How to pick the right life jacket

22nd June 2021 Jack O'Rourke

How to pick the right life jacket

When spending time on the water, safety has to be the number one priority. It's important that Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) such as life jackets are readily available, and should be worn at all times. Lifejackets are designed for different purposes, wearer ages, sizes and weights.

In Australia, they are a mandatory safety requirement for all boats and personal watercraft, and must be included on all vessels large and small.

What are the different life jacket buoyancy ratings?

  • Level 150 lifejackets are intended for offshore and rough weather, and help turn you to a face-up position when unconscious.

  • Level 100 life jackets are designed with the highest level of safety, to be used in all water conditions. They include a collar that will keep you afloat even in an unconscious state. 

  • Level 50 lifejackets are to be used in smooth and partially smooth water, providing buoyancy and support for the wearer. They can be used for wakeboarding, water skiing and tubing.

  • Level 50S are Special Purpose life jackets. They are for use in smooth water only. Smooth waters include rivers, lakes, creeks and streams, within half a nautical mile from land. Level 50S can be used for wakeboarding, water skiing and tubing.

When do you have to wear a lifejacket?

Depending on each state and territory, there are different rules outlining when you must wear a lifejacket and what type. These rules depend on:

  • your age 

  • the level of risk

  • the type of vessel you're in

  • where you are – for example, enclosed waters, alpine waters, open waters or crossing coastal bars

  • what time of day you're on the water.

Children aged under 12 years must wear a lifejacket on all vessels up to 4.8-metres long at all times, or in open areas of all vessels up to 8-metres long when the vessel is underway.

When choosing a life jacket, make sure it fits well and the child cannot slip out of it. A lifejacket with a crotch strap is recommended.

Inflatable lifejackets are not recommended for children aged under 12 years. If a child is wearing an auto-inflating lifejacket when playing, the lifejacket may inflate if it gets wet. If they're wearing a manual inflating lifejacket, they may forget how to activate it in an emergency.

There are also extreme circumstances when it is required to wear a life jacket, and if the skipper request you wear one you must comply. typically, if there is a storm or other severe weather warning from the Bureau of Meteorology; passengers on board who are elderly, are non-swimmers or have a serious medical condition; or if the vessel is in danger of capsizing or being swamped by waves, life jackets are required. 

On powerboats and sailing boats, everyone must wear a Level 100 lifejacket or above when crossing a coastal bar on a vessel over 4.8-metres long. 

On vessels up to 4.8-metres long everyone must wear a lifejacket, especially when you're alone on your boat or at night. 

On a jet ski you are required to wear a level 50S life jacket for smooth water, and a level 50 lie jacket for all waters partially. People in canoes and kayaks must wear a lifejacket, and it's recommended that people using stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) wear a lifejacket. If this is not possible, it's recommended that you use a leg rope so you do not get separated from your board.

Standard v inflatable life jackets?

Choosing between a standard or inflatable life jacket comes down to personal preference. Standard life jackets are most common because they are inexpensive and require less maintenance, however, can be a little bulky to wear for long periods.

Inflatable offerings provide much better comfort and manoeuvrability, and can be worn all day. The debate between auto-inflate over manual inflate rages on. Manual inflation is beneficial In the event of an emergency, and can be deployed with a simple pull toggle. Auto-inflation assists the wearer in an emergency if they are unconscious or unable to inflate the life jacket themselves. 

Don't forget to wear it

Be sure to have life jackets available and easily accessible for every passenger aboard, by having those jackets stowed in an easy-to-reach location. When accidents happen, they happen quickly. 

That’s why the best life jacket available just might be the one you’re willing to wear…every time you’re out on the water.