Life jacket : the definitive guide for small boat sailing

Life jacket : the definitive guide for small boat sailing

Key points
  • Be careful to choose the right category for the dinghy: minimum 50N (and 100N for children under 25 kgs)
  • A "high performance" vest changes life: it doesn't ride up, it doesn't itch.
  • NO wakeboard vests that don't float enough!
  • Budget for a high performance vest: 80-110$.


There are several categories of vests and it is essential to choose the right category or else you will lack the buoyancy to float without swimming, or be hindered in your movements.

Impact vests / Less than 50N: Caution! 

Wakeboard and water ski" type vests. Be careful, these vests, very thin and aesthetic, are not approved as flotation aid vests. Their role is to ensure a minimal protection to the impacts for the riders

50N vest: the right choice for small sailboats and catamarans

Legally, this type of vest is not called a life jacket but a buoyancy aid, or IFE: Individual Buoyancy Equipment.
The EN ISO 12402-5 standard specifies the safety requirements for buoyancy aids with a buoyancy of at least 50 newtons.

It applies to people who can swim well, are close to shore, and have nearby help or assistance. They are inexpensive but of limited use.

They do not turn an unconscious person and require active participation from the user.
Reference: for France, here is the complete text in pdf of division 240.

Child vest: 100N essential for sizes < 25 kg

These vests are easily recognizable by their head support. They are equipped with whistles and subcutaneous straps. Some are also equipped with a retrieval strap.
A good wetsuit + a 100N vest to make your kids feel comfortable on the water!

Adult 100N foam vest

A good idea for your unmoored passengers or if you are uncomfortable in the water

Self-inflating vests 100, 150 N

Small size with a percussion bottle that inflates the vest. They are designed to navigate on "dry" boats. When in contact with water, the vest inflates automatically via a cellulose pellet that releases the CO2 cylinder release system. They are therefore not recommended for small boats sailing, which is a wetter sport. Indeed, if it is inflated, this vest becomes very cumbersome.

Other criteria [among 50N vests].


Olympic series athletes spend more than 300 days on the water, in 470, Nacra, Laser etc.. The major brands have taken advantage of their collaboration with these athletes to considerably improve comfort. 
  • a "gathered" cut that does not descend too much on the chest.
  • a low cut at the neck to avoid any friction with the face
  • an anti-slip strip that avoids slipping up
  • A pocket to slip a knife, a tip, a cereal bar, a phone.


The style is subjective, but recently, manufacturers have made real efforts and the vests are rather aesthetic and stylish. Here is our selection to follow.

Our favorite vests

Zhik PFD

Magic Marine Racing Buoyancy Aid

Spinlock foil

We wish you nice sailing ! Stay safe !