15 of the Best Lifejackets for Boaters & Sailors – Tested

We tested 15 of the most popular lifejackets available to help guide you in making an informed choice for the right lifejacket for your particular use and body shape.

Whilst all of the best lifejackets for boaters conform to a set of minimum ISO standards, how do you know which one is actually the best for your personal use and body type?

From their basic ISO rated start point, all lifejackets take on their own characteristics and design elements. The positioning of the CO2 inflation bottle, the shape of the bladder, the position of the crotch strap and the way it is attached, the location of the whistle, the position of the oral inflation tube and the location of the lifting strop. Some of our lifejackets on test also have sprayhoods and water activated strobe lights.

Each lifejacket has its own review page. If you want a more in-depth review, simply click through to read more.

A note from the Tech Editor: Fox Morgan

“I have a confession.
Until just 13 years ago (2009), I rarely wore a lifejacket. Throughout the 80s, 90s and 00s I casually went about never wearing one and never worrying about it.
Until one day I was about to row, in the dark, back to my mooring.
A friend and sailing instructor commented on my lack of lifejacket. “Ebb tide runs fast through here” he said.
I was belligerent and defensive with my reply. I’ve never fallen in. I’ll be careful.
The seed of doubt had been sown and I had a word with myself. For 28 years of regularly being on boats I had got lucky.
You only need to fall in once. Much like you only crash a car once if you’re not wearing a seatbelt.”

The best lifejacket is the one you wear. 


Coastal Lifejackets 150-180N

The best lifejackets for boaters and sailors

best lifejackets for boaters, baltic athena

Baltic Athena Auto Inflatable Lifejacket

Score 83/100

“best women’s specific lifejacket”

Pros: This lifejacket is cut for women and fits really well over foul weather clothes and light weight layers. It is comfortable and easy to move around in. It is easy to fasten in all conditions. It is easy to repack and easy to check the firing mechanism.

Cons: The bladder might be a bit tight around the neck when inflated wearing a large foul weather jacket collar and this can be uncomfortable.

Verdict: This is an excellent choice of lifejacket for women who do a host of boating activities. High praise from all who tried this lifejacket in the dry.

Read the full Baltic Athena review

Buy Baltic Athena Auto Inflatable Lifejacket


spinlock deckvest lite, best lifejackets for boaters

Spinlock Deckvest Lite

Score 84/100

“Best coastal on test for everyday wear and general purpose water activity”

Pros: This is a smart looking lifejacket with a slimline feel with very few things to get caught or snag. It comes in a variety of casing colours. It is really easy to repack.
Fits smaller adult body types well. Very high visibility bladder.

Cons: This might feel a little restrictive on some people with the over-the-head method of donning. This might not suit larger bodies.

Verdict: This no frills but stylish lifejacket performs well both off and on the water. It is great for everyday wear and is unobtrusive and easy to forget you’re wearing it.

Read the full Spinlock Deckvest review

Buy Spinlock Deckvest Lite


best lifejackets for boaters, seago seaguard

Seago Seaguard 165N

Score 69/100

“best budget buy”

Pros: Excellent value for money. The cross over bladder design works well. There’s room in the casing to add a sprayhood and light. Also comes in a version with a harness loop

Cons: There’s a few little snaggy areas where straps or toggles could be better tucked away.

Verdict: We were very pleased with the performance of this lifejacket. Whilst it doesn’t look super stylish, it doesn’t offend either. Where it excels is as a lifejacket in the water and that’s where it really counts.

Read the full Seago Seaguard review

Buy Seago Seaguard 165N

Buy Seago Seaguard from Pirates Cave


best lifejackets for boaters, crewsaver crewfit pro

Crewsaver Crewfit 180 pro

Score 81/100

“best premium coastal lifejacket”

Pros: a smart black lifejacket that doesn’t shout look at me. Understated style. Fitted with sprayhood and light as standard. Well designed wide bladder. Very comfortable when worn day to day. Easy to adjust.

Cons: unpacking and repacking is a bit of a fiddle and rearming the firing mechanism is really fiddly and if you fly regularly with this lifejacket, the CO2 bottle seal will be an annoyance.

Verdict: This is an excellent lifejacket, leading the way with coastal lifejackets that will take you offshore and into the night with its well positioned strobe light and nicely designed sprayhood. The thoughtful design is apparent throughout, but perhaps was taken one step too far with the CO2 bottle anti-unscrew seal feature making it a poor choice for frequent flyers but an excellent choice for people who worry about their CO2 bottles coming unscrewed.

Read the full Crewsaver Crewfit review

Buy Crewsaver Crewfit 180N Pro


best lifejackets for boaters, team-o micro

TeamO Micro

Score 77/100

Pros: Super skinny lightweight lifejacket, one of the lightest on test at 860grams.

Cons: A bit of a pig to repack. Very basic with no room for add-ons such as a light or sprayhood

Verdict: The target market for the stylish TeamO Micro is likely to be for those who use RIBs, go day boating and motorboating and for other inshore sheltered water activities. If you want a lifejacket with the smallest footprint, then this may well fit the bill. If you are looking for a lifejacket that you can add to later with additional safety gear, then you might look elsewhere.

Read the full TeamO Micro review

Buy TeamO Micro Ultra Light 


best lifejackets for boaters, ocean safety sport ADV

Ocean Safety Sport 170 ADV

Score 65/100

Pros: Smart looking lifejacket, ocean safety brand is well established and trusted with service centres readily available everywhere. Crossover bladder design.

Cons: as per a previous test conducted on this lifejacket, it has suboptimal positioning of the CO2 canister on the curve of the bladder which causes it to rotate on inflation and jab into the chest or ribs of the wearer.

Verdict: Whilst there’s no doubt this is a good quality ISO rated lifejacket, it is smart and fits well, adjusts well and functions well in all aspects, however there’s no escaping its shortcomings in respect to the bottle position and the underwhelmingly small sprayhood.

Read the full Ocean Safety Sport review

Buy Ocean Safety Sport ADV


best lifejackets for boaters, helly hansen lifejacket

Helly Hansen Sail Safe

Score 56/100

Pros: light weight and easy to stow, no frills design, neat stowage for the crotch strap on the back of the life jacket straps.

Cons: performance was adequate in all areas but didn’t excel in any particular area.

Verdict: The Helly Hansen Sail Safe lifejacket is a lightweight coastal lifejacket with the ubiquitous HH branding. You get good performance all over but for the (relatively high) price it does feel that you are paying for a name and higher specified lifejackets are available at a lower price.

Read the full Helly Hansen Sailsafe review

Buy Helly Hansen SailSafe


best lifejackets for boaters, waveline

Waveline

Score 61/100

Pros: This is the lightest on test and weighs just 800g fully armed. The flat profile is comfortable to wear. The velcro closure makes this life jacket really easy to check the arming mechanism and really easy to re-pack
It’s very good value for money.

Cons: It has about as much style as a flat red thing can have. Nowhere to stow excess webbing after adjustment.

Verdict: The Waveline 165N auto lifejacket is an excellent budget option that works well in the water when inflated and is a no frills option for getting out on the water boating safely. A lightweight and simple lifejacket that is tried and tested the world over.

Read the full Waveline review

Buy Waveline 165N


Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence. Where indicated, items have been tested independently of manufacturers influence.

Offshore Lifejackets 190N

The best lifejackets for boaters and sailors

best lifejackets for boaters, spinlock deckvest 6d

Spinlock Deckvest 6D

Score 84/100

“Highly Commended Best all round”

Pros: Form fitting sculpted design, Bright colour of casing is stylish. Excellent elevated lighting and reflective visibility. Good snug fit holding user high in the water. Excellent sprayhood. Harness release system.

Cons: The bladder is a darker orange and may not be as visible as some of the brighter bladders available. The extra sculpting can make the lifejacket feel a bit stiff to wear and makes it heavy.

Verdict: This is an outstanding lifejacket with great performance across the score board. The standout features are the lighting, both elevated and lumeon, lighting the entire bladder. The essentials are labels and easy to find and this feels like a lifejacket that has really been designed with the user in mind. Every query has been answered. If we were challenged to find a way to improve this, we’re really not sure how we would.

Read the full Spinlock Deckvest 6D review

Buy Spinlock Deckvest 6D


best lifejackets for boaters, baltic force

Baltic Force 

Score 74/100

Pros: larger/longer bladder gives higher buoyancy, smart outer casing looks stylish, comes in a range of specification levels to suit individual needs

Cons: This test model version comes without a sprayhood or light which would be essential for any offshore or coastal use after dark. (make sure you opt for the higher spec model)

Verdict: This is without doubt a highly capable lifejacket and fits well both shoreside and in the water. The extra buoyancy is noticeable in the longer bladder. We were unable to test the fully fledged offshore equipped lifejacket and if this lifejacket suits you, then make sure you opt for that extra specification.

Read the full Baltic Force review

Buy Baltic Force


best lifejackets for boaters, seago 3dynamic

Seago 3Dynamic

Score 62/100

Pros: Looks smart and generally well sculpted to form fit. The bladder has a crossover design to stop waves funneling into your face.

Cons: really difficult to re-pack after inflation/re-arming. Poorly designed sprayhood. Light poorly positioned, might be a bit snug on larger people

Verdict: The Seago 3Dynamic looks to offer so much on paper but in practice we found it had one too many compromises for our tastes. It is comfortable, but repacking is a real faff. the buckle was fiddly and the sprayhood was subpar. A little more thought into the layout and practicalities of this lifejacket could turn it around though to be a solid contender. at £150 it is good value though.

Read the full Seago 3Dynamic review

Buy Seago 3Dynamic


best lifejackets for boaters, teamo backtow

TeamO Backtow

“Highest scoring on test”

Score 86/100

Pros: smart sculpted design, Excellent sprayhood, innovative design with backtow harness

Cons: if you deploy the backtow you’re going to need to know how to put that back together or take it to a service centre. Currently low on stock throughout the UK due to post pandemic supply/manufacturer issues.

Verdict: A truly excellent lifejacket with innovation at its heart and the user practicality forefront. a couple of points to note though would be the complexity of the backtow element means that rearming it in a hurry, unless you’re a dab hand already and have practiced shoreside, might leave you reaching for the spare lifejacket and sending this one off for someone else to do it for you. There’s also the issue of stock levels in the UK taking a while to get back to pre-pandemic numbers.

Read the full TeamO Backtow review

Buy TeamO Backtow


ocean safety sport pro adv best lifejackets for boaters

Ocean Safety Sport Pro 170 ADV

Score 78/100

Pros: smart stylish design from a reputable brand, neat built in stowage pocket suitable for a PLB

Cons: small sprayhood feels claustrophobic and too tight around the head, the trigger toggle should have better stowage to avoid accidental trigger or to avoid unsafe tucking away by users.

Verdict: This is a comfortable, sturdy, good quality and relatively well specified lifejacket at a good price. It has some great features and comes as standard with the basic equipment for going out of sight of land at night. The crossover bladder is a good design to stop waves funneling into the face, but we would advise to upgrade the sprayhood and light position to have a better in-water performance should you ever need it.

Read the full Ocean Safety Sport Pro review

Buy Ocean Safety Sport Pro 170N ADV


Spinlock Vito 170N Hammar

Full test review page coming soon…

Pros: One of the best sprayhoods we’ve tested, low profile lifejacket casing, Hammar trigger means you can use this in wild sailing conditions without accidental triggering

Cons: Hammar trigger means re-arming this is a faff. quite rigid construction, might not fit smaller people as adjustment will go as small as a size 8 European female.

Verdict: This is used by a variety of professional teams, including Volvo ocean racers. The Hammar trigger mechanism is a matter for you to decide if it’s right for you. They do sell the Vito with the pro sensor trigger too. The over the head donning is a love it or loathe it style and whilst it can feel very secure and the harness loop is excellent, passing this over your head, large collar and other foulies in a rush can feel a bit claustrophobic. The back is low cut though and the sprayhood is stowed in a back panel keeping the bulk away from the collar area. It is an excellent lifejacket and has scored highly in our early test scores. The full test review is coming soon,

Buy Spinlock Vito 170N Hammar


Ocean Lifejackets 270N +

The best lifejackets for boaters and sailors

Spinlock Deckvest 6d 275N

The full test review page is coming soon. 

Pros: larger capacity bladder for superior righting and buoyancy, can have HRS facility, compatibility with other spinlock products

Cons: feels noticeably larger/bulkier than a 190N, might impede access to liferaft if you are a smaller person.

Verdict: Our pool tester Phil noted how much confidence this lifejacket inspired in the water. The bladder is significantly larger and provides a much greater buoyancy and visibility. It is large though, so we don’t recommend this for day to day sailing. The weight of the lifejacket comes in at 1529grams, which is 200g more than the standard 170N deckvest. This might not seem a great deal but over the course of a day, wearing this might be quite fatiguing. Of course if you are wearing a large immersion suit or other bulky clothes or dry suit for use in deep ocean conditions, you will be very glad of the extra this lifejacket offers.

 Buy Spinlock Deckvest 6D 275N


Lifejackets group test – what we scored our lifejackets on

offshore lifejackets and liferaft

Adjust speed ease difficulty

Our testers checked how easy and quickly our lifejackets were able to change from full foulies, then down to a t-shirt then back again. The double adjuster was a popular method and was scored highly by our testers.

Fastening buckle ease with gloves

The ease with which we can fasten and unfasten the various buckles, including with gloves or cold hands. Seabelt style buckles were generally scored very highly.

Comfort men women body size

Baltic athena lifejacket fastening

front cross over design

The cut and design of lifejackets varies a lot. From high cut waistcoat styles that suited the men or wider shouldered and taller people and the longer in the body cut lifejackets tended to suit a slimmer person with a waist for the lifejacket to cinch into.

Practicality . bulk snagging

waistband stowage

Some lifejackets have been well thought through. What do we do with the long surplus piece of webbing? what about all the flappy strappy bits? Are they neatly stowed? Lifejackets that had better stowage of surplus dangly bits were scored highly.

Manual inflated view and fitment

We tried all of the lifejackets shoreside, manually inflated and looked for the essential gear, whether it fell readily to hand and how the lifejacket fitted around the body in its fully inflated lifejaclet mode. A couple of the lifejackets had top up tubes that were a bit of a stretch to reach and some were difficult to locate the whistle or lifting strop.

Ease of checking and repacking

Crewsaver Crewfit 180 Pro repacking lifejacket

repacking lifejacket

Some of our lifejackets just slipped back into their casing without a fuss, others didn’t want to go back in without a bit of a wrestle. The velcro closure lifejackets are the easiest and the tightly packed ones with all the bells and whistles required a little more consideration to careful tucking and folding. Most had easy access to check the arming mechanism within a few brief seconds.

Sprayhood

crewsaver lifejacket and sprayhood

Phil pool test sprayhood deployed

Where a lifejacket was fitted with a sprayhood we scored it. Some sprayhood were considerably better designed than others. Of the coastal lifejackets on test the Crewsaver was outstanding.

Personal Beacon stowage

The offshore lifejackets should reasonably be expected to have adequate stowage provision for a personal locator beacon or AIS.  Some were much better equipped than others. The Ocean Safety Sport Pro ADV has a pocket built in, the Spinlock Deckvest 6D has an optional side pouch which is excellent.

In water testing

plunge test

We tested every lifejacket in the pool and ran each one through basic personal sea survival drills, from manual inflation, auto inflation, swimming, rafting and climbing into a liferaft, we looked at the performance of all our best lifejackets for boaters in general use.


It is clear to see that all lifejackets are not made equal. Certainly not in how they feel from person to person.

Whilst all of our lifejackets on test performed well according to basic safety standards, they all have elements that could be tweeked and adjusted to be better functioning or designed and all of them have their unique selling points.

A final note from the Tech Editor : Fox Morgan

lifejacket familiarisation

My personal favourite lifejacket is the old Kru Sport, as it fits me so well. They no longer make this waistcoat style model, but the sprayhood and equipment storage capacity on this one is excellent. My AIS beacon fits on a webbing belt on the bladder. I familiarise myself with my lifejacket manually inflated once or twice a year or before every big offshore race. I inspect it on a regular basis and check the arming mechanism before every outing.

Once you have chosen the best lifejacket that suits your needs, make sure you get to know it well. Not just in it’s rolled away form, but as a lifejacket, inflated. Know where your essential safety kit is stowed. Where is the whistle and lifting strop? Put your lifejacket on and feel around for them. Store this in your memory. The least sensible time to be doing this for the first time is when you actually need them.

Our lifejacket testing team were:

Alex :  Professional Skipper of traditional sailing vessels (Charlestown Harbour)

Paula : Chief at Charlestown Harbour

Toni : Ex RNLI lifeaboatman, Ex Brixham fisherman, Professional skipper and owner of traditional sailing and fishing vessels

Phil : Ex Lifeboatman, Ex Brixham fisherman, Ex Navy Chief Engineer, Principle sea survival skills training officer, Professional Skipper and University HE lecturer.

Anna :  Clipper Sailing Crew and experienced offshore sailor/racer

James : Retired GP and experienced offshore sailor/racer

Mike : Outward bound sailing instructor, poolside safety and drills at Western Maritime Training

Senior staff writer Toby Heppel

Toby : Experienced sailor and dinghy racer, Senior writer at Future Marine Group

tech editor Fox Morgan

Fox : Professional sailing skipper, experienced offshore sailor/racer, Senior HE University lecturer, Tech Ed at Future Marine Group


Our lifejacket testing was held over several days.

lifejackets photographed in a wooden dinghy

Our dry testing day was hosted by Charlestown Harbour.

We tested all of our lifejackets for the ease of adjustment from wearing it over bulky clothes to t-shirts and then back to bulky clothes.

We looked at how easy or difficult our lifejackets were to fasten and unfasten and then try that again with cold hands or with gloves on.

We looked at the fitment of crotch straps and for any loose or dangling straps or toggles that might get snagged by accident when worn in a marine environment.

inflated lifejackets lined up on a beach at charlestown harbour

We manually inflated all of our lifejackets and assessed their onboard equipment and location. Some lifejackets have the minimum or lifting strop, whistle and top up tube, others have spray hoods fitted and lights. We assessed how easy those items were to find and use when wearing the lifejacket inflated.

Where suitable, we looked at where a personal locator beacon or personal ais beacon would fit on or within the lifejacket casing or bladder.

We packed away our lifejackets and assessed how easy or difficult they were to stow back into their casings. While we were doing this, we also looked at how easy it would be to rearm a lifejacket if it had been triggered.

pool test with liferaft and lifejackets

Our Pool testing day was held in Plymouth Life Centre Diving Pool and organised by Western Maritime Training.

In the pool we had a liferaft set in place for us to run through standard sea survival drills and practice. Western Maritime Training kindly set the pool up for us as per standard STCW personal survival techniques training days.

We highly recommend that anyone who spends time heading out of sight of land for leisure or pleasure should consider doing this course.

While we were in the pool area, we assessed the manual trigger mechanism and auto inflate mechanism of lifejackets. How hard is it to pull the trigger to activate the gas canister or when auto inflating, did the lifejacket turn us over quickly?

We assessed the comfort of the lifejacket when inflated and how easy or difficult they are to readjust whilst in the water. such as tightening crotch straps or cinching in waistbands.

Where lifejackets were fitted with a sprayhood, we looked at how easy it was to locate and pull over the bladder, checking its effectiveness/practicality.

lifejackets in survival ring

We formed a human safety circle and assessed what practical grab holds our lifejackets had, then we climbed into a liferaft, also checking for practical use and ability to physically handle a person giving them assistance to enter the liferaft.

After testing

We hung up our inflated lifejackets to dry and confirmed that all remained fully inflated for well over 48hours. In fact all of our test lifejackets remained inflated for two weeks, by which time only one of them had slightly started to soften.

What’s the scores?

Each lifejacket was independently scored by members of the testing team.

We took those scores and averaged them for each criteria.

We added up the individual element scores and converted this to a percentage rating.

Throughout the process all notes were taken from our testers and those comments can be seen in each review and within our buyers guide.

 

western maritime training logo


Note: all of our lifejackets tested conform to either  ISO 12402-3 (coastal/non harness) or iSO 12401 (harness versions), and this means that they all meet the basic safety standards you would expect from a lifejacket.
In order to conduct unbiased testing, our test team were given full freedom to test and evaluate the lifejackets presented to them on the tests days. Their opinions are made in a professional capacity and skippers and end users of the products and are a result of direct hands on experience. This does not override any official safety rating or certification.
legal disclaimer is available here

 

Source: Yachting Monthly

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