What is the difference between buoyancy aids and life jackets?

What is the difference between buoyancy aids and life jackets?

Quite often in the shop someone will ask for a buoyancy aid. No problem, we have lots to choose from. However, once we show the customer what a buoyancy looks like, they say something along the line of "Oh, I need one that inflates" to which we say "Oh, it's a life jacket you're looking" and without fail the response is "... what's the difference?"

When two things sound so similar and seem like they do the same job, it's understandable that people can get confused. Well be confused no more! I'm going to tell and show you the differences between a buoyancy aid and a life jacket and a whole lot more. 

What is a Buoyancy Aid?

Buoyancy aids are a form of personal flotation device (PFD) designed to keep the wearer afloat, but not to turn a person from a face/down position in the water. A buoyancy aid should only be worn in sheltered waters or where help is close at hand. You also need to be a competent swimmer. While a buoyancy aid will provide decent flotation and increase confidence they do not have sufficient buoyancy to protect a person who is unable to help themselves ie. if someone gets knocked out from a bang to the head a buoyancy aid won’t be enough to right the person. 

An impact vest is also a type of buoyancy aid but one where more of the wears torso is covered. These are worn on higher speed craft such as jet skies where you will need extra protection if you fall off. They are also used for water sports.

Buoyancy aids are sized to the weight of the person. If buying online it's best to weigh yourself and choose the correct weight category for you. We always have a weighing scales in the shop and are always happy to help with sizing. 


What is a Life Jacket?

A life jacket is designed to keep you afloat even if you fall unconscious. Most common types will automatically inflate but manual ones are also used. In a life jacket, the buoyancy is around the back of the head and front of the chest. This means that if you enter the water face down, the bladder on your chest will right you and the buoyancy around the back of your head will keep your head out of the water. All the life jackets we sell come with a crotch strap as standard. This helps in preventing the jacket from coming to far up on you body or over your head.

They have a higher buoyancy rating than a buoyancy aid. See where some of the confusion comes from?

They are used on inland waters where conditions are commonly calm right up to the roughest conditions at offshore & ocean level. You don't have to be a competent swimmer or a swimmer at all to use a life jacket. There are a few different types of life jacket that we will get into.


What are the different life jackets?

Foam Life Jackets 100N 

Level 100 life jackets are designed for those who may have to wait for rescue but would do so in sheltered and calm waters. It may not have sufficient buoyancy to protect a person who is unable to help themselves and may not roll an unconscious person onto their back. 

Gas Inflated Life Jackets 150N 

Level 150 life jackets are designed for use on coastal and offshore waters where a high standard of performance is required. It should turn an unconscious person on to their back and requires no subsequent action by the wearer to keep their face out of the water. Yet, its performance may be affected if the user is wearing heavy and/or waterproof clothing. These jackets come in non-harness and harness versions. Harness versions you can attach a safety line (tether) to the life jacket and secure yourself to the boat.

Gas Inflated Life Jackets 275N 

Designed for offshore use in extreme conditions, often for those wearing heavy protective clothing that may adversely affect the self-righting capacity of lesser lifejackets. Like level 150, this life jacket is designed to ensure that the wearer is floating in the correct position with their mouth and nose clear of the surface of the water.


Buoyancy Aid or Life Jacket?

What one you pick will be determined by what activity you're doing. 

Buoyancy Aid Usage

  • Dinghy Sailing 
  • Kayaking
  • Stand Up Paddle Boarding
  • Swimming

Impact Vest Usage

  • Jet Ski
  • Wake boarding
  • Water toys - Towables like banana boats

100N Life Jacket Usage

  • Dinghy sailing, kayaking & paddle boarding if you're not a strong swimmer
  • Small children on cruising boats
  • Children learning to sail, kayak etc.

150N Life Jacket Usage

  • Cruising sailing
  • Bay racing
  • Offshore racing
  • RIB drivers
  • Fishing on or near water

275N Life Jacket Usage

  • Same as 150N usage
  • Ocean racing
  • Commercial workers where additional clothing and tools are involved

Do I even need a buoyancy aid or a life jacket?

When considering buying a life jacket or buoyancy you may ask yourself "do I really need one?"

Best practice is to always wear some form of personal floatation device, PFD, when performing any activity on or near water. You can't predict when something may go wrong. The tides and weather can get even the most experienced water user into serious trouble. 

In Ireland, the law requires that an appropriate life jacket or buoyancy aid must be carried for everyone onboard all vessels and personal water craft. If the craft is under 7m, personal flotation devices must be worn at all times on an open vessel or on deck on a vessel with accommodation. Anyone under the age of 16 must wear a personal flotation device at all times on an open boat or on deck if the vessel has accommodation, irrespective of the size of the vessel.


How to put on a life jacket


Putting on a life jacket by Viking Marine





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