12 questions to ask before buying a lifejacket

When it comes to choosing the right lifejacket for your boating, the devil is in the detail, as our technical guru Dave Marsh explains

Wandering around the equipment section of the London Boat Show this year highlighted the transformative changes that our lifejackets have undergone in recent times.

They all used to look vaguely similar, but nowadays even the uninformed eye can see that there are significant variations between models.

With this in mind we’ve compiled a list of 12 key questions to ask your local chandlery about, with a few examples thrown in for good measure.

  1. Does it have a sprayhood?

You may be floating, but this feature has the potential to save you from drowning from spray inhalation.

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  1. Is there a safety harness?

Useful for hauling you back on board, but also for keeping you there in the first place.

  1. Plastic or metal buckle?

Metal buckles are stronger, but plastic buckles are easier and quicker for cold fingers to operate.

  1. 150N or 275N? Crewsaver Ergofit 290ex

275N is only strictly essential if you’re going to be wearing clothing that has its own buoyancy.

A good example of a high-Netwon rating lifejacket is the Crewsaver Ergofit 290N Extreme (pictured right – from £185).

  1. What about a hanging loop?

Invaluable if you don’t want your lifejackets to permanently fester in the bottom of a smelly locker.

  1. Are there any pockets?

A rarity, but extremely useful if your lifejacket closes off access to your usual oilskin pockets.

  1. Automatic or manual firing?

Automatic may appear the safer bet, but manual may be appropriate for some watersports fanatics.

  1. Is there a safety window?

A clear window allows the red/ green firing mechanism and gas cylinder indicators to be checked every time you go afloat.Ocean Safety Kru Sport Pro

  1. Does it have AIS or PLB?

High-end lifejackets (such as the Ocean Safety Premier Kru Sport Pro – pictured right, from £385) increasingly have integral AIS or PLB available as optional extras. Some auto-activate when the lifejacket is inflated.

  1. Do you get a whistle and a light?

Either device could save your life, especially at night.

  1. Are there any kill-cord loops?

This is fairly self-explanatory: the loops can also be useful for attaching gloves etc.

  1. How comfortable is it to wear?Spinlock deckvest LITE blue front

This can be different for men and women so don’t assume all of your crew will have the same preference.

The ladies in our team preferred the fit of the Baltic Legend (from £139) and the Spinlock Deckvest LITE (pictured right – from £139.95).


In every important regard, the current crop of lifejackets is streets ahead of their slightly shabby predecessors.

The simpler lifejackets are sleeker and more stylish, and therefore far more likely to be worn in the first place and so save your life, and the top-end products bristle with new refinements.

Details such as pockets and kill-cord loops just make life easier, others like integral AIS and visible green (all okay) and red (not working) indicators may well be the difference between life and death, so choose carefully.


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