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. Here are some of the top choices.
This 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 as a kayak life vest 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.
The 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 device scores very highly for comfort. It’s also secure; the zip is very heavy duty and backed up with a waist belt.
Other 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 will require more maintenance. Honestly, either choice could be the Top Pick and you should base it on personal preference.
The Astral will probably be fine in any boat but if you use a really tight kayak, need a minimalist flotation device for a racing catamaran or regularly sail in very hot weather, an inflatable vest might suit you better. This CO2 model from Onyx fits the bill perfectly; it’s 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.
If you’re looking for a more affordable vest but still need comfort and good performance – which you do – the Journey is an excellent choice. It’s solidly made from ecofoam with a polyester shell, and it’s also amazingly light. Coast Guard certified as a Type III aid, it’s also very lightweight and low profile. Side and waist straps allow for a good fit and the chest panels are contoured, making it especially good for women who struggle to get on with other vests. It’s not quite as adjustable as the other two but few people should have any problems. The Journey comes in two colors; both are high visibility yellows, but one has a green hint while the other is more orange. Both are perfect for being seen in open water.