need a higher rated device. Check you local authority guidelines for minimum specification requirements for the body of water you will be fishing in.
- Current – Estuaries generally are susceptible to tidal currents – if these are strong then a higher rated PFD might be worth your while regardless of guidelines.
- Hazards – Some water locations (especially lakes) contain hazards such as rocks and fallen trees etc. as well as coral reefs, gullies and other submerged objects that may be evident if you are using your kayak in the ocean. And whilst generally not an issue if you are floating on the surface, they are something to keep in mind if other elements that can tip you over are evident.
There is more to this but from the point of view of fishing from a kayak, as long as none of the above are too extreme, then you should be ok as long as the local recommendations/guidelines are met. At the end of the day, the main question to ask yourself is whether you are going to be able to easily get to safety without a PFD should you fall off your kayak. If the answer is no (and it is not a legal requirement anyway), wear the highest rated one you can and wear it the whole time.
In the section above on legal requirements, I referred to some PFD specifications that have been outlined by some local marine authorities. Again, you will need to check with the regulators in your area but below are some examples based on the two jurisdictions listed above:
- Level 50S lifejackets have the same overall buoyancy as a Level 50 life jacket, however they are not required to be made in high-visibility colours.
- Level 50 lifejackets are intended to support the wearer in the water, but without the neck support required to keep the wearer’s head face-up and above the water if unconscious.
- Level 100 lifejackets are intended for people who may have to wait for rescue, but are likely to do so in sheltered and calm water. They are not intended for use in rough conditions, or when there is wave splash.
- Level 150 lifejackets are intended for general offshore and rough weather use where a high standard of performance is required. They are designed to turn an unconscious person in swimming attire into a safe position, and maintain a fully clothed person in a safe position with no subsequent action by the wearer.
- Level 275 lifejackets are intended primarily for offshore use and by people who are using items of significant weight or wearing clothing which may trap air and adversely affect the life jacket’s self-righting capacity. They are designed to ensure that the wearer floats with their mouth and nose clear of the surface.
*Level 50 and above must be made in high-visibility colours.
United States Standards
- Type I PFDs: Best for all waters, open ocean, rough seas, or remote water, where rescue may be slow coming. Abandon-ship life jacket for commercial vessels and all vessels carrying passengers for hire.
- Type II PFDs: For general boating activities. Good for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue.
- Type III PFDs: For general boating or the specialized activity that is marked on the device such as water skiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and others. Good for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue.
- Type V PFDs: Only for special uses or conditions.
Note: This information is provided as a guide only – always check with your local authority prior to purchase.
Self inflatable vs standard
When it comes to life jackets, there is generally a bit of debate over whether a self inflating life jacket is better than a standard, foam filled version. In terms of specifications etc., there should be no difference between the two, however you can consider the following:
Standard (foam filled) jackets
- Little to no maintenance required
- Always buoyant (you are not reliant on a self inflating mechanism)
- Usually come with pockets etc. for better storage and holding stuff
- Bulkier than inflatables
- Mandatory for some activities – such as jet skiing and white water rafting etc. (I.e. inflatable jackets cannot be worn in these instances)
- Easier to move around and fish in
- Cooler to wear
- Require maintenance as per manufacture specifications (usually every 6 – 12 months)
- Reliant on mechanism to inflate
- Will self inflate on you if you forget you are wearing it and jump in to the water to cool off (yep, been there)
There are also a number of other options to check out as you look into your best suited life jackets. Some of these will be determined by the factors listed above and others will be based purely on personal preferences including:
- Weight limitations – Most lifejackets are built to manage certain weight limits (up to 90lb for example). Make sure your device is appropriate for your body size (see below).
- Size – As per normal clothing, most life jackets are not one size fits all (and I would avoid the ones that are).
- Whistles – Many have whistles attached in order to assist in attracting attention – great if you are out in the water at night.
- Reflective tags and strips – Same as the with the whistle – they are just easier to see – some even have lights.
- Mouthpiece – For inflatable models – if the mechanism fails, you can blow it up by mouth.
- Mesh/breathing holes – Standard foam filled PFDs can get quite hot to wear – the more air holes, the better.
- Pockets – do you have stuff to carry? Some PFDs come with pockets and pouches etc. as well
Again, check with your local authorities for advice in terms of life jacket colour. Here in Australia, they must be made in a highly visible colour such as red, yellow or orange.
Note: weight settings are not determined by your weight on the scales. In terms of weight scaling for a PFD, the following is considered:
Approximately 80% of the human body is water, thus will not weigh you down (has no weight) in water. Additionally, bodies on average have 15% fat, which is lighter than water. So in those terms, a 200 lb person will (dependent upon fat levels) will generally require a PFD rated at around 10 to 30lb. However, always check with your local authority and life jacket retailer.
What life jackets are good for kayaking?
In my opinion, an inflatable life jacket is best for use on a kayak. These can be worn the entire time and allow you to move around without becoming cumbersome.
What is the best color for life jackets?
Any bright color that can be easily seen is worth it for a life jacket. However in some countries, PFDs are colored based on their rating – i.e. red for open waters etc. So always check ratings instead of your favorite color.
What do I use?
So, I like to move around and it can get quite warm where we fish so I have gone for a self inflatable PFD. It is the highest rated I can get (I do go in boats as well so it is rated for that too) and I wear it the whole time I am on the kayak. It has a whistle, high visibility colours and reflective tape in the side.
As I have said, I like this style as I can fish without it getting in the way and to be honest, I mostly forget I am wearing it – which is why I have blown it up when jumping in to cool off. $16 to replace the gas tube each time I do that wears a bit thin I can tell you..hahaha
My three recommendations broken down
Now, normally In this section I would just list the three options I recommend and get on with it. But as Life Jackets (as the name suggests) are just that – designed to save your life – then the three I have listed here are recommended based on their suitability for kayak fishing only.
ALWAYS check with your local authorities before purchasing any life jacket.
On that note, here are three options to consider…
1.Top Safety Adult Life Jacket with Whistle – Manual Version Inflatable Lifejacket
I have chosen this one based on the fact that for a kayak, it is lightweight and allows for good movement whilst fishing. It is highly visible with manual inflation, a mouthpiece and whistle. Specifications as follows:
- Coast guard certified: Yes
- Inflation speed: 3 – 5 seconds
- Whistle: Yes
- High Visibility: Yes
- Multi Size: Yes – but via adjustable belt only
- Zippered pocket for keys, waterproof camera, license, etc.
- Buoyancy is 150N, Fits for universal adults under 330 lbs (150kg)
Why have I chosen it?
This is a great base model for a kayak for a good price. It is best suited to locations such as estuaries and lakes where currents are not strong, or safety is often within reach.
2. Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket
My second option here is for those looking to get some good quality on a budget or for the avid fisherman who wants something that will do the job with a little more functionality. A bit more robust than the inflatable models, this one is small enough to to stay ‘out of the way’ but with plenty of pockets and holders for all those accessories needed whilst fishing on a kayak. Its specifications include:
- Coast guard certified: Yes
- Inflation speed: N/A
- Whistle: Yes
- High Visibility: Yes
- Multi Size: Yes – Six adjustment straps plus two size options as follows:
- Universal- 30″-52″ Chest, over 90lbs
- Oversize- 40″-60″ Chest, over 90lbs
- Pockets designed for your essential gear
- Breathable mesh lower back
- Comfortable neoprene shoulder pads
Why have I chosen it?
I like this one as it is a good, kayak fishing designed PFD for a decent price. It has the ability to function in a good number of waterway types with high visibility patches as well. Great for those who plan to be on the water a while and don’t want to have to keep reaching into kayak wells for gear and scissors etc. too.
3. Mustang Survival – M.I.T. 100 Auto Activated PFD
The third unit I have chosen is a little more expensive however for those who venture far and wide in their kayak fishing exploits, or need something that they can use on a boat as well, it has everything you could possibly need to feel safe on the water. Its specs include:
- Coast guard certified: Yes
- Inflation speed: within 10 seconds of wearer entering water
- Whistle: Yes
- High Visibility: Yes – once inflated
- Multi Size: Yes – Models cover chest sizes 30″ – 52″ and more than 80lb
- Will automatically self-right most wearers within seconds of water entry
- Provides 26 lb. (100 N) buoyancy when inflated
Why have I chosen it?
This is a great one for beginners and avid fishermen alike who a looking for a little quality over price. It provides full peace of mind for all waters that a kayak fisherman could venture into with a lightweight fit to ensure maximum movement on the vessel whilst fishing.
And there it is – my 3 best life jackets for kayak fishing. I hope it has been helpful and as usual, please let me know of your experiences with them.
Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, corrections or would like me to check anything else out for you.
Until next time