Best Life Jackets for Sailing (Standard and Inflatable)

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Sailing is one of the most fun things you can do, but it does have its hazards. You’re out on the water by definition, and it’s easy to end up IN it instead. A capsizing dinghy will have you swimming right away, and while a yacht’s more stable, a simple slip is all it takes to have you over the side.

At times like that you need a good life vest to keep you afloat until someone can pick you up. In a dinghy you might have work to do getting the boat back on an even keel and you can’t afford to expend time and energy just staying afloat; your vest will let you concentrate on the job that needs done.

Obviously, sailing is an active sport that involves a lot of complex tasks and movement, so the best life jacket for sailing can’t be bulky or restrictive. At the same time it needs to give good support in the water.

Safety when sailing should be a priority so at the very least a strobe or whistle should be on you at all times and even a personal locator beacon is recommended.

Our 5 Favorite Life Jackets for Sailing

Astral V-EightTraditional2 small36
Onyx MoveVentTraditional1 small34
Onyx A/M-24InflatableNone11
Stohlquist EdgeTraditional1 large33
Onyx A/M-24 DeluxeInflatable2 small11

Sailing Life Jacket Reviews

#1 – Astral V-Eight PFD

Astral Buoyancy V-Eight Life JacketThis is a very lightweight, modern design of vest built around a mesh base. A lot of attention has obviously gone into ensuring freedom of movement; the sides are very open and won’t interfere with your arms at all.

The shoulder straps are unobtrusive and the front panels sit low on the body, so there’s no chance of it riding up into your face. The back, however, is placed higher with a mesh lower section; it won’t be forced up by the seat back in a kayak or the hull of a dinghy.

Some users using this for kayaking purposes have had issues with very high seat backs but if using strictly for sailing, it won’t be an issue. The foam panels are articulated to shape better to your body and allow even more freedom, and a combination of side and shoulder straps make it easy to adjust.

best-life-jacket-for-sailingThe Astral has plenty of open spaces and is well vented, so it’s comfortable in most conditions, but in very hot weather it will trap some heat. That’s almost inevitable with any good vest and there isn’t a lot that can be done about it without making it less effective where it counts – in the water.

Overall this product scores very highly for comfort. It’s also secure; the zip is very heavy duty and backed up with a waist belt.

top-rated-sailing-life-vestOther features include two pockets for carrying small items, and a slotted hardpoint on the left breast. A whistle, strobe or other safety equipment can easily be carried at all times. As for colors there’s a choice of three, a smart blue, olive green, or a more visible orange.

For sailing, many people prefer the smaller, automatic inflatable type like the Onyx below which is even more comfortable but comes at a higher price. Honestly, either choice could be the best PFD for sailing and you should base it on personal preference.

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#2 – Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Life Vest

While the MoveVent is designed primarily for paddle sports (it’s our favorite kayak PFD), it also makes an excellent all-around boating vest. On calm waters, it can be easy to forget you’re wearing this vest, as every part of it is designed with comfort and fit in mind.

The front is flexible and form-fitting, while the back has a mesh lower and bubble foam-filled upper that allows comfortable seating on most dinghies and sailboats.

Adjustable shoulder straps are padded with neoprene comfort pads, and the sides are completely open and held together by adjustable side belts to facilitate maximum mobility. An expandable zippered pocket includes mesh drainage. There is also a zip assist loop and drying loop built into the vest for added convenience and fit.

In the water, safety becomes a priority, and the MoveVent continues to deliver. SOLAS grade reflective material ensures you’ll be spotted even in low light, while an attached whistle helps alert searchers of your location. Just be sure to test the size of this vest, as you may need a size larger or smaller if you don’t know your exact measurements.

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#3 – Absolute Outdoor Onyx A/M-24

For those times when you want a minimal vest, nothing beats the Onyx A/M 24 by Absolute Outdoor. If you’re using the thought of a bulky, uncomfortable vest as an excuse to not wearing a PFD, we’ve got you covered. Made of a durable 200 denier nylon ripstop outer and comfortable 200 denier nylon oxford inner lining, the vest will stand up to a fair amount of abuse.

The stretchable Flex-Back insert and fully open design allows for a full range of mobility, while the lightweight design keeps you cool in warmer weather. A soft neoprene neckline rounds out the physical comfort, while the option for automatic or manual inflation provides mental comfort.

The vest will inflate automatically when immersed in water or if the inflation handle is pulled. However, it can also be converted to a manual-only inflation using the back-up tube.

Suitable for swimmers 16 and older who weigh at least 80 pounds, this Coast Guard approved Type V life jacket carries a minimal buoyancy of 22.5 pounds while performing like a Type III. The major downside is that the vest uses a CO2 cartridge, so you will need to replace the cartridge after each non-manual inflation.

Additionally, since the Onyx A/M Rearming Kit #1352 includes a compressed air cartridge, it may not be be possible to ship the kit to Alaska or Hawaii, so be sure to bring replacement kits with you if sailing in those waters.

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#4 –Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket

The Edge is an excellent addition to the Stohlquist family, providing both mobility and safety. The ergonomic WRAPTURE­™ shaped torso has four side pulls, adjustable padded and contoured shoulders, and front waist buckle closure for easy fitting.

Ultra-soft buoyancy foam graded for each size and mesh sides to improve ventilation round out the comfort features.

A low-cut, offset zipper makes putting the vest on even easier and adds space for the large, top-loading front pocket. High visibility 3M­™ reflective accents makes it easier for rescuers to spot you in an emergency.

The only downside in this vest is that the molding is not very accommodating for busts larger than a C, making it a poor choice for women with larger chests. Instead, women want to consider a couple of these women’s life vests for a better fit.

With both UL and ULC listings, as well as Coast Guard and Transport Canada approval, this vest can be worn when sailing throughout most of North America. It’s perfect for not only dry sailing, but wet-sailing, SUP, and whitewater rafting.

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#5 – Absolute Outdoor Onyx A/M-24 Deluxe

Here’s another version of the popular Onyx A/M-24 inflatable vest. This DELUXE model includes most of the same features as the standard model above but adds even more comfort in the form of neoprene lining, slightly wider straps, and the addition of utility pockets and a fleece-lined sunglasses pocket.

If you need a minimalist flotation device for a racing catamaran or regularly sail in very hot weather, this auto-inflating vest might suit you better than a traditional sailing PFD.

The Onyx A/M-24 Deluxe is an ultra-slim harness with its flotation gabs concealed in the rucksack-style chest straps. Fall in the water, though, and it will automatically inflate (there’s also a manual activation handle at belt level).

It’s an extremely comfortable vest to wear, thanks to its neoprene lining, and it’s also fully adjustable for a good, secure fit. Because of its size, the Onyx also works great as a fishing vest when you want something a bit less bulky but with “some” storage. Like with any auto-inflating vest, once inflated, you will need to purchase and install a new CO2 cartridge before using again. It’s also a good idea to have a spare cartridge on hand in case of accidental inflation.

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2 Responses to “Best Life Jackets for Sailing (Standard and Inflatable)”

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  1. Mark Walluk says:

    how do they work in the water? do they roll you over? can you swim well in them?

    • Alex says:

      The two vests are a Type III while the inflatable is a Type V. Neither of those types will automatically roll you over in the water. These are standard types for this type of PFD. While a Type I would roll a user face up (Type IIs can also to an extent), they are not used for sailing as often (unless strictly a passenger, child, or other special circumstances) due to their lower comfort level and lack of mobility.

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