Best Buoyancy Aids

The best stand up paddle boarder in the world would still be well advised to suit up in a buoyancy aid. The open water is mother nature’s territory and therefore you should always put your safety first.

As a child I remember my first time water skiing, the buoyancy aid was bigger than me and was hardly a practical bit of apparatus. It would have kept Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet safe on the Titanic it was that big! Thankfully, the “life jacket” market has boomed to the point that you’ve got multiple options to select from. Choosing the right buoyancy aid can be daunting due to the wide variety of options. We hope this list narrows down the field when it comes to choosing the right floaty for you.

Quick Verdict

paddleboard life jacket

We like this life jacket as it’s lightweight and offers great mobility.

Easy life jacket to paddle in.

What is the difference between a Life Jacket and Buoyancy Aid?

In your search for a good buoyancy aid, you will encounter many different descriptions. You may see the terms Personal Floatation Device (PFD), buoyancy aid, buoyancy vest, life vest, life preserver and possibly others.

The overriding aim of these garments is to keep you afloat when in the water. I’ve been corrected enough times when I’ve been doing open water activities to know that the term life jacket is misleading as it does not guarantee the preservation of life! The main difference in theory is that a life jacket will keep your head above water even if unconscious, whereas a buoyancy aid is more to help keep you floating.

I have recently been on holiday with my kids and the beauty of our buoyancy aids were the manoeuvrability on offer. My kids can’t swim totally unaided, so this gave extra confidence when we were out at sea and helped them improve their swimming. The buoyancy aid was specific to their size and weights and allowed lot’s of freedom – which if you’re kayaking or stand up paddle boarding, is very important.

best kayak buoyancy aid

Do I need a Buoyancy Aid for SUP?

Yes (that is not the law, just our advice). Safety is paramount to any outdoor activity. I always remember the shocking accident in Wales, when four paddleboarders lost their lives when paddleboarding on the Cleddau River. You never plan to encounter danger, but it is always best to be prepared if it ever comes your way. With that in mind, always wear your leash too. The board is the best flotation device you can have – I have already mentioned Kate Winslet floating on the piece of wood!

Top Buoyancy Aids for SUP and Kayaking

Gul Recreation Vest Buoyancy Aid 50N

Gul Stand up paddle boarding life jacket

This buoyancy aid is suitable for all water sports such as kayaking and stand up paddleboarding. The vest is made of a super lightweight PVC foam that will give you 50N of buoyancy. It is a relatively slim and compact vest that offers the user good manoeuvrability around the arms, which I think is perfect when standing up and paddling your board. It comes in a stylish red design that will help you stand out while out on the water to offer good visibility.

The vest is made from a ripstop CE approved nylon on the outside which will help this life jacket to last a long time due to its high level of durability. It has a self draining key pocket and fully adjustable webbed belt.

Typhoon Amrock XT Buoyancy Jacket

best buoyancy aid lifejacket

This jacket is CE approved with 50N buoyancy meaning the user will be well supported while in the water. There are a variety of size options to choose from: the smallest starts at 30kg and goes to well over 70kg in the larger sizes. The benefit of this is that you are guaranteed to find a jacket to suit your height and weight.

It has an ergonomic design that works well for water sports as it allows good arm movement and I found the vest to be flexible when worn. It has a fully adjustable buckled waist belt that clicks into place easily and is also unbuckled with a simple click. The adjustable double shoulder pads come in handy as you get a more personalised fit when wearing the jacket.

One thing about this life jacket is that it has a detachable double crotch strap which helps to prevent the jacket from riding up – this also adds to the overall safety of the jacket. Other features include a zip pocket which is ideal for  all keeping smaller items secure while on the water. 

Helly Hanson Rider Buoyancy Vest

Best high quality buoyancy aid jacket

Helly Hansen have been producing top quality water gear for over 100 years. When I was a kid you wanted to be seen wearing one of their coats as for some reason they had become very popular in the playground!  Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t afford one of their jackets, however nowadays I can afford their life vests and I can give them my seal of approval as they are high quality indeed. 

This vest features a front zipper and buckle to provide a secure fit throughout the torso. It has a hard wearing material that is durable and quick drying. It’s a perfect option for anyone wanting a buoyancy aid for paddleboarding or laying due to its low bulk and comfortable fit. If you want a good value buoyancy aid this will do just fine.

O’Neill Superlite Buoyancy Aid

best lightweight buoyancy aid

When it comes to water sports, I trust the O’Neill brand to always deliver a high quality product and once again they have succeeded in their design of this superlite buoyancy aid. One thing to mention about this buoyancy aid is the reduced bulk design that gives lots of mobility to the user.

It’s perfect for sports such as paddleboarding, wakeboarding or water-skiing and obviously kayaking. With quick release buckles you get a locked in feel throughout your torso.  The lightweight polyethylene foam provides a high level of comfort as it moves around easily and is fairly soft and  flexible. It has a durable polyester shell so you can be confident that it is not going to rip easily. A perfect buoyancy to suit lots of different sports.

Tribord Buoyancy Aid

best flexible buoyancy aid

Decathlon state that this buoyancy aid was designed for students and instructors training for multiple water sport activities – and it’s clear why, as this compact little vest allows the user so much freedom of movement when worn.

It is 50N buoyancy compliant and has a durable outer nylon to increase it’s durability. It has a short cut design so you don’t feel like you’re wearing a cumbersome piece of kit. This is ideal for water sports enthusiasts as you can wear this on a windsurf board just as easily as you can a stand up paddle board. With that in mind – this vest is compatible with trapeze belts and wind surfing harnesses. It features a large front pocket with rip tab closure for safety of your valuables.

Gul Gamma Buoyancy Aid

best buoyancy aid

The Gul Gamma Buoyancy Aid comes in a red and grey colour scheme that goes well with a black wetsuit design. It has a very soft, lightweight PVC foam at the front to provide the wearer with additional comfort. Due to the outer nylon material it gives the vest a durable feel that suggests this vest will last more than a few seasons.

The design is simple and the front buckle closure makes putting the vest on a simple task. The elasticated snug fit and front zip give a locked in feeling without any restriction – so you don’t feel like you’re about to suffocate. I always like an additional pocket for storage and this buoyancy aid has that to help store phones or keys.

Itiwit Buoyancy Vest

best paddleboarding buoyancy aid

This vest has all the tools needed for a solid day out on the water. We like this vest a lot because of some of the features you won’t find on other buoyancy vests. Let’s start with some of the details – this was designed by paddle boarders, for paddleboarders and it shows. The front of the vest comes with handy front pockets to keep all your essentials locked away securely.

It has adjustable straps so that you get a snug fit that suits your own body shape. The straps and wearing of the vest couldn’t be easier so it’s very user friendly. I like the fact that it gives the 50N of buoyancy without being as big or cumbersome as some other vests on the market. 

It has a tear resistant fabric that will stand up to a lot of rough and tough play…but my favourite feature is the 2L water bladder that comes included. On a hot day there is nothing worse than getting a dry mouth and having to stop to keep topping yourself up with water. This buoyancy vest takes away all of those problems as it has a built-in tube loop so that you can sip and paddle at the same time. If you’re looking for a high quality, high performance life jacket then this is a very strong contender to consider.

Jobe Universal Life Vest

best budget buoyancy aid

This is a great affordable life vest that ticks a lot of boxes. Firstly, the strong nylon material gives good durability to the vest, so you can feel confident that it can stand up to travel and the inevitable scraps along the way.

It has an EPE-Foam blend that meets the 50N buoyancy standard. As you can see from the picture, the three easy clip buckles give a secure feel across the chest and torso, whilst also being adjustable to suit different body sizes. There is a safety D-Ring attachment so that you can fit your own emergency cord. Overall this will do the job nicely – perfect for anyone starting out their SUP or Kayaking journey.

What makes a good Paddle Board Life Jacket?

The first thing is obviously that it floats. That might sound stupid but things such as weight will play a factor. If you buy something that is not the right fit for the individual then you could come into some trouble. Some of you looking for a buoyancy aid may want something very thin and lightweight because you are a good swimmer and in theory that thought process is sound. However, I would always urge you to think about the fact that you may use this flotation device when injured, therefore it needs to be suitable to take all of your weight. One you have got the right vest to keep you afloat there are some other factors that you should consider.

Personal Storage

A good buoyancy aid will allow you to carry some personal effects so choose one with pockets for storage. Many flotation aids include pockets which I personally like. For example, on calm water I have no intention of getting into the water so I carry my wallet and phone around with me. It means I can have my music and other essentials on hand when I need them.

Comfort

A good buoyancy aid needs to be comfortable as you will be wearing this bit of kit everytime you hit the water. I was always told to spend good money on shoes as you’ll be in them all the time. With that in mind, make sure your vest is comfortable if you plan on wearing it alot. There will be nothing worse than your life jacket ruining a good day out on the water.

In terms of fit you should aim for the vest to have a snug fit against your skin without restricting your breathing. If you get one that is too loose you run the risk of it falling off – something to avoid for obvious reasons. You need to take your height, chest size, and weight into account. It needs to fit properly, and it needs to be buoyant enough to keep you afloat.

Style

As mentioned as a child and put TN in a life jacket that felt like a cardboard box and looked equally  as a cardboard box.  in today’s market there are so many different options to choose from that you’ll be able to find and a buoyancy aid and that fits the person you wish to be while out on the water.  I will put an asterisk next to the style statement however,  do not choose fashion over function and please make sure that you’re flotation device I will keep you safe.

Visibility

I am a big night time runner, so I need to be seen in the dark to avoid being run over by a car or hit by a cyclist. Now the chances of being hit by a car on the open water is very unlikely.  However, there is the risk of motor boats who might not be able to see you. Choosing a life jacket that is reflective or brightly coloured will help you to stand out so that you are visible and not at risk. Hopefully it never happens, but a reflection may also be what you need if people were looking for you in the dark.. 

What vest is better: a foam vest or an inflatable vest?

My first passion is surfing and we surf in the UK  all year round which means we also have to face the cold water temperatures. Given these two things I automatically know that I’m going to have to wear a wetsuit, gloves, boots and a hood which at times can be a pain getting in and out of.  however I understand that in order to enjoy my time in the water I must be suitably prepared.

You may be wondering why I have gone on a surfing ramble. Well the point I’m trying to make is that I understand that in order to enjoy my time I must wear the right clothing and I feel the same can be said for a buoyancy aid. The advantages of an inflatable life vest are that they are thinner and less bulky when worn. However, if I’m going stand up paddleboarding I know that I need something to keep me safe in the event of an emergency, therefore I shouldn’t see any problem in wearing a buoyancy aid that is inflated at all times and by this I mean a foam buoyancy aid. A foam buoyancy aid will keep you safe in the event of unconsciousness whereas an inflatable jacket that requires a pull cord adds a potential risk that I feel isn’t necessary.  The foam market life jackets on the market are so well designed these days but I personally don’t feel like this is even a question to answer. Foam is best.