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August 07, 2021 14 min read

Best PFDs for Wakeboarding

Man wakeboarding using a gray life jacket

 If you’re into wakeboarding you’ll probably want to consider a PFD suited for this activity. We’re taking a look at the best life jackets for wakeboarding, and reviewing what makes them great options to consider the next time you hit the water.

A life jacket is a vital accessory for water safety that will keep you afloat when you’re unable to swim. Wakeboarding involves another level of water risk because it involves high speeds and the potential for a forceful impact on the water. 

The best wakeboard life jacket should be padded enough to withstand heavy impacts, comfortable enough to wear for a long day of wakeboarding, and provide reassurance that it will keep you afloat.

Best Wakeboard Life Jackets Reviewed

Finding the perfect life jacket might depend on the price and the color, or maybe all you care about is comfort. Now that you know what specifics to look for in a life jacket, let’s review our top twelve picks.

1. O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG

The O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG Wakeboard Vest is a certified Type III PFD made of polyester with a PE (polyethylene) foam core. It is lightweight with large armholes to provide freedom of movement. 

The quick-drying vest is comfortable and comes in highly visible color combinations. It works well for wakeboarding, swimming, waterskiing, and tubing.

Blue O'neill mens superlite USCG wakeboard vest

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Wide, easy to release buckles
  • Snug fit
  • Lightweight polyethylene foam interior
  • Polyester shell
  • Large armholes for better mobility
  • Many colors and size options
  • Zipper closure
  • Overlocked stitched seams

What we love:

  • Comfortable design
  • Good freedom of arm movement
  • Quick drying materials
  • Highly visible in the water
  • Inexpensive
  • Durable and lightweight
  • USCG approved

What we don't love:

  • Reports that it fits small - refer to size charts and size up if needed.

2. Stearns Adult Watersport Classic

The Stearns Adult Watersport Classic has a nylon shell with a PE foam center to make it lightweight and less expensive. It is USCG approved, has large open armholes for better mobility, and has four adjustable straps across the chest. 

It is a great all around life vest for multiple water sports such as skiing, wakeboarding, or swimming. It comes in bright visible colors.

Stearns adult watersport classic lightweight wakeboarding vest

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Nylon 200D shell that is durable
  • Polyethylene foam for comfort
  • Four adjustable straps with buckles
  • Many visible color options
  • Reflective thread stitching for visibility in low light
  • Universal size option: 30-50 inch chest and weigh at least 90 pounds

What we love:

  • Large armholes for mobility
  • Four adjustable straps with quick release buckles
  • Vibrant color options
  • USCG approved
  • Inexpensive

What we don't love:

  • No zipper
  • Universal fit does not fit everyone

3. O’Neill Men’s Assault USCG

The O’Neill Men’s Assault USCG Life Vest is made of Nytrolite foam, which is lighter and absorbs less water than PVC foam. It is a performance vest with snug comfort to flex with your body and extra lumbar support for your core.

The Assault is USCG approved and perfect for wakeboarding, waterskiing, tubing, and any water sport. With its zipper closure and quick release buckles to secure the vest, the life jacket hugs your body for a soft and comfortable fit that will also keep you warm. 

O'neill men assault USCG life vest

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Lightweight neoprene shell
  • NytroLite foam is 3x lighter and 10% more buoyant 
  • Absorbs 15-20% less water than PVC foam
  • Low back lumbar support
  • Snug fit with minimal bulk
  • Full zip up front closure with two belt clips
  • Available in multiple sizes and colors
  • USCG approved Type III PFD

What we love:

  • Comfortable and snug fit
  • Lumbar and core support
  • Large armholes and designed for performance
  • Keeps warm
  • Dries quickly
  • High quality

What we don't love:

  • More expensive

4. Hyperlite Indy CGA

The wakeboard enthusiast will love the Hyperlite Indy CGA Wakeboard Vest. It is comfortable neoprene that fits snugly when dry and expands for soft comfort when wet. Segmented foam panels help the vest to move with you, and large armholes ensure great mobility.

The Hyperlite Indy CGA is available in many sizes and colors. It has a front zip closure and two buckles that clip easily in the front with concealed straps in the back of the vest to prevent tangling.

Hyperlite indy cga wakeboard vest

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Neoprene for a comfortable fit
  • USCG approved
  • Squeeze style side-release buckles with concealed strap in the rear
  • Full front zipper closure
  • Segmented foam panels for better fit and mobility
  • Large arm holes for better mobility

What we love:

  • Quality Neoprene life jacket
  • Flexible fit that moves with wakeboard jumps and surf
  • Comfortable fit
  • Decent price for neoprene quality
  • USCG approved

What we don't love:

  • Dark colors not as visible

5. O’Brien Men's Traditional Neoprene Life Jacket

The O’Brien Men’s Traditional Neoprene Life Jacket is durable and soft for all day wakeboarding. The front zip closure is reinforced with two safety buckles. The segmented foam helps the life jacket to move with your body’s twists and turns. 

It is USCG approved for your safety and has large armholes for improved mobility as you jump the waves.

O’Brien Men’s Traditional Neoprene Life Jacket

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Neoprene shell with a snug fit
  • When wet it forms to your body
  • Large armholes for mobility
  • Full front zip closure
  • Two quick release buckles
  • USCG Type III approved
  • Attached lanyard ring for PWC
  • Multiple visible color options

What we love:

  • Lightweight construction
  • Comfortable and durable neoprene
  • Large armholes for mobility
  • USCG approved
  • Zipper with two safety belts

What we don't love:

  • Some reports that the padding gets bunched up over time
  • Fits snug - use sizing charts and size up if between

6. O’Brien Women’s Impulse Neo

The O’Brien Women’s Impulse Neo Wakeboard Vest is USCG approved for safety and designed specifically to fit women. The neoprene vest forms to fit your curves, and the full zipper closure with two safety belts ensures a snug fit.

Wide open armholes and segmented panels allow the life jacket to move with your body as you flex and bend. Bright colors are easily visible in the water for your safety.

O’Brien Women’s Impulse Neo Wakeboard Vest USCG

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Comfortable fit for active sports like wakeboarding
  • Spacious armholes for better mobility
  • Full zipper closure
  • Two safety buckles
  • D-ring lanyard attachment for PWC
  • Quick drying and breathable
  • USCG approved
  • Snug fit perfect for wakeboarding and active watersports

What we love:

  • Quality neoprene for lightweight durability
  • Full zipper and two safety belts
  • Lanyard attachment
  • USCG approved
  • Designed to fit women’s shape and curves
  • Vibrant color options for good visibility in the water

What we don't love:

  • More expensive than alternatives
  • Less comfortable for sit down paddling such as kayaking

7. O’Neill Youth Reactor

The O’Neill Youth Reactor Life Vest is USCG approved for children weighing 50-90 pounds. It is made of a polyester and nylon shell with PVC foam at its core. Flex points and large armholes allow your child to flex and move easily.

A heavy-duty zipper and quick release buckles secure your child, so they won’t slide out. Make sure to check size charts because a snug fit is important for adequate flotation. 

O’Neill Youth Reactor Life Vest for children

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Nylon and polyester shell for durability
  • PVC foam core
  • USCG Type III PFD
  • Segmented design to flex with movements
  • Full front zipper closure
  • Two safety belts with quick release buckles
  • Multiple color options that are easily visible

What we love:

  • Comfortable fit
  • Flexible sections for better mobility
  • USCG approved for safety
  • Full front zipper closure

What we don't love:

  • PVC foam can be bulky when wet
  • Can run small - so ensure proper fit

8. Full Throttle Women’s Hinged

The Full Throttle Women’s Hinged Life Vest is designed to fit a woman’s curves and comes in bright colors. It is made of lightweight, rapid drying materials, and seven segmented hinge points allow for excellent maneuverability. 

The neoprene life jacket fits snug when dry and then expands for a comfortable form fit when wet. The life jacket is USCG approved for safety and comes in multiple color and size options.

Full Throttle Women’s Hinged Life Vest

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Segmented for increased mobility
  • Designed to fit a woman’s curves
  • Full zipper
  • Two bands with quick release clips
  • Stretchable flex back for better mobility
  • USCG approved
  • Quick drying material
  • Multiple visible colors

What we love:

  • Lightweight comfortable fit
  • USCG approved
  • Flexible back for better mobility
  • Segmented sections improve movement
  • Quick drying material
  • Shorter waist design

What we don't love:

  • Fits tight - size up

9. Body Glove Men's Phantom

The Body Glove Men’s Phantom life vest is perfect for active water sports like wakeboarding, jet skiing, water skiing, or general swimming. It has a comfortable neoprene shell for a soft and comfortable fit.

The Phantom has multiple jointed segments and large armholes for improved mobility. Full zip front closure and two safety buckles ensure a snug fit, and the hidden drainage holes prevent the foam center from getting too bulky.

Body Glove Men’s Phantom life vest for water sports

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Neoprene with durable out shell
  • Ultra-lightweight interior lining
  • Lumbar protection pad
  • Segmented pads for improved mobility
  • Concealed back straps
  • Strategically placed drain holes to shed water
  • Soft PVC foam core
  • Multiple color options
  • Full zipper and two safety buckles

What we love:

  • Oversized armholes for ease of movement
  • Drain holes to get rid of extra water
  • Lumbar pad for comfort
  • Increased mobility with large arm holes and flexible segments
  • Bright visible colors

What we don't love:

  • We couldn’t find a size chart for the jacket online - but S, M, L available

10. O’Neill Women’s Reactor

The O’Neill Women’s Reactor life jacket is not just for women and is considered a unisex life vest. It has extra padding in the chest for increased comfort and protection. It comes in vibrant colors that are easily visible in the water for improved safety and a stylish appearance.

O’Neill Women’s Reactor life jacket unisex life vest

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Designed for women (but fits men too)
  • Nylon and polyester exterior
  • Extra padding on the chest
  • PVC marine foam interior
  • Segmented foam flex points
  • Expansion points for a better fit
  • USCG approved
  • Full front zipper
  • Two safety belts with quick release clips concealed in the rear
  • Zipper pull concealed with velcro tabs

What we love:

  • Segmented design for better flexibility
  • Extra padding in the chest for comfort
  • Full zipper with velcro cover at the top
  • USCG approved
  • Durable and comfortable

What we don't love:

  • Sizes listed in numbers (4,6,8,12) instead of S,M,L
  • Bulky design

11. Ronix RXT Capella

The Ronix RXT Capella life vest is USCG approved and a lightweight option for wakeboarding and other action sports such as water skiing or jet skiing. It has a full front zipper closure and two safety buckles for extra security.

The segmented foam allows for increased flexibility, and large armholes give you freedom of movement as you jump waves and perform tricks.

Ronix RXT Capella life vest

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Long torso design
  • Oversized armholes
  • Air foam core
  • Full zipper closure
  • Two safety straps with quick clip buckles
  • USCG approved Type III PFD
  • Very lightweight
  • Two way stretch material for a snug fit

What we love:

  • Durable design
  • Built to contour your body
  • Segmented foam for a flexible fit
  • USCG approved
  • Long torso style
  • Lightweight for improved comfort

What we don't love:

  • Long torso might not be as comfortable when sitting

12. O’Neill Men’s Reactor

The O’Neill Men’s Reactor Life Vest is a USCG approved life jacket made from lightweight neoprene. It is perfect for active water sports and has segmented sections to flex with your movement.

The center core is PVC foam for comfort when wet but can make it heavier at times. It has a full front zip closure and two safety buckles. The Reactor is a great all around wakeboarding life jacket.

O’Neill Men’s Reactor Life Vest USCG lightweight neoprene

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Neoprene exterior 
  • Minimal bulk
  • PVC marine foam for padding
  • Segmented design with flex points to move easily
  • Full zipper
  • Two safety buckles
  • Snug fit when dry expands for soft comfort in the water
  • USCG approved
  • Large armholes

What we love:

  • Flex points and large armholes for good mobility
  • Neoprene shell - durable and lightweight
  • USCG approved
  • Soft and comfortable bit
  • Full zip closure
  • Safety straps are hidden in the back which prevent tangles

What we don't love:

  • PVC absorbs more water and can be bulky when wet
  • Need to wash occasionally or the foam will smell
  • Dark colors are not highly visible - but many color options

Everything You Need to Know About Wakeboard Life Jackets: A Buyer’s Guide

A wakeboard life jacket is designed specifically to keep you afloat in the water with added features that make it easier to hold a ski rope or to jump the waves. A good wakeboard life jacket should be comfortable and allow you to move without hindrance, and have large arm holes so you have freedom to move.

Man wakeboarding using a red life jacket

Coast Guard Approved (CGA) vs. Competition (Comp) Style

As you browse the market for a wakeboard life jacket, you’ll come across two different kinds - Coast Guard Approved or Competition Style. It’s important to understand the difference before purchasing.

Coast Guard Approved

As the name implies, a Coast Guard approved life vest comes with the approval of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) to ensure it will keep you afloat in the water. 

A Coast Guard approved life jacket will typically have more buckles and straps to ensure a good fit for better buoyancy in deep water. With its focus on safety instead of comfort, this type of life jacket tends to be stiffer, with less flexibility when it comes to performance. 

Competition 

Competition life jackets do not come with any regulation or certification for safety. They don’t guarantee excellent flotation, but they tend to be more comfortable and lightweight and are preferred by exhibitionists. If you know how to swim well, you might prefer this type of life jacket.

How to Choose a Wakeboard Life Jacket

We’ve introduced you to our favorites, but how do you choose? There are important considerations when selecting the best wakeboard life jacket. Is it flexible enough for tricks, will you stay afloat if you crash, or is it comfortable enough to wear all day?

These questions and more should factor into your decision when buying a life jacket.

Man in Blue Shirt and Black life jacket on white Surfboard

 

Size

Wakeboard life jackets are form-fitting and come with different sizing depending on the brand. When purchasing a life jacket, first check if it is tailored to men, women, or children and always refer to the manufacturer's sizing chart as a guide. If you are between the listed sizes, it’s best to size up instead of down.

The appropriately sized life jacket is vital to your safety. If it is too big, you could risk slipping out of it during an impact. If it is too small, you’ll be uncomfortable and might not have adequate flotation or risk broken buckles and zippers. 

Style

Your goal is safety, adequate flotation, and comfort when choosing a life jacket. Decide if you prefer buckles or zippers. There’s no difference in performance between the two, but it’s more of a personal preference.

Consider the size of the armholes to ensure you can move your arms freely as you hold the rope and jump the wake. Open sided wakeboard vests provide the most arm room but tend to be less supportive. 

Material

The material from which a life jacket is constructed determines its quality. The materials need to endure hours in the water and potential shearing forces from wipeouts. Most vests are made using nylon or neoprene.

Neoprene is typically the best life jacket material because it provides a snug fit when dry and expands for a comfortable fit when wet. Neoprene is warmer and softer than the alternatives but has a higher price tag.

Nylon is a less expensive option, perfect for entry-level wakeboarders. It will be heavier when wet making it less flexible and reducing your mobility, but it is durable and can take a beating. 

Comfort

Man in Black life jacket and Red Shorts Wakeboarding

The more comfortable your life jacket, the longer you’ll want to play on the water. Finding the appropriate size is important for a snug fit that will not shift or chafe. A life jacket with padding will be more comfortable because the softer the foam, the more comfortable the jacket.

Polyethylene foam (PE) tends to be the most comfortable and makes sure that the layer of padding is not too thick so the life jacket isn’t bulky. 

Color

The color choice of your life jacket is a more significant issue than how stylish you are in the water because it can also be a factor for your safety. When you float in the water, glare, and waves can make you difficult to see by oncoming boat traffic. 

A life jacket with bright neon or reflective colors helps increase your visibility in the water to keep you safe.

Certified Standards

The US Coast Guard has determined there are five categories of PFDs. A USCG certified life jacket means that it has been tested and has proven safety standards. Knowing the different types of personal flotation devices helps you to choose the right one for you.

Type I

Type I PFDs are bulky and buoyant because they are designed for use when a water rescue might take a while. Type I PFDs can turn an unconscious person upright in the water, and they are mandatory for large commercial vessels.

Type II

Type II PFDs are used in calm inland waters where rescue would be rapid. They are less bulky than Type I PFDs but less comfortable than Type III. They can turn an unconscious victim face up in the water. 

Type III

Type III PFDs are used when quick rescue is possible. They are comfortable for long-term wear and offer freedom of movement. They are designed so the wearer can place themselves in an upright position in the water, but the user might have to tilt their head to prevent them from being face down.

Type IV

Type IV PFDs are not meant to be worn but are devices that are thrown to a conscious drowning victim to assist with buoyancy. They consist of life rings or buoyant cushions. 

Type V

Type V PFDs are considered special use items for specific activities. To be acceptable by the USCG, they must be worn at all times for the particular activities indicated on the label. Examples of Type V PFDs are for kayaking, water skiing, deck suits, and windsurfing. 

Summary

A competitor in the ropes using a black life jacket

The best wakeboard life jackets might be chosen because they give you the freedom to flex and flip across the waves or because you love the neon stripes across your chest. Always consider safety and your ability to stay afloat in case of an accident. 

There are many wakeboard life jackets to consider, so do your research and try it on for comfort. Once you’ve found the perfect match, you’re sure to enjoy racing across the waves with the spray in your face.

FAQ’S

🏆 What is the difference between a wakeboard life jacket and a jet ski life jacket?

Wakeboard life jackets and Jet Ski life jackets differ in material, design, and function because they are created specifically for their sport. Both are used in active water sports, but you need more arm mobility in wakeboarding than jet skiing. 

When you jet ski, you are above the water, while wakeboarding involves rising out of the water and being wet most of the time. A wakeboarding life jacket is better suited to endure the high-impact water forces than is a jet ski life vest.


👍 Why should I wear a life vest when wakeboarding?

A life vest is essential when wakeboarding to keep you safely afloat when you hit the water. Your feet are clipped into boots on a wakeboard, so when you fall, you cannot rely on your feet to swim. 

A life jacket ensures you stay afloat and is particularly important in the event of a hard crash. If you get injured hitting a wave, your life jacket can be the difference between life and death. In addition to keeping you afloat, the colors on your life vest can help rescuers find you faster when you’re visible in the water.


🏝️ Can I wear a jet ski life jacket on a wakeboard?

Yes. You can wear a jet ski life jacket to wakeboard, but one designed specifically for wakeboarding will provide better protection against impact and the pressures experienced when surfing waves. A wakeboard life vest typically has bigger armholes for better mobility and freedom of movement.


❓ What will happen if I don’t wear a life vest to wakeboard?

Because you are in the water, a life jacket ensures you will stay afloat and can prevent you from drowning. Even great swimmers can experience an accident when wakeboarding, and your life jacket could save your life. What if the rope breaks? What if another boat cuts in your path? What if you’re knocked unconscious?

You hope that accidents never happen and good swimming skills are all you need, but what if the unexpected happens? Wear a life vest.

Pat McCaw
Pat McCaw

Author, physician, mom and lover of all things outdoors. If there’s water or a hiking trail nearby, that's her happy place. Throw in family and a couple of dogs and it's paradise!


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