How to Choose a Kayak Fishing Life Vest

When you leave for kayak fishing, you expect to go back to your family after the trip. And while it is not exactly a dangerous activity, you never know what awaits. So you should always prioritize your safety. One way to do that is by wearing your PFD.

Other than keeping you from drowning, kayak fishing life vests come with some exciting features, like extra storage. What angler wouldn’t like that?

So, how do you choose a PFD that is perfect for you? Here are five important factors to consider.

1. Approval

Not every life vest you see is good for you. As mentioned, this is a device that could save your life.

The last thing you want is an unreliable PFD in an emergency. If the worst comes to the worst, you should be able to count on the life jacket to keep you alive.

There are different standards used to approve life vests. They include:

  • ISO (international standards)
  • USCG (United States)
  • CE (Europe)

In the U.S, PFD laws vary by state. But Federal Law requires every child under the age of 13 to wear a USCG-approved life jacket. 

For everyone else, there should be a USCG-approved PFD somewhere on board. But know that a life vest is only useful if you wear it. 

2. Buoyancy

The buoyancy of a PFD is the force needed to keep your head above the water. It is given in pounds.

You’ll see some with a rating of 11 pounds, others 15.5 pounds, etc.

Generally, a buoyancy of 12 pounds would be enough for most people.

But the buoyancy you need depends on the water condition, your weight, size of your lungs, among other things.

There are five types of PFDs and each one of them has a required minimum buoyancy.

They are suitable for different situations.

Check them out.

a. Type I PFDs

They have a minimum buoyancy of 22 pounds and offer outstanding flotation. These life jackets are intended for use in remote areas, especially when you are alone. They work well in rough conditions and are recommended if help is expected to take long.  

The PFDs will turn your face up if you are unconscious.

Type I PFDs are bulky and wearing them can be quite uncomfortable.

b. Type II PFDs

Type II life vests have a minimum buoyancy of 15.5 pounds. They are designed for calm situations where help isn’t expected to delay. They can turn your face up.

c. Type III PFDs

This is the category for kayak anglers. The life jackets have a minimum buoyancy of 15.5 pounds. They are comfortable and are available in many different designs.

These life vests are more suited for calm water and you have to be conscious to turn your face up.

d. Type IV PFDs

These are not wearable personal floatation devices. They are buoys or cushions thrown to someone in the water. The minimum buoyancy is 16.5 pounds.

e. Type V PFDs

This last type is for special-use life jackets. The minimum buoyancy is from 15.5 pounds to 22 pounds.

For canoe or kayak fishing, you should get Type III or Type V. (If you opt for Type V make sure it is designed specifically for kayak angling). The two types are comfortable.

Speaking of comfortable…

3. Comfort (Size and Fit)

Kayak fishing is not a five-minute affair. It can take hours and you are supposed to be wearing your life vest the entire time.

If you buy an uncomfortable PFD, you will either have to take it off or finish your trip early. The former is dangerous and the latter is disappointing.

A good kayak fishing life jacket should be snug—not too big, not too tight. And it should also allow you to move freely while paddling and fishing. 

For children, the PFD size is determined by their weight. For adults, it’s the chest size.

When choosing a size, remember to account for the clothes you will be wearing.

But most life jackets are adjustable. So that makes things better.

Note: female anglers may want to look into PFDs made specifically for women. They are designed for the female body and will be more comfortable.

4. Storage

Although fishing kayaks come with many storage options for anglers, sometimes it’s just not enough. Besides, you want all the essentials to be within reach at all times.

Since you have to wear your kayak fishing PFD anyway, why not use it for storage too?

Look for features like accessory loops and zippered pockets. They are useful for carrying stuff like your knife, whistle, pliers, etc. 

5. Standard Vs Inflatable PFDs

PFDs can be standard, inflatable, or even hybrid.

a. Standard PFDs

This is the most common PFD type. 

All you have to do is wear it properly.

When you fall into the water, the foam will provide buoyancy.

Standard life jackets are reliable because they automatically offer flotation.

They also give you storage options and are, thus, better suited for anglers.

The other benefit of standard PFDs is that they require very little maintenance.

However, they can be bulky.

b. Inflatable PFDs

These kayak life vests only provide buoyancy when inflated. And that can happen either manually or automatically.

With a manually inflatable life jacket, you have to activate it by pulling a cord. The other type will inflate automatically once you hit the water.

Inflatable PFDs are less bulky and far more comfortable. They are great for hot weather.

Their main downside is that they require more care. The CO2 cartridge has to be replaced after every use (if you inflate the PFD).

Another thing, an inflatable PFD is less reliable, especially a manual one. What happens if you are unconscious?

Finally, they are not recommended for people who are not good swimmers and children.

c. What Is a Hybrid PFD?

It is a combination of the two types above. A hybrid PFD will offer a degree of flotation before you activate the inflation system.

For kayak anglers, a standard PFD is recommended. It has pockets and attachment loops. It is also low maintenance.

Kayak Fishing Life Vest Q&A

Q: Can You Drown with a Life Jacket?

A: It is very rare to drown while wearing a life vest. It keeps you afloat and alive by keeping your face out of the water.

So, you should wear your PFD. It greatly increases your chances of staying alive.

Q: What Are the Best Types of PFD for Kayak Fishing?

A: You have seen above that there are five types of PFDs. But the best types for kayak fishing are Type III and Type V. They are less bulky and allow free movement.

Q: Why Do You Need a Kayak Fishing Vest?

A: You need it for your safety. It will keep you afloat as you swim to shore or wait for help. Not to mention all the useful pockets and accessory attachments you will get.

Q: How Do You Care for and Clean Your PFD?

A: Cleaning a kayak life vest is quite simple.

First, rinse with clean, fresh water then wash with a detergent. Don’t use any harsh chemicals lest you damage the material.

You can use a soft brush or sponge if there are stubborn stains. Rinse and air dry.

If it is inflatable, don’t submerge it while washing.

Q: Are Life Jackets and Vests Comfortable When Fishing?

A: It depends on the model you choose. Make sure it fits well. The cuts around your arms should be wide, allowing you to cast and paddle comfortably. Lastly, don’t forget to look for features that prevent the PFD from riding up.

The Stohlquist Fisherman, for instance, has a cross-chest cinch harness for that. 

Q: What Exactly Is a Coast Guard-Approved PFD?

A: It is a PFD that meets the United States Coast Guard standards and qualifies as a reliable flotation device. A life jacket that is approved will have a Coast Guard-approved tag. 


Every angler needs a kayak fishing life vest. You never know what will happen so it is wise to be prepared. Additionally, you will appreciate the storage options that these fishing PFDs offer. 

Ensure that you choose a fishing life jacket that is suitable for you. It should fit properly and you have to be comfortable in it. 

Lastly, buy an approved PFD for your own peace of mind. 

Do you have any questions about kayak fishing life vests? Feel free to ask us below. Happy kayaking!

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