Updated on: January 8, 2024
Stand up paddle boarding is quickly becoming a much-loved activity for water enthusiasts and newcomers. Whether you are new to the sport and are learning how to paddle board or a seasoned paddler, it's important to be safe on the water.
Some life jackets are more affordable yet have fewer features, while the more expensive life jackets tend to be constructed better with more features. No matter your budget, this guide has you covered. Here are our top 3 paddle board life jacket picks:
An affordable PFD designed with paddle boarding in mind.
Why we like it:
What we don't like:
Designed for Whitewater Rescue, Sea, and SUP, this Life Vest is by far the highest quality on our list, and we also found it to be the most comfortable.
Why we like it:
What we don't like:
The M-16's unique design allows a complete range of motion - perfect for paddleboarders - while still keeping you safe.
Why we like it:
What we don't like:
The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is beginning to recognize SUPs as vessels. This means there are certain requirements you should take into consideration when heading out on the water, which include:
So, do you need a life jacket when paddle boarding? It depends on where you are planning to be paddling and exploring.
Officially, the USCG does not require you to wear a life jacket if you are staying within the surfing, bathing, or swimming zones. However, if you are planning to explore outside of these spaces then you are required to wear a PFD. We strongly recommend you always wear a PFD or have it on your SUP at all times.
Do make sure you are compliant with your state’s individual regulations before heading out.
It is deemed good practice to use a PFD while paddle boarding, especially when you explore deeper and more remote waters.
There are five classifications of life jackets that are Coast Guard approved for paddlers and other watercraft users. Make sure you are familiar with Type I, II, III, IV, and V before heading out to go stand up paddle boarding.
Type I is the standard style that most people will instantly think when imagining a life vest. This Offshore PFD tends to be bulky with additional foam around the neck area to keep you afloat easier with your head clear out of the water.
You generally see these on boats and ferries for passenger safety precautions with a “one-size-fits-all” style. They are suitable for every water condition and feature high visibility elements such as reflective strips and a torch.
Type II is a simple vest design that fits over the head and straps around the waist. Due to being more lightweight, this vest is not good in rough conditions and should only be used in near-shore conditions when a rescue can be fast.
The person is required to tread water to keep the head fully above the surface. It is typically used by wakeboarders, kayakers, and boaters that have a decent level of swimming.
A Type III flotation device offers a significantly lower amount of float than Type I or II PFD’s, so only those super comfortable with the water and swimming should go for these. They fit more like a jacket and are considered a comfortable option.
These life jackets are great for fishing adventures with the versatility of pockets and comfort bonus.
You don’t wear a type IV float, these are designed for life-saving purposes or to assist those that cannot swim. Either in a ring buoy or seat cushion design, they are often found on passenger ferries and boats available for immediate use.
It is unlikely that you should need one of these while paddle boarding, however, they are worth considering if you are taking young children out with you.
Type V is a hybrid design that makes use of features from all the other classifications. They are inflatable which makes them compact and discreet - a perfect personal flotation device for gentle stand up paddle boarding.
These PFDs contain CO2 cartridges that inflate either manually on a pull tab or automatically when submerged in water. Every style should include a blowpipe to top up the float if required.
Because of the lightweight design, no restriction of movement is encountered and the user has full mobility while in the water.
So now you know the different types of PFDs, let’s make note of the key features you need to be aware of when shopping for a life jacket paddle board specific.
These include, but are not limited to:
Hitting all these qualities on the head will make your stand up paddle boarding experience safer, giving you more time to focus on relaxing and enjoying your adventures.
You need to make sure you float. That is the whole purpose of a personal flotation device. It is vital you check the level of buoyancy.
The float comes down to the materials used in relation to your body size. All of this information should be supplied by the manufacturer in size charts and product information.
The varying types of PFDs provide differing amounts of buoyancy. If you are heading into deeper waters, or plan to take a child out for the ride, consider using a Type I style life vest. If you are going for an endurance race then a Type V would be a good idea.
A paddle board life jacket has to be comfortable. There is no question about it, especially if you are planning to be out on the water for a long period of time.
By making sure your PFD is comfortable, you will soon forget that you are wearing it. If it is uncomfortable, however, then you are more likely to take it off which defeats the purpose.
Breathability in the materials and design is important to give you optimal comfort. This airflow will be a blessing for those hot summer day paddle outs as well.
A well fitted and comfortable life jacket offers flexibility and a complete range of motion while enjoying the adventure. This maneuverability is a must for paddle boarders.
PFDs should be well fitted and accurately sized to the user to achieve the best results. Sizes do vary depending on the brand, model, and type of life vest. For correct sizing, you need to consider:
The PFD should feel snug across your chest without restricting your movement. Some PFDs features specific designs that have women in mind to achieve a snugger fit around curves and bust.
While most personal flotation jackets will have adjustability with straps, this will only be to a certain degree. It is always best to “try before you buy” and make sure you get the perfect fit.
If you are considering buying a Type V style PFD we recommend you look for something that has an automatic inflation function. These work similarly to an airbag in a vehicle, but they inflate when hitting the water.
This is an invaluable feature in case of emergency and the rider falls unconscious for any reason.
Most will also have a manual pull tag or even a blowpipe as a backup if the automatic system fails.
Any jacket you use for stand up paddle boarding should be easy to use. No one wants difficulty in any equipment or accessories.
The ease of use of a PFD is measured by how easy it is to put on, take off, and adjust. If there are bonus features like a torch or whistle, are these easily accessible while you are paddling?
Paddle boarders don’t need complications while out on the water. A simple and efficient life jacket goes a long way.
As previously mentioned, it is important you check the local regulations and Coast Guard advice and guidance. Lakes, ocean, rivers, and shallow waters. It doesn’t matter where your adventure takes you, just make sure you are keeping in line with the rules and regulations.
Most of the popular PFDs available will be Coast Guard approved and suitable to use for paddle boarding.
A final feature to consider is the color you choose. SUP and PFD Regulations don’t strictly state it, however, a bright color is a recommended choice to increase visibility.
We know price is important for most shoppers - but we suggest not cheaping out on a paddle board PFD - after all it is your life! That being said, you can still find a quality life vest under $150. For the best value for the money, check out the Onyx Movevent Paddle Sports Life Vest.
These are some of the best paddle board life jacket options available on the market. Each has its own qualities that make them a great option for paddle boarders and water sport enthusiasts.
This PFD from ONYX is excellent for water sports and as a SUP life jacket. It is designed specifically for comfort and usability. There is also a fantastic size range so you can find a great match for your body type. We love that Onyx chose to build this PFD with reflective material - an added safety bonus.
The foam panels are strategically placed around the torso and the sides which give comfort. They have utilized mesh panels to help with airflow while wearing and to stop the PFD from rising to your chin in the water. The Onyx Movement Dynamic PFD is a great choice for a paddle boarding - it not only looks good, is lightweight, it will save you in an emergency.
For the serious paddler, look no further than the Astral GreenJacket PFD. Chosen by the world's best expedition paddlers and kayakers, this life jacket sports a host of saftey features designed to save lifes, and it's also the one of the most comfortable jackets we tried. Sure, this jacket is the most expensive on our list, but it's worth it if you have the extra cash.
Orignally designed for Whitewater Rescue, the Astral GreenJacket Life Jacket has been adopted by serious paddlers and kayakers alike. You won't finder a higher quality PFD, but it comes at a price. We think it's worth it, and it's our favorite paddle board life vest. It's the pricest PFD we've reviewed - the only reason why it's second on our list. We don't paddle a river without it!
This low profile USCG approved PFD is great for more advanced paddlers. Only weighing 15 ounces, you'll barely notice this must-have SUP accessory around your waist. Our favorite for SUP yoga and relaxed, recreational paddle boarding.
Remember, this is manaully inflated life vest. The pull cord is a bright yellow so it can't be missed in emergency situations. Idea for recreational paddling, we love the Onyx M16 Inflatabale Belt Pack for Paddle Board Yoga. If you want the maximum range of movement with the lightest weight, discreet PFD available, this one's for you. Not recommended for children.
This low-profile PFD allows for high mobility, which is much appreciated on a paddle board. Side-zip design with a roomy front pocket, not only is this PFD comfortable, but it's also great if you're on a budget. The Stohlquist Edge is a Type III PFD and is rated for 15 to 17 lbs of buoyance (depending on size).
Great for paddlers on a budget, and is much higher quality than other PFDs in this price range. We wish they included a safety whistle and offered more colors, but for this price range it's hard to complain. Reember, try before you buy as this life jacket tends to run small and is slim fitting. Grab the Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket for your next adventure.
A great mid-range PFD, the Astral YTV life jacket is great option for paddle boarding (and kayaking too). This is a pullover style PFD - featuring Astral's Torso Lock fit - ensuring a snug, tight fit that's still comfortable.
We love how lightweight the Astral YTV Life Jacket is. If you're comfortable with the pullover design, this could be a gamechanger for you. With its unrestricted motion and how light it is, this may be your favorite life jacket you'll ever wear!
A budget pick and a classic. If you're looking for a comfortable option that fits most people, and aren't looking to spend a lot of money, consider the universal fit Stearns Classic life jacket. Despite it's universal fit, if you're more substantial or slimmer than average, we suggest getting a life jacket specifically designed for your weight and size. If your jacket is too lose, it'll ride up in the water and potentially slip. If your PFD is too tight, it may be hard to escape from in an emergency. This jacket is versatile and great for a variety of water sports, with that being said, you may find it less comfortable for paddle boarding.
A suitable pick with it's simple design: this is the exact image people will have in mind when we say life jacket. The Stearns Classic Series is a US Coast Guard approved Type I PFD that is great for beginner paddle boarders. This style is durable and effective, which is why it has been so popular for so many years. Even though it is basic, it gets the job done. Again, if you're big and tall or fairly thin, it may not be the best option for you. While there are better picks for paddle boarders, it's a great to have a few extra of these lying around for friends and family.
It's tough choosing the right PFD for your kids, and they grow so fast! We recommend choosing an affordable ( Coast Guard approved) life jacket. The Stolhquist Escape Youth Life Jacket is comfortable, tough, and will fit kids 50 lb to 125 lbs with it's two sizes.
In our testing, this PFD worked out very well when we had our kids on our SUPs. This Coast Guard approved Type III life vest is incredibly soft and very comfortable. There's nothing worst when your kid has an uncomfortable life jacket he wants to take off. Fret no more, the Stohlquist Escape Youth Fit PFD is a great choice for youth paddle boarders.
NRS’s Vapor PFD is a more tailored option for taller paddlers and water lovers with the narrow shaped torso and long length of this Type III life jacket. The extremely low cut sides allow full movement making this a perfect option for the more extreme SUP surfing or rapid river paddling.
NRS, if you're listening, bring back the hand warming pouch and front zipper pocket, please! Otherwise, this is a perfect PFD for taller riders with its high cut shoulder design and side entry system. Comfortable and lightweight, we really enjoy using the NRS Vapor PFD on our SUP.
When you're paddle boarding you want largely want three things from your PFD: a large rage of motion, buoyancy, and comfort. The NRS Women's Siren PFD uses a six panel foam design we found to be very comfortable. With a fit specially cut for women, the NRS Siren is a great choice for female paddlers.
The NRS Women’s Siren PFD has purpose-designed low profile sides to be a better fit for the female figure. With fully adjustable shoulder and side straps, this is a great choice to fit most women's body types. The near-perfect women's life jacket for every SUP adventure, the women's NRS Siren PFD also features AirMesh side vents for maximum airflow on those warm, sunny days.
And last but not least, the Onyx A/M 24 Automatic Vest. This is a harness style Type V life jacket. The belt buckle style fastening and stretchy back make this an excellent choice for most body types. It is highly loved by paddle boarders and water sport enthusiasts.
The Onyx A/M 24 Automatic Life Vest is an automatic inflatable PFD that also has a manual option in case the CO2 cartridges run low (and has pockets for extra canisters). The design is predominantly about versatility and comfort with stand up paddle boarding in mind.
Paddle board fishing is an exciting way to reel in some big ol' bass or trout - and as an angler, you'll need a proper fishing life jacket to keep you safe and store your gear. The NRS Chinook is a best-seller for a reason: it's designed to hold all your fishing gear, keep you safe, and to be comfortable.
Seriously, if you like fish from your SUP, just buy this PFD now! The NRS Chinook Fishing PFD is made with Plushfit foam and high back design which keeps you cool and comfortable on your paddle board, and it will work well with kayak seats. It's got two huge zippered pockets for your tackle, two smaller accessory pockets, and a tool holder pocket for easy access to your line cutters and pliers. NRS has added a rod holder, strobe attachment point, a knife lash tab, and reflective accents. With six adjustment points, this PFD is made for anglers of all shapes and sizes.
Finding the best life jacket for paddle boarding requires research. You need to determine exactly what you need from your PFD. Are you taking a relaxing paddle across a lake? Or are you planning to be going more extreme in the waves? Perhaps a fishing trip is on the cards?
Once you know exactly what you are going to be doing, then you will know what specific features you need.
All of the PFDs listed above are great options to keep you safe on the water while paddle boarding.
All personal flotation devices should come with a sizing chart and guide to help you get the right fit.
As we briefly mentioned above, you need to consider your weight, waist, chest, and height measurements to get a decent fit.
Most PFDs come in sizes ranging Small to Large with adjustable straps and panels to create the snug hug you need.
A PFD should hug your body closely without being too tight and restricting movement. Too loose and you will experience possibly chafing or even risk losing the jacket if you fall into the water.
A simple test to see if your PFD is too big for you: if you can fit 3 fingers between the jacket and your shoulder then the jacket is TOO big. This will not keep your head above the water. If you have access to a pool then give the life vest a test run before heading to deep water.
Most life jackets for adults come in sizes S, M, L, XL. Some models go down to XS for a more petite fit.
All PFDs are adjustable to help fit those that are in between the standard sizes. Be sure to check the fitting and size charts before purchasing.
PFDs for youths are designed typically for under 16 years. Young children and toddler style life jackets often come with crotch straps to give a more overall secure fit.
The sizes are generally focused more on the weight as children’s sizes vary often. These tend to come in two options:
Overall, it is considered decent and good practice to wear a life jacket on a paddleboard. Be sure to check the legal requirements for your local area to be 100% sure if you have to wear one.
The specific SUP activity you have planned does affect which PFD is best for you. If you are planning to take your family out on the water make sure you keep them safe.
The United States Coast Guard recognizes paddle boards as vessels and as such, there are subject to certain regulations.
One such requirement is that you are required to wear your USCG-approved life jacket at all times unless you are using the paddleboard within swimming, bathing, or surfing areas.
Anyone below 12 years should wear a life jacket at all times regardless of where they are paddling from. However, this does not mean that you should neglect carrying your life jacket. We recommend wearing it or having it with you on the board at all times.
The Onyx MoveVent dynamic PFD is our pick for best paddle board life jacket for most people. It is designed for maximum safety and comfort for SUP and Kayaking. This jacket is made of high-quality nylon with soft durable foam and is U.S. Coast Guard approved Type III PFD.
It depends on your board’s classification. UK maritime authorities classify boards into two categories i,e, recreational gear, and small sea vessels.
Your board is classified as recreational gear if it is hard and less than 3.5M long. If your board is hard and longer than 3.5m long, it is classified as a small sea vessel.
Any board classified as recreational beach gear is limited to 300 meters from the shoreline. In this case, you do not necessarily have to wear a life jacket. Small sea vessels, on the other hand, can travel up to 2 nautical miles from sheltered areas. A floatation device or life jacket is required.
Yes. Anyone under 12 years is required to wear a life jacket at all times. For those above 12 years of age you must have a personal floatation device on board - but are not required to wear it. The PFD should be Coast Guard approved and either Type I, II, or III.
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