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How to Choose a stand up paddle board life jacket

Life Jackets For Paddle Boarding – Everything You Need To Know

Are you looking forward to paddle boarding but are unsure of its safety requirements? Riding a paddle board is a fun and relaxing activity. However, keeping with safety measures and state regulations can be a little trickier if you are a beginner.
This article will cover everything about life jackets—their types, portability, safety and comfort, and state regulations. So, next time you head out for a paddle, all you’ll have to do is have fun.

Table of Contents

Life Jacket Legal Requirements 

Different countries and jurisdictions have legislation on whether life jackets are compulsory for paddlers. We have included a few here, but it’s always best to check the official government websites as information and regulations change from time to time.

lifejacket rules and regulations sign

USA Life Jacket Requirements

If you are paddling outside swimming, bathing or surfing areas, you need to comply with United States Coast Guards (USCG) guidelines

In those cases, it’s necessary to wear USCG approved life jackets (type 1, 2, 3) or a regular type 5 life jacket. Also, it’s mandatory to wear your life jacket all the time while riding your paddleboard.

The conditions of your life jacket shouldn’t be deteriorated, ripped or torn; otherwise, it would be declared unusable.  

Canadian Life Jacket Requirements

In Canada, it’s necessary to equip yourself with a PFD (Personal Floating Device) along with a whistle. If you aren’t wearing a Life Jacket, you must carry a PFD, whistle and a 15-meter floating rope.

Moreover, you must also carry a flashlight if you are peddling after sunset.

UK Life Jacket Requirements

According to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, it’s not a requirement for leisure boaters to wear a life jacket. However, they highly recommend that you wear one in any situation where you are likely to need its assistance. 

Australian Life Jacket Requirements 

While Paddleboards aren’t considered a vessel in Australia and will generally not require a life jacket when in private use, it’s worth noting that some states in Australia define a vessel as one with propulsion. 

motorized paddleboard may fall under that category and, as such, may legally require the presence of a life jacket. Frankly, as there are so many rules in Australia, and they vary from state to state, it’s best to check your local maritime instructions before riding out.

Types Of Life Jackets Used For Paddle Boarding 

There are two main types of life jackets for paddleboarding, including:  

1. Inflatable Life Jackets 

Inflatable life jackets have two variants. 

  • Belt Pack Inflatable Life Jacket 

This belt pack life jacket comes in a compact size wrapped around the waist. They are minimal, slim, and are very comfortable to wear. It requires a carbon dioxide cylinder for its inflations. 


Once inflated, these jackets also allow controlling air pressure with an oral pipe. Using this same oral pipe, the PFD is deflated and repacked. It comes in both styles—manual and automatic. 

  • Suspender or Stole Style Inflatable Jacket

A suspender or stole style inflatable jacket is wrapped around shoulders, relying on carbon dioxide for its inflation. 

CrewSaver inflatable life Jacket in the prior to inflation

It comes in both designs—manual and automatic. Suppose you are knocked out in the water; the automatic PFD inflates instantly once immersed in the water compared to the manual, where you would have to pull a trigger to activate. 

CrewSaver inflatable vest once inflated

There are obvious pros and cons to that. On a paddleboard, you are likely to contact the water often, compared to a boat.

Hot Tip: As a beginner falling off is something that happens often. A life jacket with automatic inflation will start getting expensive if you have to replace the cylinder every time you go out. Read below for a better alternative when you are starting out! 

2. Rigid Life Jacket

Rigid life jackets are inherently buoyant. They come in big, hefty sizes and are worn around the shoulders.

A man wearing a rigid paddle board pfd

They rely on foam and other floating materials to create buoyancy. Also, they are versatile and can be used for various sports like kayaking, canoeing, fishing, rafting, and obviously paddleboarding.

Pros and Cons of Inflatable Life Jacket


  • Inflatable life jackets are comfortable and less intrusive for paddleboarding.
  • They stay cooler even on a hot summer day due to their compact size.


  • They require regular maintenance, and you would have to replace the carbon dioxide cartridge after every inflation.
  • The inflatable personal floating device requires manual activation, as they aren’t inherently buoyant. If you get unconscious wearing a manual inflation PFD, it could pose a huge problem.
  • The inflatable life jackets aren’t suitable for high-impact sports like river rafting, white-water canoeing, and white-water kayaking. 

Pros and Cons Rigid Life Jackets 


  • A rigid life jacket requires little maintenance other than keeping it dry and clean.
  • It comes with pockets that can be stuffed with emergency tools, snacks, or other essential gear. 
  • It requires no manual activation and works even if the person is knocked out, as it is inherently buoyant. 


  • The size of a rigid or conventional life jacket can be a little troublesome, especially when riding a paddleboard.
  • A rigid PFD gets warmer and uncomfortable on a hot summer day if worn for a more extended period.

Inflatable life Jackets vs. Rigid life Jackets

Comfort v/s Safety

While inflatable life jackets are more comfortable and compact, the traditional or rigid personal floating devices are safer as they are inherently buoyant.

Suppose you are knocked out in the water; a traditional life jacket will keep you afloat without you doing anything. 

On the other hand, inflatable jackets require a manual pull to inflate. Remember that automatic inflatable jackets also come in the market that instantly inflates upon immersing in the water. 


A conventional life jacket is hard to carry around everywhere. While inflatable life jackets are slim and compact and smaller in size. Hence, they are more portable than conventional life Jackets. 

Required Life Jacket Size For Body Weight 

Children life jackets are categorized in infant, child, or youth size according to their weight. 

  • Infant life jacket: 8-30 pounds (approx 3.5-13.5Kg)
  • Child life jacket: 30-50 pounds (approx 13.5-22.5 kg)
  • Youth life jacket: 50-90 pounds (approx 22.5-40 kg)

It’s highly recommended that when you buy a child paddleboard you also purchase a child life jacket at the same time.

For adults, the size of PFD is measured by their chest and not by weight. It comes with straps and zips to adjust according to your needs. A proper life jacket fits perfectly, allowing free movement and comfortable positioning.

man and women's life jacket for paddle boarding come in diffrent sizes

A Few Tips on How to Take Care of Your Life Jackets

Here are some important tips to protect your Personal Floating Devices: 

  • If used in saltwater, rinse it in normal water and dry it out. Try drying it without direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will deteriorate its materials and therefore reduce its buoyancy.
  • Store your life jacket in a dry, cool place away from sunlight with good ventilation. 
  • Don’t keep any heavy objects directly on your life jackets.
  • Check for rips, tears, and hardware functionality before and after use.
  • Avoid cleaning your life jackets with hard detergents.


We hope we have provided you with helpful advice and given you some relevant insights on the different types of life jackets available on the market.

If you’re still confused or unsure which type to go with.

Our basic advice is the rigid life jacket. It’s likely to be cheaper and will be adequate for nearly all paddleboarding occasions.

Regardless of your choice, remember life jackets do actually save lives.

Picture of Steve Frankland

Steve Frankland

Steve Frankland loves the outdoor life and getting out in nature. He loves writing and sharing knowledge. He's part of the team at
He’ll find any excuse he can to get out on the water and can often be seen on a SUP with his kids and dogs.