Everything you need to know about buying buoyancy aids and life jackets

Buoyancy aids are types of special personal floatation device. They are most popular with kayakers, canoeists, white water rafters, dingy sailers and fishermen.

So when do we need to wear buoyancy aids and when do we need to wear life jackets?

Buoyancy aids are typically used by competent swimmers for water sports to improve the wearers' buoyancy whilst not restricting the movement of arms or legs and they also help to keep the wearer warm. A buoyancy aid is designed purely to help to keep someone afloat who is a confident swimmer and is conscious and able to help themselves.

Life jackets are life saving devices which should be worn by weak or non-swimmers or others in potentially dangerous situations near water. They help to keep you alive by keeping your head above the water due to having buoyancy around the back of the neck. In most cases a life jacket can right a person who enters the water face down.

For those who like the exhiliration of water sports and are confident swimmers, we have compiled an in-depth series of reviews of the best buoyancy aids. Buoyancy aids are designed to aid mobility and need to fit properly to help people float and move through the water easily. They typically have front and back foam buoyancy with little or no buoyancy around the sides.

An adult can float with only 20-30N (Newtons) of buoyancy. People can all lie relaxed on their back and float if they know how so it is not suprising that a buoyancy aid with 30N of buoyancy will give a great deal more floatation. Buoyancy aids and life jackets in Europe are C.E. tested and approved and are marked with an N-number showing how much buoyancy they have. A 50N buoyancy aid will keep a swimmer afloat and a 100N life jacket will keep an unconscious person afloat.

Canoeing or kayaking buoyancy aids have a foam core whilst most life jackets are inflatable. A buoyancy aid therefore can't burst. Most modern buoyancy aid designs have front and rear slabs of foam buoyancy. They come in three basic designs:

  • Over the head vest
  • Front zip jacket
  • Side zip

All have lots of straps to keep them secure. Most designs have useful pockets and there is a wide range of different safety and rescue features which we talk about in detail in our reviews.

Your buoyancy aid needs to be specific to your sport as the design and feature will vary depending on the intended use.

Some cheaper buoyancy aids are quite basic with just a belt across which are for generic sporting needs and tailored to your individual sport.

Your buoyancy aid or PFD needs to fit well and as with all sporting equipment, you get what you pay for so the materials and design in a top of the range buoyancy aid or life jacket will be lighter and of better quality.