The 7 Best Jet Ski Life Jackets of 2021 (Reviewed!)

Spending time on a jet ski can be incredibly fun, but also much more dangerous than traditional boating. In 2018 alone, there were 634 injuries related to jet skis, 42 deaths, and 11 of those were drownings. With responsible use of jet skis, such as avoiding drugs and alcohol while riding and driving, obeying local laws, and using common sense about speeds and water conditions, many individuals could have avoided these injuries and deaths.

Similar to the way wearing a helmet on a motorcycle can save lives, so can wearing the best jet ski life jacket available. Not only is it smart to put on a life vest while on a jet ski, but it is also the law. Here, we’ll look at how to select a life vest and investigate jet ski life vest reviews.
(If you love to play extreme water sports, you should read: Best Extreme Water Sports Life Jackets)

Picking the Right Jet Ski Life Vest and Staying Informed

Whether you are the one driving a personal watercraft or riding behind the driver, you need to have the proper type of life vest and one that fits securely to your size. Our goal is to advise people about some of the best picks for accessible life jackets so you can be better informed to select the right one for you.
(If you don’t know how to swim and practicing, please visit: Best Non-Swimmer Life Vests)

It is a good idea to keep yourself educated on the risks of personal watercraft use to know which activities are especially dangerous. For more information about jet skiing stats, check out our interactive resource for US drowning statistics, worldwide drowning statistics, and drowning prevention.

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The Best Jet Ski Life Jackets Reviews (Top Picks)

We selected our top picks for jet ski life jackets, in no particular order. Every one of these personal flotation device options is United States Coast Guard (USCG) approved and is in the appropriate Type III category for jet ski life vests.

1. Airhead Trend Life Vest

The Airhead Trend Life Vest is approved for adults and youth over 90 pounds and meets the USCG requirements for a Type III PFD. This life jacket is a slimmer fit than some, allowing for mobility during personal watercraft activity. Yet this vest also features four sturdy, quick-release buckles to secure around the torso and the chest.

This life jacket comes in both men’s and women’s sizing, as well as youth. With sizes that range from extra-small to XXL, most individuals can find a measurement that fits well. Among our top seven picks, this life vest falls around the middle of the pack in the price range.

We like that the youth sizes come in more visible, bright colors to spot teens and older kids in the water easier. The Airhead jacket is crafted from a soft-woven polyester shell and has a lightweight polyfoam interior. This combination makes for a super lightweight jacket with a durable exterior.

Most complaints are regarding the sizing, but they land on both the “too large” and “too small” side. Take time to select your size carefully if you check out this reasonably-priced life jacket option. Overall, we think this one is worth considering if you don’t want the most expensive vest, but don’t want the cheapest option, either.

Pros:

  • Available in women’s, men’s, and youth sizes
  • UV and stain resistant 200-denier polyester
  • Various color and visibility options
  • Reasonably priced
  • Non-neoprene for those with latex allergies

Cons:

  • Not the most robust fabric on the market
  • Lacks flotation padding at the top/shoulders

2. Hardcore Water Sports Family Life Jacket

This life jacket meets the United States Coast Guard requirements for a Type III personal flotation device. For those on a little more of a budget, this is a fantastic option. This vest comes in much more affordable than some but still does the job if you’re engaging in water sports that require some mobility.

The sizes are a bit less custom on this jacket than other options, but you can still pick from a “universal-fit” or the “super-large” option. With exceptional user ratings, a reasonable price, and USCG approval, we like this jet ski life jacket as an affordable choice.

We also appreciate that each color option (bright blue, pink, red, and yellow) all show vivid visibility in the shoulder area when floating in the water. Three quick-release buckles secure you around both the waist and the chest region. This life jacket is more of an option for adults more so than kids or youth, but for grown-ups who need an extra vest or a budget-conscious choice, it’s worth considering.

Pros:

  • Budget-friendly
  • Unisex life jacket, suitable for some older kids
  • Designed in the US with domestic customer service
  • Ideal for a calmer, close to shore usage

Cons:

  • Not the highest quality materials
  • No bottom strap for kids

(You should probably be checking the Best Life Jackets for Kids)

3. Stearns Adult Watersport Classic Series Vest

The Stearns Watersport Classic Series Vest meets the USCG Type III regulations for a life jacket, and this one comes in at a very reasonable cost (depending on the color you select). Each of the three choices with this PFD has bright colored visibility in the shoulder area, whether you pick the blue, red, or yellow.

This vest is one of our favorite picks for a spare life jacket if you need to have an extra on-hand. The fit on this life jacket is more “one size fits most” universal-size than some. However, the four quick-release buckles—three on the waist area and one across the chest—are adjustable enough to suit most average-sized individuals.

This vest is an option for grown-ups, so if you have kids in your family who might ride along on the jet ski, you will still need a life jacket to fit them. This personal flotation device is an excellent possibility for those who need an extra vest or only take quick rides on occasion. The padding is a little thicker than some, but the open sides offer more airflow than many competitors.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Bright visibility in three color options
  • 200-denier nylon shell with soft, light PE flotation foam
  • Open-sided for breathability
  • Suitable for teens over 90 pounds

Cons:

  • Slightly bulky padding
  • Not for youth under 90 pounds

4. Body Glove Method USCG Approved Nylon Life Vest

This unisex Type III life jacket is available in four colors—both bright, visible options, as well as a neutral black and silver vest. Body Glove is another reputable name in the world of water sports gear, whether it be life jackets or surf supplies. So, if you want to spend your money on a name with a reliable ongoing reputation, this is one to consider.

One of our favorite things about this life jacket is the oversized armpit holes. If you’re worn life vests, you might be familiar with the chaffing that can happen with many snug-fitting PFDs.

This vest has a close, adjustable fit and ample amount of flotation around the waist and up through the shoulders. However, the extra room under the arms makes this vest more comfortable for many users.

This universal adult life jacket runs from an extra-small up through a 6XL. So, there is a decent fit for almost all individuals. The four quick-release buckles secure around the waist and chest and allow for a fair bit of adjustment. If you’re looking for a long life jacket, this might not be your best bet as it’s a little short. However, this PFD is a well-made, reliable jacket from a well-known brand.

Pros:

  • Available in both neutral and bright visibility colors
  • Oversized armpit holes to prevent chafing
  • Drain holes to prevent capturing water
  • Comfortable and well-fitting
  • Reputable brand

Cons:

  • Not ideal for “big and tall” individuals
  • Sizing is off for some users

(You might be interested in finding the Best Big and Tall Life Jackets)

5. O’Brien Focus Neoprene Life Jacket

This USCG Type III PFD is cut specifically for women and teen girls. With two quick-release buckets, it zips up snuggly but removes some of the restrictive buckle closures across the chest area. This vest has a level 70 buoyancy.

This life jacket is ideal for teen girls through average-size women, with sizes fitting 28 inches to 48 inches around the chest. The color option is limited to one, but the black with purple trim is mostly neutral, with a small amount of bright visibility.

For those who prefer a zippered front with fewer buckles, this PFD is worth considering. An ideal fit with the zipper closure can be more comfortable for some users, and the two simple, yet sturdy buckles add reinforcement with just a bit of adjustment if you need to tighten the vest.

This women’s and youth girl’s life vest is quick-drying, which is a bonus. The lightweight material aids in mobility and maneuvering when riding or driving a jet ski. This personal flotation device is not cheap, but the quality is excellent, and the zipper/buckle closure is not something you will find on every life vest.

Pros:

  • Good quality
  • Slim Biotite constructions
  • No buckles across chest
  • Padding up through shoulders
  • Zipper closure

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Only one color/visibility option

6. O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG Life Vest

This USCG Type III life jacket features closed cell marine foam for flotation with a coated nylon outer shell. This vest comes in sizes for men only but can still fit individuals with accurate measurements to fit the small (33 to 36-inch chest) to 6X-large fit options.

One drawback is the lack of bright colors (especially in the shoulder region that should show in the water) on five out of the seven color options. However, if you’re looking for a fresher, classier look in your jet ski life jacket, this is one to consider.

This personal flotation device has a trim cut and four robust, snug buckles across the torso. It feels secure and is ideal for many individuals during sports such as jet skiing and wakeboarding. The user ratings on this vest are, generally speaking, excellent. We like O’Neill as a reputable brand. So, if you’re searching for a well-known name in a jet ski life vest, take a look at this Superlite option.

Pros:

  • Several color/visibility options
  • Four sturdy, quick-release buckles
  • Anatomically cut for a snug fit
  • Dries quickly
  • Reputable brand

Cons:

  • Sizing is off on some individuals
  • Not ideal for very tall users

7. O’Neill Child Superlite USCG Life Vest

If you ever take your child or children out for a short, calmer ride on the jet ski, you need to be prepared with a life jacket for them, too! As mentioned, O’Neill is a reputable name in water sports gear, and this kids’ life jacket is a USCG approved Type III vest for kiddos, in two sizes.

One size comes in the weight range of 30 to 50 pounds—more for children who are roughly in the age bracket of preschool to mid-elementary. The “one size” option is generalized as child-size but will typically fit kids who are approximately five to nine years old, give or take a little depending on their height and weight.

We love this life jacket for kids because it features the adjustable strap that sits between legs to help prevent the vest from slipping up if your child falls in the water. This feature will help secure the PFD to prevent kids’ heads from sinking into the jacket while bobbing upright.

Each of the four color/size options has bright hues for easy visibility. The three quick-release buckles across the torso adjust to tighten or give a little extra room as children grow. The heavy-duty nylon shell is quite durable, and the closed-cell marine foam interior provides ample flotation. If you need a jet ski life jacket for kids, this is one to check out!

Always use extra caution with children on a personal watercraft. Keep in mind, laws for kids on personal watercrafts vary in different states, and if you have children under six, they might need a different type of PFD, such as a Type II.

Pros:

  • Four colors, all with bright visibility
  • Four quick-release Delrin buckles including between-leg adjustment
  • Buoyant padding through shoulders
  • Soft and lightweight
  • Two sizing options

Cons:

  • Can run on the small side
  • Can cause a child to roll if they are too small or unable to tread in jacket

Jet Ski PFD Buyer’s Guide—How to Make the Best Purchase

Not every life jacket is created equal for every activity. While jet skiing is incredibly fun, it can also be dangerous if you don’t take safety precautions and wear the proper life vest. 

The risks involved with using a jet ski require you to wear a specific type of PFD to keep your head above water if you get knocked off of your jet ski. Here’s how to make the best purchase possible.

Different Types of Life Vests

If you’re not especially familiar with water sports, you might think of a life jacket as “good enough” just because they all float. However, personal flotation devices are created for different activities for various reasons. Here are some of the main varieties:

Survival Life Jackets

Some PFDs are not meant to serve as a flotation device daily, but instead, are intended to save you if you take an unlikely fall into the water. Survival life vests are more for activities such as hiking, fishing from a stable pier, and other outdoor adventures where you might risk a dip but aren’t out in the open ocean.

These life jackets often feature accessories like Velcro pockets, loops to attach items, and more extreme breathability. A survival life vest can still save your life but is not meant for more extreme past times like jet skiing.

Boating Life Vests

In most cases, you won’t use the same type of PFD while jet skiing that you would with more casual boating. Life jackets for boating are made with more padding because mobility is not usually as crucial as it is in water sports like jet skiing and wakeboarding.

Boating life jackets can also fall into two sub-categories: open ocean personal flotation devices and those that are for use closer to shore. Life vests made for the open ocean are specifically for situations when rescue might take a long time to get to those who need it. Long-wearing flotation is the goal of this type of PFD.

Water Sport / Type III Life Vests

For jet skiing, you will need a life jacket designed for water sports. These personal flotation devices have features such as larger armholes for increased mobility, less bulky flotation padding, and more contoured cuts to fit your body more precisely. Some even feature convenient drain holes to help water leave the life jacket more efficiently.

These personal flotation devices are for activities such as kayaking, paddle-boarding, in addition to jet skiing. Designers of Type III life vests know there is a high likelihood people will end up in the water at some point.

Active sports like these also require you to move your arms and body more than sitting on a boat, so armholes are often bigger to prevent chafing and allow you to move. More arm mobility is also helpful if an individual falls into the water and needs to wave their hands overhead for help.

What to Look for in a Jet Ski Life Jacket

When purchasing a life vest for jet skis, you need to keep a few things in mind. The following points can help direct you toward the right products as you shop for a jet ski PFD.

Coast Guard Approved

In the United States, you are required by law to wear a USCG (US Coast Guard) approved life jacket while operating or riding a jet ski. Even if you are not driving the watercraft, you still must wear a USCG approved life jacket designed for jet ski use. So, what type of vest is accepted for zipping around on these small, fun personal watercraft? If you’ve read this far, you’ll know that answer is Type III.

Type III

If you are on a personal watercraft (as opposed to a large boat out in the open ocean), you are required to wear a Type III life jacket. A Type III vest must have a buoyancy minimum of 15.5 pounds or more, which will support a conscious adult—whether male or female—and keep the head and chin out of the water for most individuals.

It is worth noting that these life jackets will not keep one’s head out of water for unconscious individuals, which is why you should never go out on a jet ski alone. Even if you use one near friends who are boating and can keep an eye on you, it is better than taking a personal watercraft out by yourself where no one will be able to see you or get help if an emergency arises.

This kind of life jacket is standard and readily available, so you can pick from several styles while still following legal guidelines. Type III life jackets are also suitable for water activities such as jet skiing and kayaking. Because of the need for mobility on something like a jet ski, Type III vests should fit snugly but are typically not so bulky that it is challenging to move around in them.

If you are taking kids out for a ride on a jet ski, they might need a different type of life vest depending on the laws in your area. Of course, sizing is also a consideration depending on the child’s age and build.

Life Jacket Fit

When trying on life jackets, you want to make sure they fit snug, but not so tight that they are constrictive and make it challenging to breathe or raise your arms to wave for help. Most Type III vests are simple to put on and remove, and several styles are adjustable around the torso.

When testing out a life jacket before getting into the water, make sure you cannot push it up so far that your head or chin would sink below the shoulder portion of the vest. If you fall in the water—which can often happen on a jet ski—you don’t want your body to sink while the jacket floats up.  

You should look for three things when checking on life jacket fit:

  • The size/chest measurement
  • The touchdown test
  • How far you can pull the shoulders up

Naturally, you’ll need to check the size of the life jacket, as vests often come in male and female designs. It is important to note that, while child life jackets come in sizes such as medium, adult Type III vests typically go by chest size to ensure a snug fit.

Measuring

If you can measure around your chest with a flexible sewing tape measure, this will help give you a more precise size to be on the lookout for when researching life jackets. Many Type III vests have a zipper down the front. So, while they might have adjustable straps, you will still need to make sure it’s secure but able to zip close.

Touchdown Test

The touchdown test is checking to see whether you can raise both arms directly overhead while wearing the jacket (think of a referee calling “it’s good” for this one).

Pulling Up the Shoulders

With the life jacket clipped or strapped on, pull the vest up by the shoulders. It’s even better if you can have someone else pull the shoulders of the vest upward to make sure it doesn’t ride up on you too much. This test is to ensure the life jacket will not allow you to sink into the water while the life jacket floats up.

Testing in the Water

Remember, your life jacket should fit like a glove, but it also should not cause chaffing. It is best to try on the life vest not only when you receive it, but also try the fit in the water before you take it out on a jet ski adventure. Sometimes the fit will feel different once you get in the water, and the fabric can slip easier on your skin.

Visibility

Another factor to consider when engaging in activities like jet skiing, where you could quickly end up in the water, is how visible your PFD appears. In some products, color is just a fun bonus feature, but in a life jacket, it can be crucial.

Some dark or neutral-hued life jackets exist and can still do the job of saving your life. If you run the risk of ending up in the water or are looking for a PFD for kids, it’s a smart idea to get one with bright colors that can easily be spotted by other boaters who might steer through the area or help if needed.

Material

There are three main types of material used in popular Type III life jackets: nylon, neoprene, and variations of polyester.

Nylon

Nylon is typical in life vests and can be quite durable. One benefit of nylon is that it dries faster than fabrics like neoprene. Nylon is one of the most popular choices in life jackets because of its resistance to rips and scratches, as well as its quick-drying nature.

Neoprene

Many people love neoprene for the soft feel and how comfortable it can be. Neoprene will hold more water, much like a wetsuit, and can get heavier and much warmer than other fabrics.

So, if you live in a sweltering climate, a neoprene life jacket could get uncomfortable if it warms you while jet skiing. In rare cases, some people may be sensitive to neoprene if they are hypersensitive to latex. However, neoprene typically will not cause a reaction in those who have latex allergies.

Poly

Poly blends dry even faster than nylon, making them another common choice for life vests. Poly fabrics can be a bit rougher depending on the life jacket, so it can chafe skin more quickly if the cut of the life vest rubs too much in one area. If a quick-drying life vest is what you want, you may want to check out one with a poly shell.

Cost

Investing in a life jacket that you will not only keep on-hand but will wear consistently is crucial. You don’t have to spend $100 or more on a life vest, but this is one of those situations when spending a few extra bucks can be well worth it if you get a PFD you feel comfortable in, and that fits well.

If you are an avid jet skier or think you’ll be on the water a lot, we recommend looking for a life vest from a decent brand with high ratings. You might not use your PFD every single day, but it could save your life. So, it’s worth buying one that will work, be worn, and do the job if it needs to.

Best Jet Ski Life Jacket Comparison Chart

Product NamePriceSizeSafetyUnique Features
Airhead Trend Life Vest$S, M, LUSCG approved Type-III, UV and stain resistant 200-denier polyesterAttractive, supportive with 3 adjustable body straps
Hardcore Water Sports Family Life Jacket$XS, M, XLUL listed and US Coast Guard Approved Type-IIIIdeal for a calmer, close to shore usage
Stearns Adult Watersport Classic Series Vest$OVRUS Coast Guard Approved Type-III200-denier nylon shell with soft, light PE flotation foam
Body Glove Method USCG Approved Nylon Life Vest$XS, S, MUS Coast Guard Approved, Super-duty nylon outer shell is tough and long-lasting4 heavy-duty, anatomically cut 1.5-inch belts
O’Brien Focus Neoprene Life Jacket$M, L, XLUS Coast Guard Approved Type-IIIQuick drying, Zip closure with 2 belts
O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG Life Vest$-$$S, M, L, XL, XXL, 2XL, 4XLUS Coast Guard ApprovedDurable Coated Polyester Shell
O’Neill Child Superlite USCG Life Vest$UNVUS Coast Guard Approved Type-IIIRelaxed Fitting Vest, Quick-release Delrin buckles

Wrap Up

It’s vital to know that not just any life jacket is suitable for riding a jet ski. If you have a Type II (think of the old fashioned, orange PFDs that hook around the back of the neck), it won’t pass for an appropriate life vest by law. This kind of PFD can also shift around the body a lot while riding a jet ski and might not do the job of keeping your face out of the water if an accident happens.

When buying a jet ski life vest, you need to look for a USCG approved Type III personal flotation device. We like life vests that provide bright visibility and are comfortable enough that you can move around and wear them for at least an hour without any chaffing with regular use.

Even the safest jet ski driver can end up in the water from time to time. Just as you should buckle your seat belt, don’t neglect to wear the correct life jacket on a jet ski. If you have others riding with you from time to time, make sure you have an extra that is adjustable enough for most adults. Then you’ll be well on your way to riding the waves and enjoying the water. 

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