Best lifejackets: 10 of the best lifesavers tested to the max

We tested 10 of the best lifejackets on the market in a full-open water test to see how quickly they fire and how comfortable they are to wear

As the season gets off to a tentative start, we thought there was no better time to test one of the most essential pieces of boating kit, which could save your life.

In our 10 of the best lifejackets test we flew out to the south coast of Mallorca where we threw our poor put-upon staff writer, Greg, in the water multiple times to test the lifejackets in open water.

We were interested in how comfortable each lifejacket was to wear around the boat, how easy it was to adjust, how quickly it fired and turned the casualty over in the water, how comfortable it was in the water once it had inflated and how effective and efficient all of the safety features were.

With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.

Previously, we had tested jackets in swimming pools, both heated and unheated. This time we decided these were no substitute for the real thing.

Waves, even small ones, currents and the temperature of open water can all have an effect on a casualty, so we decided the only course of action for this test was to do it off the back of a boat in a saltwater environment.

Read on to see how all ten lifejackets performed in this real world environment:

Marine Pool 180N Racer Plus

Marinepool beforeFeatures

  • Crotch-strap: Yes (single)
  • Light: No (but available to buy for an extra £19.95)
  • Sprayhood: No (but available to buy for an extra £19.95)
  • Harness: Yes
  • Firing mechanism: United Moulders UML Pro Sensor
  • Fastening mechanism: Metal buckle
  • Price: €159.90
  • Rating: 3/5

Performance

The Marinepool jacket had the traditional single-sided adjustment, making it easy to tweak by the wearer once on, and the jacket was comfy on board because it felt compact.

It took just five seconds for the jacket to fully inflate and turn Greg over, and it kept his head nicely clear of the water.

However, he reported that the jacket inflicted some compression on his chest, meaning the Marinepool wasn’t that comfortable once inflated.

Marinepool after

The reflective material seemed a bit limited and with a vast area of yellow bladder on either side going begging, it wouldn’t take much to beef this up a bit.

The bottle and firing mechanism could be found inside their own zipped panel, which makes checking very straightforward, and a firing mechanism status panel with simple key can be found on the front.

Rearming

Just unscrew the existing bottle, throw it away and screw in the new one and firing mechanism – simple. Rearming kit: £18.95

Repacking

This was the easiest of the jackets to repack because it was constructed with a single component, which formed the cover and bladder. The downside of this is that any damage to the cover means it won’t hold air.

Contact: Marinepool
Tel: +49 89 8996190
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Viking Conquest

Viking Conquest - beforeFeatures

  • Crotch-strap: Yes (single)
  • Light: Yes (but costs extra £12.95)
  • Sprayhood: Yes
  • Harness: Yes
  • Firing mechanism: Halkey Roberts
  • Fastening mechanism: Metal buckle
  • Price: £101
  • Rating: 4/5

Performance

Like the Marinepool, adjustment of the Viking lifejackets is a simple one-side operation. Viking even supplies a couple of clips to keep the excess webbing tidy.

Comfort levels on board were described as good and activation and casualty turning, while a little slower than most models, was acceptable at seven seconds.

Once inflated the jacket drew positive comments from our tester, including better than average support for his head, which was held well clear of the water.

Viking Conquest - after

The sprayhood was easy to find and simple to put on. Though it looked a little twisted when pulled on, it provided a secure environment.

Many of the test jackets came with a lifting strop, but only the Viking made its location obvious and easy to get at before inflation.

The reflective panels were pretty well placed and, like the light, were covered by the sprayhood, but a large clear panel allowed both to do their job. The sprayhood itself also incorporated
a number of reflective strips.

Rearming

Like the Stormy’s UML-5 system, the Halkey Roberts simply requires a new bottle and firing mechanism to be screwed in. Rearming kit: £12.95

Repacking

The separate bladder was repacked into the cover with ease, made simpler by having a Velcro closure all around the cover.

However, it seemed that the sprayhood had nowhere to go – there didn’t seem to be room for it inside the cover. I did eventually get it in but the fit was hardly neat.

Contact: Viking Life Saving Equipment Ltd
Tel: 023 8045 4184
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Bluewave

Bluewave-beforeFeatures

  • Crotch-strap: No (but available for £8.99)
  • Light: No (but available for £14.99)
  • Sprayhood: No
  • Harness: No (but available for £59.99 and includes crotch-strap)
  • Firing mechanism: United Moulders UML-5
  • Fastening mechanism: Plastic buckle
  • Price: £55
  • Rating: 2/5

Performance

We know that many motorboaters buy on price, so we decided to include this British-made budget jacket to provide a direct comparison to the more expensive products.

As the features list above reveals, it is light on specifications but most of the important bits can be added afterwards and you can choose a harness version if you wish.

So how did the Bluewave perform on the day? Adjustment was easy and the wearer reported very high levels of comfort on board due to the jacket being so light and compact.

Bluewave-after

Obviously, adding extra components will reduce this benefit to some extent. Nethertheless, this was the most comfortable jacket on the day.

In the water things weren’t quite so good. Inflation was fairly slow at eight seconds and a lack of crotch-straps on our test model meant the jacket rode up, leaving Greg’s head too close to the water and compressing on his neck.

The Bluewave was also light on reflective panels. This cost-effective jacket could be upgraded easily with a crotch-strap and a light to make it comparable to the other jackets here (sprayhood aside) and if you did this it would still be very affordable.

Rearming

This budget jacket shares the same firing mechanism as most of the  more expensive models on our test, which means it is just as easy and cheap to rearm. Rearming kit: £16.99

Repacking

With Velcro cover fastenings, this was the easiest and quickest of the separate cover and bladder jackets to repack.

Contact: Marine Warehouse Ltd
Tel: 01792 474300
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Spinlock Deckvest Lite

Spinlock Deckvest Lite - beforeFeatures

  • Crotch-strap: Yes (single)
  • Light: No (available for £39.95)
  • Sprayhood: No (available for £20.35)
  • Harness: No
  • Firing mechanism: United Moulders UML-5
  • Fastening mechanism: Plastic buckle
  • Price: £139
  • Rating: 3/5

Performance

The Spinlock jacket is an unusual design in that it slips over your head rather than being worn like a waistcoat.

It was easy to put on if you were flexible enough to reach behind for the strap, and very easy to adjust thanks to a system that required just a single pull on the loose end of webbing.

Wearing it on board, the Spinlock not only looks different but feels different too, which might take some getting used to.

Spinlock Deckvest Lite - after

Having said that it was comfortable, with a superbly soft neoprene collar. As an aside, our tester also thought it looked great too.

The jacket inflated and turned our tested over in a respectable 4.5 seconds but when inflated he reported some compression on the neck to the extent of slightly restricting his breathing.

Rearming

It’s got the ubiquitous United Moulders UML-5 mechanism, so simply unscrew the old and screw
in the new. Rearming pack: £19.95

Repacking

The Deckvest Lite is very compact and this works against it when it comes to repacking. It wasn’t particularly easy and the end result was more shoved in than carefully packed. If I had a sprayhood to get in as well it may well have beaten me.

Contact: Spinlock Ltd
Tel: 01983 295555
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Ocean Safety Kru Sport Pro

Ocean Safety Kru Sport Pro - beforeFeatures

  • Crotch-strap: Yes
  • Light: No (but the AQ40 light is available to buy for £20)
  • Sprayhood: Yes
  • Harness: Yes
  • Firing mechanism: United Moulders UML-5
  • Fastening mechanism: Zipped panel
  • Price: £160
  • Rating: 5/5 (best buy)

Performance

The adjustment of this jacket is very easy; simply loosen right off before putting on and then pull the loose ends either side.

Once donned, the Kru Sport Pro felt comfy and offered a great feeling of security due to the large meshed back and zipped front panel.

In the water it was joint fastest at firing and turning our casualty over in just four seconds. Once inflated the head was held nicely above the waterline and the jacket still felt comfortable.

Ocean Safety Kru Sport Pro - after

The sprayhood took our tester a while to find in the water but once he had hold of the tab to
pull it out it was very easy to fit.

This made us realise how important it was to familiarise yourself with any lifejacket you buy. If you have a sprayhood, get to know how it works – it is definitely time well spent.

One quibble was that there seemed no obvious way of securing the loose ends of the sprayhood and I would have liked another reflective panel on the bottom of the righthand bladder because the one that was there was obscured after inflation.

Rearming

Simply unscrew the cylinder and firing mechanism and screw in the new ones. Replace the plastic manual firing pin if required. Rearming kit: £20

Repacking

Although it looked complicated, with a separate bladder and cover, this turned out to be very straightforward to repack due to the two separate halves, each with a zip, and a separate compartment for the sprayhood.

Contact: Ocean Safety Ltd
Tel: 023 8072 0800
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Crewsaver Ergofit 190N Coastal

Crewsaver ErgoFit 190N Coastal - beforeFeatures

  • Crotch-strap: Yes (double)
  • Light: Yes
  • Sprayhood: Yes
  • Harness: Yes
  • Firing mechanism: Hammer
  • Fastening mechanism: Zipped panel plus plastic buckle
  • Price: £165
  • Rating: N/A

Performance

Adjustment was easy, with two loose ends of webbing to pull on either side. The Ergofit is quite a big heavy lifejacket but it has that cool Navy SEAL look about it and feels reassuringly solid.

However, on test the Ergofit failed to fire automatically, despite Greg jumping in on two occasions. Firing it off manually only partially worked, with only the right hand side inflating.

Crewsaver ErgoFit 190N Coastal - after

Once out of the water and with a little prodding the second half burst into life. Back in the water, the sprayhood was easy to find but difficult to deploy – it needed a really good tug to separate the Velcro and enable the hood fixings to be stretched over the bladders.

On the plus side, the one thing that was very noticable was how well the Ergofit held the casualty in the water. Good design of the bladders kept the head held comfortably and well clear of the water.

The jacket also features a handy zipped pocket on the front, a Velcro tab to affix a PLB (personal locator beacon) and a clear window to check the status of the firing mechanism.

Take 2

After the initial failure we contacted Crewsaver, who responded by conducting a series of tests with over 60 identical lifejackets. In their tests they could not replicate the failure we experienced, despite extensive environmental and in-water testing.

They then supplied us with another Ergofit jacket of exactly the same specification which we took to a local pool to test. This jacket fired correctly and turned the casualty over in five seconds.

Crewsaver ErgoFit 190N Coastal - after2

Rearming

The Hammer rearming kit is about twice as expensive as the UML-5 and because the bottle is mounted inside the bladder it is a more complex operation to change. The Ergofit is also available with non-Hammer automatic inflation. Rearming kit: £39

Repacking

Spread out on the floor like some luminescent roadkill, the Ergofit looked like it was going to be a tricky customer.

Once I got going though it was relatively painless and although I wouldn’t say it was as neatly packed as when it came out of the factory, the firing mechanism was in line with the window and it looked OK.

Contact: Crewsaver
Tel: 01329 820 000
Buy it now on Amazon (UK)
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Seasafe iZip

Seasafe-iZip-beforeFeatures

  • Crotch-strap: Yes (single)
  • Light: Yes
  • Sprayhood: Yes
  • Harness: Yes
  • Firing mechanism: United Moulders UML-5
  • Fastening mechanism: Metal buckle
  • Price: £140
  • Rating: 4/5

Performance

Our tester, Greg, described the iZip as very comfortable to wear. Adjustment was pretty straightforward using a single slider on the righthand side.

Just four seconds after hitting the water the jacket was fully inflated, with the casualty face up, making the iZip one of the fastest on test.

Once inflated the casualty’s head was kept clear of the water and Greg reported that the jacket was still comfortable to wear.

The sprayhood was a little tricky to find and get hold of but once located it was easy to put into place and offered good protection. Reflective strips were abundant, both with and without the sprayhood.

Seasafe-iZip-after

Other features include a fleece-lined collar for additional comfort and a separate zipped section for easy access to check the firing mechanism and gas bottle.

The colourful array of covers may make you think the iZip is a bit of a novelty product but that is far from true. Our casualty liked this jacket.

Rearming

This was simple – just unscrew the old bottle and firing mechanism and screw in new ones. Replace the green manual fire-clip if required. Total rearming cost: £12.95

Repacking

The iZip comes with a separate zipped cover and bladder. The slightly larger cover meant repacking was very easy, even with the extra material of the sprayhood to pack away. The iZip was the easiest jacket with a separate cover and bladder to repack to a high standard.

Contact: Seasafe Systems Ltd
Tel: 01983 282388

Stormy LifeVest

Stormy LifeVest beforeFeatures

  • Crotch-strap: No (available with harness)
  • Light: Yes
  • Sprayhood: No
  • Harness: Yes (£77 inc with crotch-straps)
  • Firing mechanism: United Moulders UML-5
  • Fastening mechanism: Plastic buckle
  • Price: £168
  • Rating: 2/5

Performance

Unlike the other lifejackets on test, the Stormy is also a fleece-lined gilet or jacket. This made adjustment a little bit trickier but once set up the Stormy was comfortable to wear on board.

Our tester remarked that it felt just like an ordinary boat jacket. In the water, activation and casualty turning was quick at just 4.5 seconds, but with no crotch-straps the jacket did ride up a little.

Because the Stormy is a gilet/jacket it comes in sizes from XS to 3XL and getting the right size is important because once it is inflated there isn’t much room to spare.

Stormy LifeVest after

We found that it became tight under the arms despite the expansion poppers and also tight enough on the chest to restrict breathing somewhat.

The Stormy was also quite low on reflective panels and looks rather dull in the water. But it did come with a useful blanking cap to turn it from an automatic into a manual jacket, should the need arise.

Rearming

This was very simple. The Stormy uses the same kit as the iZip and has a separate Velcro panel for easy access. Rearming kit: £19

Repacking

It doesn’t get any easier: simply press the valve to let the air out and it’s ready to go.

Contact: Adec Marine
Tel: 020 8686 9717

Secumar Ultra AX Plus

Secumar Ultra AX Plus - beforeFeatures

  • Crotch-strap: Yes (single)
  • Light: Yes
  • Sprayhood: Yes
  • Harness: Yes
  • Firing mechanism: Secumatic 4001S
  • Fastening mechanism: Seatbelt-style plastic and metal buckle
  • Price: €123.90
  • Rating: 4/5

Performance

The Secumar is a reasonably bulky jacket but feels rugged, almost commercial. The easy-to-use seatbelt buckle provided a secure fastening and was the easiest on test to use, according to Greg.

Adjustment was simple, with a single-side slider, and despite the bulk this wasn’t an intrusive jacket to wear around the boat and was very comfortable thanks to its fleece-lined collar.

In the water the Secumar took a full 15 seconds to inflate – initially we thought we had a failure on our hands. But once it had fired, the Ultra did its job and turned our casualty over.

Secumar Ultra AX Plus - after

In the water, the jacket held Greg’s head high with ease. The sprayhood fell to hand easily, was straightforward to put on and offered a good degree of protection.

Reflective panels were adequate, including a nice big one across the front of the sprayhood. This jacket also provided a clear window through which to check the status of the firing mechanism, with a manual over-ride tab should this be required.

Rearming

This jacket uses a salt pill that comes in a plastic carrier. Reinstallation is simple. A new bottle is fitted with a bayonet fitting rather than the ubiquitous screw-thread, which should prevent the problem of bottles working loose. Rearming kit: £20

Repacking

The bladder packed away easily into the cover, which was fixed by Velcro. The only snag was working out how the sprayhood packed away.

In the end, I just shoved it unceremoniously into the collar but it wasn’t right and marred an otherwise easy repacking experience.

Contact: Secumar UK
Tel: 01621 782078

Baltic GP 150SL

Baltic GP 150SL - beforeFeatures

  • Crotch-strap: Yes (single)
  • Light: Yes
  • Sprayhood: Yes
  • Harness: No (available on the Baltic Race 150 Jacket, £229.46)
  • Firing mechanism: United Moulders UML Pro Sensor
  • Fastening mechanism: Plastic buckle
  • Price: £209
  • Rating: 3/5

Performance

The GP150 is another compact jacket which is simple to adjust and comfortable to wear on board. It uses the same firing mechanism as the Marinepool and has the same useful window and a clear key to check the status.

The jacket also has a fleece collar and mesh-lined back panel for additional comfort. In the water the Baltic took eight seconds to fully inflate and turn over our tester and, despite the sprayhood being very obvious to us onlookers, it took Greg a while to get hold of it due to its being tucked so neatly right behind his head.

Baltic GP 150SL - after

Once found though, the hood was easily fixed in place and we liked the straightforward way it attached to the bladders with large, easy-to-use elasticated hoops. The jacket was comfy once inflated and came with a good array of reflective panels.

Rearming

Just unscrew the gas and firing mechanism and screw new ones in place. Rearming kit: £30.97

Repacking

Another jacket with a separate bladder and cover. This one came with some printed instructions as to where to fold the bladder, which should have made it easier.

In fact, this was one of the hardest jackets to repack due to the tightness of the cover and the fact that the zip kept bursting open during packing.

When the jacket was finally squeezed in, the firing mechanism was not lined up as it should have been within the clear window. If this was my jacket I don’t think I would be doing a test-inflate very often.

Contact: Baltic Safety Products
Tel: 023 8045 7272

Conclusion

As the RNLI says, lifejackets are useless unless worn. I would add that they might also be useless if the wearer doesn’t know how a jacket works or if it isn’t serviced regularly or isn’t fitted correctly.

The bottom line is any lifejacket will hugely improve your chances of survival in cold water. But you can increase the odds further by buying one fitted with a sprayhood, crotch-straps and a light if you cruise at night.

If you buy one that is comfy to wear on board you are more likely to put it on. Buy one that is easy to repack and you are more likely to inspect it.

lifejacket group shot

The most comfortable on board was the budget buy Bluewave, but unless you are going to pay extra for all the additional bits its performance in the water will suffer.

The Seasafe iZip is a definite contender for top honours. It comes with all the right kit, is available in a multitude of designs, performed exceptionally well and was easy to rearm and repack.

The Viking is another good all-rounder that I would also be happy to have on board my boat, as was the Secumar.

Adding all these factors together, we came to one conclusion: the Ocean Safety Kru Sport Pro is the one you should get for you and your crew.

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