You can’t ride without a board and boots, and it’s tough to get towed without a rope and handle, but a wakeboard life jacket is probably a rider’s most vital piece of gear. After all, life jackets are exactly what their name implies: your lifeline when the unexpected happens on the water. As a result, making sure you buy and wear a properly fitted life jacket could actually save your life. Here are five rules to follow when shopping for the best life jacket for you.
USCGA versus comp
U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets meet official standards for both buoyancy and impact protection. Competition or comp vests are designed for pros riding in contests and do not meet Coast Guard requirements. Put simply, a USCGA life jacket will keep you afloat when your life is on the line; a comp vest might not.
Tight is right
Your life jacket should be snug — really snug. “When you wear a properly fitted vest, it should be hard to breathe when you’re in the store,” says Jeremy Thornell, manager at the Salt Lake City wake shop Marine Products. In fact, think of your life jacket as a second skin. You don’t want any air between you and the jacket, because that air can cause bruised rips when you take a fall.
Find the perfect fit
Every manufacturer has a weight range for each of its life jackets as well as a corresponding chest size. Chest size is the most accurate indicator of proper fit, but most people don’t know their exact chest measurements. Therefore, it’s often easiest to use your weight as a starting point. Also, remember the proper size can change from manufacturer to manufacturer and even from jacket to jacket.
Try it on
Sure, online shopping is convenient, but considering the importance of a life jacket’s fit in it functioning properly, there’s no substitute for your local wake shop. Plus, you won’t have to go it alone. Your local wake shop’s staff can guide you through everything from stretch characteristics to each jacket’s unique cut.
Test it out
“Bend over, flex your back, rotate side to side, twist and see how it is restricting your movement,” Thornell suggests. “If it has a zipper on the front, you should have to stretch it to get it to zip up,” he says. “It shouldn’t come together easily and zip up without any effort.” Ultimately, it’s important that your new life jacket passes the test of tightness.
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