Last updated: 16/10/2022

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Lifejackets keep you safe during activities on and around the water and can prevent the worst in life-threatening situations, even for excellent swimmers. Be it surfing, fishing, sailing, kayaking or just having fun in the water.

There is always the danger of not being able to keep oneself afloat. In such cases, a life jacket provides the necessary help and support. Life jackets are available for babies, small children, adults and dogs. With our lifejacket test 2023 we want to help you find the best lifejacket for you.

We have given you an overview of the different types of lifejackets and listed their advantages and disadvantages. This should make your decision easier when buying your lifejacket.




Summary

  • A life jacket can save your life and prevent you from drowning. It offers valuable help for various water sports activities. It is not the same as a buoyancy aid. When buying a life jacket, you should therefore pay attention to a number of criteria, such as buoyancy, wearing comfort, the presence of a life belt, crotch strap, spray caps or emergency light.
  • Basically, a distinction is made between two types of lifejackets, namely a solid lifejacket and an automatic lifejacket. There are several factors involved in choosing the type of waistcoat.
  • The buoyancy of a lifejacket depends on the weight of the wearer. This means that the actual buoyancy of a lifejacket in the same Newton class can vary depending on the weight.

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Criteria for Buying and Evaluating Lifejackets

It is not always easy to find the best lifejacket for you, as there are many things to consider. The decision should therefore be well thought out and not taken lightly. The criteria you should consider when buying a lifejacket are as follows:

Buoyancy

A distinction is made between lifejackets with 100, 150 and 275 Newton. Here is a brief summary of the three buoyancy categories and their characteristics.

Buoyancy description, function, use
100 Newton in comparison to lifejackets with 150 and 275 only limited protection against fainting, because it also depends on which clothing is worn, area of use: sheltered waters, inland areas
150 Newton mostly fully automatic lifejackets, cheaper and smaller than one with 275 Newton, point of criticism: Expulsion is not sufficient to bring people with heavy oilskins into a fainting position, area of application: high seas with weatherproof oilskins
275 Newton somewhat heavier and more unwieldy than 150 Newton waistcoats, but protect the wearer from fainting even with oilskins, can also be worn with heavy, waterproof clothing, area of application: high seas and everywhere where extreme conditions prevail

Wearing comfort

A high wearing comfort should be given, because it motivates to wear the lifejacket with pleasure and thus leads to the fact that it is actually worn.

Harness / Lifebelt

A lifebelt is a fixed anchorage for the lifejacket. It ensures that you can tie yourself to the boat in bad weather. This is done by hooking it on with the carabiner. It should not be missing from high-quality lifejackets and ensures safety that you should not do without.

If a lifebelt is integrated, it must be certified according to DIN EN ISO 12401.

A lifejacket with one D-ring but not marked with a DIN standard is not suitable for being tied to the board. If there are two D-rings, both must be used together. A lifejacket with a lifebelt is more expensive, but should not be the decisive criterion in this case.

Crotch strap

The crotch strap is responsible for ensuring that the lifejacket retains its function. In extreme cases, it can prevent the lifejacket from slipping over the head if it is tight enough against the body. In addition, it can ensure that the swimming position is stabilised and prevents unnecessary force from being applied.

Therefore, when buying a lifejacket, make sure that it is available. It is also possible to retrofit a crotch strap, but this should be clarified in advance.

Spraycap

A spraycap is a bonnet that is pulled over the head from behind when the waistcoat is released and thus protects against drowning from spray. In bad weather and strong winds, so much water is stirred up that even the best swimmers can drown as a result.

For this reason, a spraycap should not be dispensed with in winds of 8 Bft and above. A spraycap requires practice and should therefore definitely be tried out before use. Like the crotch strap, it can be retrofitted.

Emergency light

An emergency light starts flashing on contact with salt water and makes it possible to see the person floating in the water in the dark. Without an emergency light, the chance of finding the person is very small and almost impossible.

Thus, the emergency light is an indispensable safety component of a lifejacket. It is replaced after about five years.

Decision: What types of lifejackets are there and which one is right for me?

Knowing the types of lifejackets and their advantages and disadvantages will help you make the best possible choice when buying. Here is a brief overview of the pros and cons.

Type advantages disadvantages
Solid lifejackets inexpensive, ready-sewn, ready for use at any time, impact protection, protects against cooling low buoyancy force (at most 100 Newton), limited protection against fainting, low freedom of movement, bulky
Automatic lifejackets high buoyancy, faint-proof, high freedom of movement when uninflated, high visibility, have a signal whistle no buoyancy in normal condition, regular inspection and maintenance, must be serviced every two years, mechanism may fail

If you would like more information about the two types of lifejackets, you can read more about them in the following sections.

Solid lifejackets

Lifejackets up to 100 Newton minimum buoyancy are almost always solid lifejackets. They are filled with a solid and buoyant material that does not absorb water. This includes foam such as polystyrene foam; older models may be filled with cork. The filling is what gives it its buoyancy.

Due to the low buoyancy force of 100 netwon at most, it has limited fainting resistance.

A solid lifejacket nevertheless has certain advantages.

Advantages
  • inexpensive
  • does not have to be inflated first
  • does not lose air, so it is ready for use at any time
  • its thickness protects the wearer in the event of a collision
  • can prevent the body from cooling down
Disadvantages
  • not optimal protection if the material is damaged
  • its thickness can easily lead to overheating
  • less comfortable to wear

It is also almost maintenance-free. However, it must be inspected annually and has a maximum service life of 10 years. Safety can be compromised by damage to the lifejacket. Damage to the material may mean that optimum protection cannot be guaranteed.

Automatic lifejackets

Automatic lifejackets are also called inflatable lifejackets. They have a high buoyancy value of at least 150 Newton. The high buoyancy value puts the swimmer in the reclined position so that he can breathe freely and thus protect the person from drowning even if he faints.

A distinction is also made between a semi-automatic and a fully automatic lifejacket. The difference is that with a semi-automatic lifejacket you have to pull the release cord by hand to inflate it. With a fully automatic lifejacket, minimal contact with the water is enough. For this reason, it is not recommended for sporting activities.

Automatic lifejackets consist of gas pressure cartridges, more precisely carbon dioxide cartridges, which react to water and only inflate the waistcoat within a few seconds through contact. The cartridge allows the gas to flow out into the buoyancy chamber and can result in a buoyancy of up to 300 Newtons being achieved. Automatic lifejackets, like solid lifejackets, have their advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages
  • high freedom of movement
  • high wearing comfort
  • fainting-proof
  • good visibility
Disadvantages
  • regular maintenance and care
  • waistcoat can be triggered accidentally
  • mechanism can fail
  • no buoyancy if not inflated

There is also the possibility of inflating the waistcoat itself through a mouthpiece, which is available on automatic lifejackets. This is because the automatic mechanism can also fail, especially if you forget to check the waistcoat.

An inflatable lifejacket must be checked regularly and must be serviced at least every two years. Depending on the manufacturer, it can have a service life of between 10 and 15 years. Maintenance can be carried out by the manufacturer or by a service centre.

Guide: Frequently asked questions about lifejackets answered in detail

Which lifejacket is right for me?

Vests with a buoyancy of less than 100 Newton are considered buoyancy aids but not life jackets. Lifejackets require a buoyancy of at least 100 Newton and can only be used as a rescue device above this value. A rule of 6 Newton buoyancy per 10 kilograms of body weight applies. The higher the buoyancy, the wilder the water or the location.

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Life jackets ensure optimal safety during activities in and around water.
(Image source: Mael BALLAND / unsplash)

If you are looking for a faint-proof life jacket, you should choose one with at least 275 Newton. The recommended weight and age of the lifejacket should be taken into account when buying.

How does a lifejacket work?

An automatic lifejacket consists of a spring that is under tension. When the spring is leveraged, it drives a bolt into the mouth of the carbon dioxide cartridge. It thereby opens the cartridge and causes the gas to be released to inflate the buoyancy chamber of the waistcoat.

The spring and pin are blocked by a cellulose tablet. When it comes into contact with water, the tablet disintegrates and then triggers the release mechanism. If this mechanism does not work, the waistcoat can be triggered manually.

It should be noted that in high humidity conditions, the tablet may disintegrate and trigger the waistcoat. Wet automatic lifejackets should not be dried in the blazing sun, as there is also a possibility that the wet tablet will shrink, crack and fall apart. It is therefore recommended to take tablets with you as a reserve.

What should be considered for children?

With children it is important to note that the lifejacket will cause the child’s own body temperature to rise sharply in high temperatures. Children’s circulation cannot be compared to that of an adult. In comparison, children can overheat more quickly, which also increases the risk of heat stroke or fainting.

Children have a different anatomy than adults. This should always be taken into account.

An automatic life jacket would be recommended for longer stays on or near the water.

The reason for this is that the lifejacket, when uninflated, does not restrict children’s movement and therefore they do not sweat too much. In comparison, solid waistcoats are thick and insulating and overheating would occur more quickly.

When buying a waistcoat, you should also make sure that the size fits the child and that it fits tightly so that the waistcoat does not slip.

Rettungsweste-2

Life jackets for children should have a bright and eye-catching colour. This makes the child more visible.
(Image source: Image by u_bnelbkvv / unsplash)

The lifejacket should also have an eye-catching colour, reflective stripes, a signal whistle, a crotch strap and a recovery loop.Furthermore, you should pay attention to the information on the recommended body weight of the lifejacket.

What are the alternatives to a lifejacket?

An alternative to a life jacket would be a buoyancy aid. However, it is not fainting-proof and is also only suitable for people who can already swim. Non-swimmers would only drown with a buoyancy aid and do not have buoyancy bodies at the back of their heads.

How do I put on a life jacket properly?

The life jacket is put on like a normal waistcoat. The belt is pulled tightly around the thighs and the abdomen. The lifebelt, which is to prevent going overboard, is put on so that the green belt side is on the right and the red belt side is on the left side of the body. The individual steps listed in detail

  1. If a jacket or top with a hood/collar is worn under the life jacket, both should be put on. If the hood is in the collar, it must also be put on in that case. This prevents the head from cooling down too quickly.
  2. Put on the life jacket with the hood/collar on or off
  3. Tighten the chest strap. There should be no more than fingertips between the belt and the chest.
  4. The hood can be removed or the collar can be adjusted to the desired position.
  5. If the lifejacket has a crotch strap , put it on. It should be fastened as tightly as possible to the body so that it cannot slip.
  6. Lifebelt (if fitted), is attached to the waistcoat and secured to the deck of the boat.

What are the differences between a life jacket and a life jacket?

The purpose of a lifejacket is to provide buoyancy for the swimmer to swim to a specific location. They do not restrict or hinder one’s swimming movements. Usually they are solid waistcoats and are mainly made of foam.

Depending on the model, they can have a buoyancy of 50 to 100 Newton. They belong to the group of buoyancy aids, as do water wings, swimming boards or buoyancy tyres. With a life jacket, on the other hand, the focus is on keeping the swimmer alive or afloat. Here, swimming movements are only partially possible. Life jackets require a minimum propulsion of 100 Newton.

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