Five of the Best Life Jackets for Personal Watercraft

Find the right PFD for you

If you ride a personal watercraft, you need to wear a PFD. To help you find the right one, we’ve put together a list of five of the best life jackets for PWC riders.

The most important thing you can put on before taking the personal watercraft out for a spin is a life jacket. Not only is it something that can save your life, but also it is usually required by law depending on where you ride. There are many styles available at a wide range of price points, so expense should never be an excuse not to wear one. To make our list, a life jacket has to meet certain criteria. It has to be lightweight and comfortable. No one wants to wear a heavy, bulky life jacket. The jacket also has to not restrict movement, yet must be effective. Lastly, it’s got to be stylish. Yes, looking good is less important than working and fitting good, but people would be more apt to wear one if they liked the way it looks, too. Here are our picks for five of the best life jackets for personal watercraft riding.

O’Brien Traditional Neoprene Life Vest

O'Brien Traditional: Best Life Jackets

O’Brien has been in the game for decades and makes some solid-fitting Jet Ski lifejackets for all water sports, not just PWC. The O’Brien Traditional Neoprene jacket is a fully Coast Guard-approved, type III vest made of, you guessed it, primarily neoprene, which is a light, buoyant material that sheds water and can help retain body heat. The Traditional has a zippered closure and two belted buckle straps to help keep you snug and secure in the vest. This is a simple vest with decent-sized arm holes for ease of movement. It comes in five colors and in sizes small through 3XL.

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O’Neill Reactor

O'Neill Reactor

The O’Neill Reactor is another neoprene vest with a zippered front and two nylon straps with buckle closures. The straps are concealed within the jacket for style. What makes the Reactor a one of the best life jackets is the segmented foam core, which adds comfortable movement when you’re wearing one. It has expansion panels built in to tailor the fit and all of the seams are dual-stitched for durability. The Reactor is available in blue, black and a gray/red combo color and comes in sizes small through 3XL.

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Stearns V2 Series

Stearns V2: Best Life Jackets

Stearns is another company that has been making PFDs for decades, so it knows a thing or two about making one that functions as well as it fits. The Stearns V2 is designed for all watersports and is among the best Jet Ski lifejackets anywhere. It has a neoprene and Glideskin shell that makes it extremely comfortable. It has a sculpted V-Flex back with adjustment tabs for added mobility and better fit. One neat feature to this fully USCG-approved vest is that the zipper and buckle closures are to the side. This aides in comfort and mobility, making the front flex more than standard vests. The V2 comes in sizes small through 2XL.

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Liquid Force Watson CGA

Liquid Force

The Liquid Force Watson CGA is an impressive personal floatation device. The outer shell is made from Power-Flex Neo and Speed Skin Neo that combine for fast drying and a supportive fit. It has a V-Flex shoulder design for unheard of flexibility and freedom of movement. Flexibility is a key element to the Watson’s design. It has a full 17-panel construction that allows you to move around without feeling the vest bunch and pinch. There is a zippered front with two buckle-strap closures and a slight taper to the waist and wide shoulders. It comes in small through XL sizes and is one of the best life jackets you can get for PWC riding.

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Jet Pilot Apex

Jet Pilot Apex

The Jet Pilot brand came out of the imaginations of four buddies that enjoyed riding PWC and wanted the kind of gear that functioned and fit perfectly. They’ve been at it for over 30 years now and continue to make some of the coolest designs going. The Jet Pilot Apex is just one of Jet Pilot’s vests that is designed for high-speed PWC use. It is a side-entry vest with a three-buckle closure. It is made from 100mph-rated polyester nylon and it has full PVC floatation materials. It comes in six color combinations and in two sizes – small/medium and large/XL. We’ve recently seen some incredible deals on this PWC life jacket – as much as 50% off MSRP – so now is a great time to buy.

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What features should I look for in PWC life jackets?

While those bulky orange life vests can technically work for PWC riding, the best life jackets for PWC have features those traditional PFDs lack. For us the top feature has to be comfort. Life jackets that are segmented give you a lot more flexibility to move around, which you need to do on a PWC. A more comfortable life jackets is one you will be a lot more likely to wear…and wearing a PFD could very well save your life.

Quality PWC life jackets also fit more snugly than other types of PFDs, which further helps with freedom of movement as the vest won’t ride up as you move around.

Modern Jet Ski lifejackets are also a lot more durable than old school PFD designs. Everything from robust zippers and buckles will last a lot longer and the neoprene and nylon construction is more resistant to abrasions than ever before.

Neoprene vs. Nylon

Pretty much any high quality PFD will feature either neoprene or nylon exterior construction. While both can get the job done, we tend to prefer neoprene. That’s the same material as wetsuits are made of and it’s a lot more comfortable against your skin than nylon. Both neoprene and nylon jackets will certainly get the job done, but the comfort of neoprene makes it a winner in our mind.

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