Choose the Right Inflatable Vest

I’ve talked about boat safety and having a vest on board for everyone, not just children. This isn’t a suggestion, it is an actual law. The U.S. Coast Guard does an outstanding job protecting waterways, enforcing maritime law and most importantly, saving people’s lives!

Bet hey, why not go ahead and follow their rules, they are there for a reason. Sometimes there is limited storage and you flat out want to use the inflatable vests instead of those bulky foam ones required for commercial operation. You can call and complain and try to find exceptions but they will be matter-of-fact with you and you are wasting your time.

Luckily, recreational anglers are not bound by those same restrictions although some have similar storage issues. Inflatable life vests are must easier to stow & may off better safety features than those rinky-dink old style foam alternatives. However out of all the million different styles of PFD’s, Coast Guard ratings of inflatables can be confusing.

So, you wanna look good, right?

The advantages of inflatables are increased comfort & less volume in terms of space. ┬áTons of people don’t wear the devices because they don’t look cool. But keep in mind, the designs have come a LONG way over the years and those produced ny regular manufacturers just looks cooler so more people like to wear them. Remember the old versions, only available in the red or blue color? Now they have tons of different styles and colors that offer aesthetics and safety.

Stay with the times

Manual vests are east to maintain because they don’t have a trillion components. All you need to do is make sure the co2 stays intact, the vest is usable and the cylinders last regardless if they aren’t punctured by the inflator mechanism. REMEBER! They still require periodic inspection.

If you are going to invest, make sure they fit.

The costs range from $10-$30 less than auto-inflatables but they aren’t appropriate if something bad happens and you end up unexpectedly in the water. Auto vests inflate by 1 of 2 ways….The most common uses a dissolvable tablet that disintegrates when it gets went, firing the inflator mechanism. The hydraulic style reacts to water pressure. Mustang Survival is the ONLY company that currently makes Coast Guard approved hydrostatic vests.

Heads up!

Consider the buoyancy rating when purchasing an inflatable vest. The USCG is currently studying its rating system and Grover expects changes, but the rule remains that you must go with a higher rating depending on where you do the majority of your fishing. Offshore Canyon Runner in big seas, opt for an offshore vest with 35 lbs of buoyancy. That extra lift will keep your head above the surface in big waves.

If bays or flats are your dig, one of the vests that offers 22-26 lbs of flotation is a good choice. The smaller cylinder used makes these lighter & more comfortable without sacrificing safety.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The USCG wants to see 22 lbs. min in inflatables. I hope to see approval ratings change radically to reflect performance but stick with that for now. Even though inflatable life vests are appealing due to storability, there’s a better reason for using them. The goal is to make it easy to maintain & make it looks good. If you’re buying 1 just to meet a compliance requirement, you’re missing the point. The USCG wants you to actually wear them, because at the end of the day, it’s all about safety!

Former Proud Coastie, Cliff Hairston