When To Use Inflatable Life Jackets (Personal Floatation Devices)
The main thing to think about when buying inflatable personal floatation devices is that they are not the same as life jackets.
If you don’t know how to swim, are going to be in a fast-moving boat, or on very cold water these are not for you.
They are also not suitable for children. But as far as paddle boarding and kayaking go these are perfect.
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It is required to have a PFD on your paddleboard in most places and not everyone wants to have a big bulky life jacket on them or on their paddleboard. That’s where these kinds of PFD’s are the best.
They may be a little pricey but they are reusable with the purchase of a rearming kit. The goal is to never have to use it, but things happen, it’s always better to be safe. The best life jacket is the one that you will wear.
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Best Inflatable Life Jacket Reviews & Info
1. Onyx M-16 Belt Pack PFD
The Onyx M-16 wants to keep you safe while not restricting movement.
If you have a hard time wearing life vests because they are uncomfortable or restricting, then this is the PFD for you.
It uses a 16-gram CO2 cylinder to give 17 lbs of buoyancy with a manual inflation tube to bring it up to 26.5 lbs.
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You must be 16 years or older to use this and weigh over 80 lbs. It fits chests measuring 30 to 52 inches, and the waist fits up to 52 inches.
It is U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type V and Type lll. It is reusable with the purchase of the proper rearming kit (click to view on Amazon).
The Onyx M-16 Belt Pack PFD is basically a belt that can turn into a pillow of air to keep your head above water in case of an emergency.
I love it for paddle boarding because it’s so low profile.
I tend to not wear life jackets like I should because I dislike how bulky and restricting they are. Since buying the Onyx M-16 I always have it on and am much safer because of it.
- Low Profile
- Inexpensive Re-arming Kit
- U.S. Coast Guard Approved
- CO2 Cylinder Include
2. Eyson Slim Inflatable PFD
I want to start out by saying that this PFD is not U.S. Coast Guard-approved but it’s still fine for lakes and rivers if you like this style of an inflatable life vest.
It uses a 33 gram CO2 cylinder which can inflate in 3-5 seconds.
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It is rated 150N buoyancy which means that it is for offshore and will keep you afloat with clothing on. It is a universal fit for people under 330 lbs.
If you aren’t going to be out on the ocean and you want a PFD that is a little larger than the belt kind then the Eyson Slim is perfect.
It’s still a slim non-restricting design while being very buoyant when inflated.
There is a belt version as well (click to view on Amazon).
The PFD is reusable with this kit.
Included with the purchase of the vest you also get two reflector bands and a whistle.
- High Buoyancy
- CO2 Cylinder Included
- Not Coast Guard Approved
3. Absolute Outdoor Onyx A/M-24
This inflatable PFD is really cool because it can be automatic or manual.
If you are on rough water and want it to inflate when submerged in water you can have it set to automatic.
If you are on calmer waters and will have time to inflate it by pulling the tab then you can have it set to manual.
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The Absolute Outdoor Onyx A/M-24 is for people 16 years or older and weighing more than 80 lbs.
It has a buoyancy of 22.5 lbs when inflated and is a universal fit.
The re-arming kit (click to view on Amazon) is a little more spendy because of the automatic option but is still very affordable.
It’s U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type V and Type lll. It has a very slim design and is not going to restrict movement like a traditional life vest.
- U.S. Coast Guard Approved
- Automatic or Manual Setting
- CO2 Cylinder Included
My Inflatable Life Jacket Recommendation
Because my reviews are mostly for paddle boarding or kayaking I am recommending the Onyx M-16.
When you go out on a paddleboard you are probably going to be spending some time in the water. That is why I do not recommend any inflatable PFD that is only automatic unless you have special needs that may require it.
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This PFD is manual and very low-profile which I love. I have a hard time wearing traditional life jackets and since this is one that I wear and actually use, it’s the best one for me.
Make sure to always check that the CO2 cylinder has not expired and is inserted correctly.
I would buy a few extra cylinders so you can try it out when you purchase the product and be familiar with how it works. Also, have an extra in case you need to re-arm the belt.
Remember to use common sense when out on the water. Be safe, and have fun.
Frequently Asked Questions About PFDs
Can inflatable life jackets be reused?
Yes, they can.
Most inflatable life jackets have re-arming kits you can buy with a new tab and air cylinder.
When you buy an inflatable life jacket it’s a good idea to buy an extra re-arming kit as well so you can test the life jacket in the water so you know what to expect in an emergency.
How do inflatable life jackets work?
Inflatable life jackets or personal floatation devices use an air bladder, usually folded up in a slim vest or belt pouch, that is filled with air from a cylinder.
When the bladder inflates, it creates a floatation device around your body to keep your head above water.
There are two kinds, automatic and manual. Automatic PFD’s inflate when submerged in water.
Manual PFD’s inflate when you pull a tab. For more information about how PFD or inflatable life jackets work and see one inflated, check out this video.
What is an inflatable life jacket (PFD)?
Inflatable life jackets are slim vests or belts that clip to your body.
When you need them, they inflate and become a life vest that keeps your head above water.
Are inflatable life jackets (PFD) safe?
You can buy different kinds of inflatable life jackets and most of them are Coast Guard Approved.
Most give more buoyancy than traditional life jackets and some can even inflate automatically when they are submerged in water.
When properly maintained and used they are very safe. Some even say they are safer than traditional life jackets because people actually wear them.
What are inflatable life jackets made of?
Inflatable life jackets usually have a waterproof polyester shell with an air bladder folded away inside that is made with nylon and TPU. TPU is a type of plastic. There is also a metal-air cylinder inside the vest to inflate the air bladder.
Are inflatable life jackets (PFD’s) Coast Guard or USCG Approved?
Many inflatable life jackets and personal floatation devices are Coast Guard Approved.
There are two on this list alone that are Coast Guard Approved.
When shopping for an inflatable life jacket make sure the company states whether the PFD is approved or not.
Are inflatable life jackets good for kayaking, canoeing, or stand up paddleboarding?
Yes, they are really good for all of those things.
Are inflatable life jackets legal?
A lot of inflatable life jackets are Coast Guard or USCG approved and are legal to use in place of a traditional life jacket.
Most inflatable life jackets are not acceptable for children to use and most are for ages 16 and up.
Make sure you read what ages the inflatable life jacket is for before you buy.
How reliable are inflatable life jackets (PFD’s)?
When made and maintained properly inflatable life jackets are safe and reliable. Make sure you buy from a good company and try out the life jackets directly when you get them to test for any flaws.
Also, make sure the air cylinder has not expired and test them regularly to make sure they are in good working condition.
Some companies have a manual inflation tube on the air bladder so if all else fails you can inflate the jacket on your own.
Do inflatable life jackets expire?
The life jacket itself does not expire but the air cylinder inside does. Make sure you check the cylinder directly after purchase and replace it as needed.
Do inflatable life jackets have to be worn?
Sometimes with a traditional life jacket, you can get away with not wearing it and have it next to you on your paddleboard or kayak.
Inflatable life jackets need to be worn because they need to be inflated on your body to work properly.
Because you have to wear them it makes them safer than a life jacket that is just sitting next to you. The safest life jacket is the one you wear.
Do inflatable life jackets require servicing?
Yes, they do. Inflatable life jackets have an air cylinder inside of them that inflates the air bladder.
The air cylinders are only good for a few years and they need to be replaced when they expire. They also need to be replaced after they are used.
How do automatic inflatable life jackets (PFD’s) work?
Automatic inflatable life jackets or personal floatation devices are a little different than manual ones.
On a manual jacket, you pull a tab that opens the air cylinder inside to inflate the air bladder.
Automatic inflatable life jackets have a cap that goes over the air cylinder. The cap is made of a material that disintegrates quickly in water. Once the material is exposed to water it disappears and the air in the cylinder is released.
You can buy inflatable life jackets that can be switched from automatic to manual depending on what water situation they are in.
If you are on a fast boat you will want your jacket to inflate automatically in case you are thrown into the water and become disoriented and confused.
If you are in a kayak or on a paddleboard on calm water you may not need your life jacket to inflate when you fall into the water because you can either pull the tab yourself or just swim back to your vessel.
It all depends on the situation and how good of a swimmer you are.
Have any more questions or tips on how to use an inflatable life jacket? Leave a comment below.