Ensuring proper life jacket fit saves lives. According to the 2011 Boating Statistics report, published by the United States Coast Guard (USCG), there were 533 drowning deaths in 2011 of which approximately 84% (415) of the individuals were reported as not wearing a life jacket. What about you? Do you wear a life jacket?
My father is a retired USCG Chief Warrant Officer. I was brought up in the water and safety was drilled into our heads. Hopping on a PWC or into a boat without a life vest was unheard of in our family. I'm sure you've heard the saying, "It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye." Well in this case, it could be "until someone loses a life."
3 Tips for Choosing the Right Life Jacket
- Buy a US. Coast Guard approved life jacket.
Look for life vests with the USCG stamp of approval. You'll find it either on a tag, in the included paperwork or written inside the actual jacket. (Not all jackets carry this approval). All life jackets/vests sold by GearUp2Go.com are USCG Approved.
- Weights and Measures. Measure your chest under the arms across your chest. When sizing Junior or Youth PFDs, have the child step on a scale as well. You'll need both measurements for proper fit.
- One size does NOT fit all.
A properly fitted life jacket is based on a person's chest size and weight. There are life jackets available in Adult, Junior, Youth and Infant sizes. You can even find personal flotation devices (PFDs) for the "Fido" in your life. However, a person's belly may need to be factored into the size selection if you're larger around the middle than you are in the chest. Sucking it in doesn't count, either. Sorry. Below are the sizing charts for the top selling vests at GearUp2Go.com:
3 Simple Tests for the Proper Life Jacket Fit
Here are some proper life jacket fit tests you can try with your new (or existing) life jacket. Jackets should be snug but not tight.
- Wader, Wader, Depth Faker! Wade out into the water and kneel down so that the water is about chest or shoulder height. The vest should not ride up on your body, but should remain snug. This is probably not a good test for those who are temperature-sensitive since to perform a proper life jacket fit test, you'll need to actually kneel down vs. crouch in the water. Have some fun with it though. Before you stand up again, tell everyone you found a drop off in the water and see how many of them fall for it.
- Touchdown! Do the "Touchdown Test" to ensure you've selected the correct size. Raise both arms above your head. While doing so the front portion of the jacket should not touch your chin. You should also have clearance to turn your head left and right without the vest interfering or hampering your vision or movement. If your vest passed this test, yell "Touchdown!!" That part is optional of course but it might help you not feel so silly with your arms in the air.
- Turtle Check! For some reason, this one reminds me of Chris Farley in Tommy Boy with his "Fat guy in a little coat" bit. With the jacket on, pull up firmly (or have someone pull for you) on the top of the vest just above the arm holes. It shouldn't move more than a few inches up and down. This is a particularly good test to use when checking for the proper life jacket fit of child-sized vests. If there is a little too much play in the vest, try cinching up some of the slack in the straps (where applicable).
Please note: The U.S. Coast Guard does not recommend taking a child younger than 18 months aboard a watercraft unless the life jacket has been first tested on the infant in a swimming pool. For proper life jacket fit, the child's head should be held out of the water by the life jacket during the swimming pool test.
Author, J.M. Stickney is a powersports enthusiast working as the Digital Marketing Manager at GearUp2Go. She loves to ride her Suzuki GSX-R600 on the street or at the track. While not on her bike she spends a lot of time outdoors, writing, reading, running or playing with her family.