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How to Properly Fit a Life Jacket


Earlier this year, a tragedy took place on Lake Jocassee, a beautiful mountain lake a short drive from where we work. As it turns out, the young man who drowned might still be alive had he been given a life jacket that properly fit him.

This got us thinking. How many people—even regular boaters—know how to ensure that the life jacket they put on themselves, a family member or a friend is properly fitted to ensure it will work when it matters?

We hope this blog post will help more people learn how to properly fit a life jacket.

two men with life jackets on a jet ski

Types of Life Jackets

A life jacket or PFD (personal flotation device) is made according to a person’s size and weight. There are also men’s and women’s life jackets (yes, we’re each shaped a bit differently up top) plus specialized life jackets for various sports (wakeboarding, skiing, kayaking, etc). An all-purpose men’s XL life jacket is not going to be a good fit for a 120 lb female wakeboarder.

Don’t Buy a Life Jacket Online the First Time

While there are a lot of things you can easily buy online to save money and hassle, we do NOT recommend buying a life jacket online the first time. Unless you’re already very familiar with the life jacket brand and how it fits, go to a local store and make sure you and/or your family tries on the life jackets there.

How to Test a Life Jacket

Even if a life jacket is properly matched based on the sex, size and sport of the person who will be wearing it, you still want to test it before you buy it or use it out on the water.

Is it comfortable? If the straps rub against your skin or the jacket just doesn’t fit right, you’re probably not going to be as likely to wear it when you’re out on the water.

Can you swim in it? If you move your arms in a swimming motion and parts of the life jacket obstruct this movement, the life jacket is not going to work. Choose a different brand or model.

Will it work when it matters? Put your arms above your head and lean your head back while someone else lightly pulls up on the life jacket. If the life jacket slides right over your face, try tightening the straps. If it still slides over your face with a light pull, you need to get a smaller jacket or a different model. Alternatively, if the jacket is so tight that it makes breathing uncomfortable even when the straps are fully loosened, then you need a bigger jacket.

If you’re about to hit the water and you’re trying to make sure you’ve provided a proper-fitting life jacket to a passenger, another alternative to the approach mentioned above is to have the person put on their life jacket and slowly walk from shore into chest-deep water. If they put their hands above water then submerge themselves up to their necks, the life jacket should not slide up and over their face if it’s properly sized and tightened.

Preparation is the best protection

Remember, it is absolutely essential to make sure that everyone on your boat has a life jacket that fits them properly BEFORE you leave shore. Doing so might just save your life or the life of someone you love.

Happy boating from Boat Covers Direct!

child with a life jacket on asleep in the boat

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