If you enjoy water sports such as wakeboarding or water skiing, it’s essential to have the right safety gear – water can be dangerous, after all. That’s why a large aisle in every marine sports shop is filled with flotation devices. Not all life vests are the same, though; a sailing life jacket might not be the best choice for water skiing or kite boarding. There are some basic features that will always be the same but comfort in a small boat doesn’t always come together with the security you need for high-speed activities.
Luckily there are life vests available that will handle the most extreme water sports. Here are three of the best.
O’Neill has a great reputation among surfers and it’s easy to see why from this outstanding life vest. Unlike more mainstream vests, which tend to have open sides with large front and back panels, it’s a more enclosing design. That means the foam is more evenly distributed and has a lower profile, so it’s an extremely close-fitting and compact vest. It’s also simple and robust, with a tough polyester shell that’s still comfortable to wear.
Almost all life vests close with a front zipper, then usually have a belt for added security. The Superlite does it differently; it skips the zipper altogether and replaces it with no less than four heavy duty straps. Three of them pass right round the body, giving unbeatable strength. A bonus is that it’s really easy to adjust the straps for a close but comfortable fit.
Its design means the Superlite encloses your upper body more than some other vests but it’s still not restrictive, and the low profile means you’ll soon forget you’re wearing it. It’s also tough enough that it gives some extra protection for sports like tubing, which can be very welcome. The main body of the vest has been kept as thin as possible, but there are shaped double-thick panels either side of the waist to add more buoyancy – and padding – without getting in the way. It’s a very clever design.
It’s also worth mentioning that this water ski vest looks great. It’s available in a choice of colors, most of them heavily biased towards black and gray. Red slashes are an option though, and there’s one with a bright blue chest and shoulders. None of them are the most conspicuous in the water but considering the sports they’re made for that’s not a big deal. Overall this is an excellent vest for water skiing and wakeboarding.
The O’Neill Waterski is a comfortable vest, but some people find woven fabric uncomfortable against their skin – especially when they’re soaked in salt water. If you’re not wearing a wetsuit or other clothing a neoprene vest might be the way to go and this classic design from O’Brien is an excellent choice. It’s also extremely low profile and has huge arm cutouts for maximum agility, no matter what sport you’re doing. It closes with a full length zip; two belts add some security, and also combine with the stretchy material to make the perfect fit easy to achieve. If you want to look great out jet skiing, while being as safe as you can, give this vest a shot.
The Phantom is another neoprene vest, and like the O’Brien it secures with a zipper and two straps. Again it’s really easy to adjust and won’t ride up no matter what’s going on. There’s even a women’s life jacket version of the same great vest. The quality of construction and materials is very impressive throughout. It’s slightly bulkier than the O’Brien but still shouldn’t get in the way during intense activities. It also comes in a range of color schemes, including several with bright red or yellow panels, and has plenty of reflective logos; this could be a better choice for open water.