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Snorkel Vest vs Life Jacket

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There are a few misconceptions between life jackets and snorkel vests that can be a bit confusing given some similarities in their appearances. Using a life jacket as a snorkel vest, or the other way around, will not be nearly the same experience as using the appropriate flotation device. We will cover a few key differences between the two, and help clear the air on life jackets and snorkel vests.

What to consider when choosing a life vest:

  • Amount of mobility needed
  • Straps or zippers,or amount of adjustability
  • Storage. Space could be limited on many watercraft
  • Will it be worn or stowed?

A life jacket, or personal floatation device (PFD), can come in a few different styles. U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets are categorized into types 1-5. A PFD can be a range of vest styles from the classic horseshoe shape to a traditional vest. Type IV devices are throwable devices like a lifesaver or seat cushion-type.

Vest style life jackets may look similar to snorkel vests; however, these flotation devices are designed to keep a person afloat with their head above the water.

Types of Coast Guard approved life jackets

Life vests keep you upright. Snorkel vests allow more mobility.

Life vests are specifically designed to keep a person upright in case of an injury that could include loss of consciousness. Those who may have worn a life vest might be familiar with the feeling of swimming or treading and constantly feeling balanced back to an upright position.

Why you don’t want to use a life jacket as a snorkel vest..

Snorkel vests on the other hand are designed for snorkeling - allowing you to easily balance your body in the water face down. These flotation devices are not U.S. Coast Guard approved and should not be used or stored on a boat as an alternative to approved PFDs.

Shop Snorkel Vests On Sale

Who would use a snorkel vest?

Snorkeling Carribean

  • People new to snorkeling
  • Those who find it hard to tread water
  • A snorkel or scuba guide requires one
  • Children or adults who find it difficult to keep water out their snorkel
  • Those who plan on spending a lot of time in the water when snorkeling

One of the biggest advantage to inflatable snorkel vests is the ability to adjust buoyancy for different body weights. “Horseshoe” style snorkel vests use adjustable straps that run from the front of the vest, through the legs, and up the back. These straps keep you attached to the vest and keep the vest in position. Balancing and navigating around with a snorkel vest allows you to to keep your mask in the water and the tip of the snorkel dry.

Snorkel vests are a great tool for kids!

With a little bit of instruction and practice it might be a lot easier for kids to snorkel safely using a snorkel vest. Smaller vests are available for kids with the same adjustability as adult vest. Snorkel vests should not be used for teaching children how to swim since they allow more flexibility in swimming positions compared to a life jacket that is designed to keep the head above water.

These vests are almost always available in bright fluorescent highly visible colors that can help boaters spot you easily.


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