Tech Editor Fox Morgan has been a keen kayaker and dinghy sailor since as long as they can remember. Not all buoyancies are equal. the best life vests for paddleboarding might not be the best buoyancy aid for dinghy sailing.

Paddling, kayaking and dinghy sailing are fabulous ways to get out on the water even on a really tight budget. But, no matter how good you are at swimming, a buoyancy aid or life vest should be considered an essential part of your kit bag inventory.
Each activity type has a unique way of moving or needing to be agile and there’s a best life vest suited to each one. You can read more about my guides to paddleboards for beginners and kayaks where I have carefully selected some great boards and kayaks and a couple of canoes too that might suit someone who wants to get out paddling for the first time. For kayaks and canoes you can read more in my guide here and for paddleboards for beginners, have a look through for something that takes your fancy here

Here’s my top choices of the best life vests or 50N buoyancy aids on the market for a variety of water based activities.

Don’t forget if you’re taking your pet with you, then there’s some create floatation and buoyancies for them too. Best dog lifejackets and cat buoyancy aids


Crewsaver 50N Buoyancy Aid

Reason to buy: slim fit very little to snag, front pocket, buckle adjustable sides

Reasons to avoid: some may find the asymmetric zip annoying

Specifications: 50N buoyancy | sizes small/medium or medium/large | blue or red

This slim buoyancy has adjustable double buckle sides and a handy pocket to the front, suitable for a mobile device or paperwork such as a small route maps. The 50N foam buoyancy is cut low under the arms to give full range of movement for kayaking, dinghy sailing and paddleboarding.

Yak Xipe 60N Buoyancy aid

Reason to buy: double pockets, adjustable shoulders, double buckle adjustable sides

Reasons to avoid: the extra pockets to the front may create too much bulk for some

Specifications: 60N buoyancy | sizes Small/medium, Medium/large, XL | red or blue

This 60N yak buoyancy has a few extra features not found in the most basic buoyancies so you can expect to pay a little more for this one. It has adjustable shoulders, sides and a waist buckle for extra security of fit. The double pockets at the front can be used for a variety of things, from electronic devices to maps, snacks and so on. the low cut sides make this suitable for kayaking, dinghy sailing and paddleboarding.


Reason to buy: highly adjustable, smartly designed, front pocket, great for dinghy sailing and kayaking

Reasons to avoid: Some might not like the over the head method of putting this on

Specifications: 50N Buoyancy | M -> 50-70 kg / 8-11 Stone – CHEST 77-103cm | M/L -> 70-80Kg / 11-13 Stone – CHEST 89-109cm | L -> 70-90 kg / 13-14 Stone – CHEST  102-115cm | XL -> 90+ kg / 14 Stone + – CHEST 115cm+ | black, red and black, red white and blue, Fluro yellow and red

This higher specified buoyancy aid has a softer internal foam making it very comfortable to wear for longer periods of time as the foam conforms to the shape of your chest.  The high cut of this jacket makes it easy to move if you use a trapeze or hike on the rail.

It has a mesh drain, front pocket with a non rusting plastic zip and and a quick-release buckle. The Dinghy Pro also has a waist band with double Velcro closure to prevent riding up, reinforced shoulders and a bottom draw tie.

Baltic Dinghy Pro Buoyancy Jackets also have a 5-year guarantee.

Typhoon Yalu XT 50n Front Zip Buoyancy Aid

Reason to buy: really streamlined and great for full movement across all sporting activities, adjustable shoulders

Reasons to avoid: doesn’t have any pockets

Specifications: 50N buoyancy | Sizes S- XL | colourways: Black/blue swirl, black/yellow swirl, black/ lime swirl, black/silver swirl, royal blue/silver swirl

Easy to put on and off with the front zip, this simple streamlined buoyancy comes an in array of different colour options and is a great choice for those who are dinghy sailing or kayaking in a bit of surf or where pockets and other objects don’t need to be stowed.

It is fully adjustable at the shoulders sides and waist for a great snug fit that will be secure and not slip around while you paddle or move around your dinghy during maneuvers. The high waist allows a trapeze belt to be fitted easily.  Or perhaps if you prefer this style of slim and simple buoyancy, there’s space to use a small waist pack to carry your essentials with you if you paddleboard.

Spinlock Alto

Reason to buy: super light weight, you wont be too hot wearing it, only activates when you need it

Reasons to avoid: has a a compressed gas arming mechanism that requires regular inspection, not suitable for some sports competition that specify foam buoyancy as a rule.

Specifications: 75N buoyancy | one size | colourways: yellow, blue, red, black

Designed for a range of watersports, the ALTO is a lightweight, compact, inflatable flotation device worn around the waist.

It is manually operated with a pull cord which inflates a horseshoe shaped floatation aid. The user can pull the horseshoe under their armpits and clip it to the front to create a lifering to assist the user to stay afloat and get to safety or be helped by someone else. The Alto gives 75N of buoyancy which is a little more than most fixed foam buoyancy jackets. It isn’t a direct replacement, but it is suitable for those paddleboarding for example who are confident and don’t want to sweat or feel encumbered by a foam buoyancy aid. You can fall in from your board or dinghy and the alto will not auto inflate, so you can swim more naturally back to your board or boat. If you find yourself in difficulty, then you can pull the cord and activate it to give you assistance. Once activated though, and the horseshoe has been deflated after activation, you should head ashore because the gas bottle will need replacing, unless you carry a spare with you. The horse shoe can be used time and time again, but you’ll need to stock up on a little gas canisters.


Gill Pursuit Buoyancy Aid 

Reason to buy: really large front pocket, side zip opening, adjustable waist, shoulders and sides. premium quality

Reasons to avoid: if you don’t like putting a buoyancy over your head then this might annoy you.

Specifications: 50N buoyancy | S – XXL  + youth | blight yellow, orange, red, black 

This premium quality buoyancy from Gill has adjustable shoulders, sides and waist. The waist belt is a buckle and the side entry has a sip and buckle closure.

It features a large self draining zipped pocket to the front with mesh organiser. Across the back of this buoyancy matching the seams is fine reflective piping, The Neoprene padding gives a secure fit and is comfortable for day long paddling or sailing. It is suitable for all active water sports such as kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding and sailing. We especially love the bright yellow option for those heading into open water.

Typhoon Amrock XT Buoyancy Jacket

Reason to buy: adjustable shoulders, great value for money, good range of sizes, easy buckle closure on the waist

Reasons to avoid: some may find the waist fastening buckle a tiny bit bulky

Specifications: 50N buoyancy | S – XL | detachable crotch strap | grey/black, black, red/black, blue/black

Easy to put on with the front zip, this buoyancy offers excellent value for money. Fully adjustable buckled waist belt with a quick release front clasp. Adjustable shoulders for a perfect fit and to ensure the length is correct. This buoyancy has a detachable crotch strap too which can be really handy yo stop the jacket from riding up if you go for an unintended swim. The small zip up pocket to the front is suitable for a key or small item. Just make sure you put any fancy electric car keys in a waterproof bag as this pocket like all of the others in our buyers guide are designed to get wet and drain water rather than be waterproof.

Baltic SUP Elite Buoyancy Aid

Reason to buy: Designed for paddleboarding, long body helps with natural paddle movement, useful for climbing back on to a paddleboard from water

Reasons to avoid: may be too long in the body for kayaking or dinghy sailing

Specifications: 50N buoyancy | crutch strap | front pocket | size 30-50Kg, 50-70kg, more than 70 kg, 90kg | universal attachment bracket for light or camera | fluro yellow and black, fluro orange and black.

This Baltic Paddle vest is designed with a longer body. This allows the foam to be a little thinner giving more freedom of movement. It’s adjustable on the shoulders and sides. To put it on, there’s a zip to one side so you put it on over the head. The wasit is adjustable and there’s a pocket to the front, suitable for a range of slim items. The universal bracket on the shoulder can be uised to fasten a light or a camera to your buoyancy. it has a crutch strap too to stop it riding up if you accidentally go for a swim. The logner length of this buoyancy and thinner foam mean it is a little easier to remount a paddleboard from the water.

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Baltic SUP Pro Buoyancy Aid

Reason to buy: Designed for paddleboarding, long body helps with natural paddle movement, useful for climbing back on to a paddleboard from water

Reasons to avoid: may be too long in the body for kayaking or dinghy sailing

Specifications: 50N buoyancy | crutch strap | front pocket | size 30-50Kg, 50-70kg, more than 70 kg, 90kg | pink and navy, orange and navy, white and navy

Comfortable paddle vest with adjustable sides. Retro reflective patches on the shoulders and pocket on the chest. With crutch strap. This 50N buoyancy was designed specifically for paddleboarding with a longer cut to the body, this allowsa free arc of movement for the paddle stroke. The longer body also can make it easier to remount a paddleboard from the water.

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What we look for in a buoyancy jacket or life vest

A buoyancy jacket, buoyancy aid or life vest is a simple device that gives you extra buoyancy in the water. It will not float you in a safety position with your face out of the water like a life jacket does, but it will help you stay afloat and stay closer to the surface of the water. They can give a little warmth too if they are made of foam, but on a hot day this can be a reason why some people are reluctant to wear one.

Buoyancy: Most buoyancy aids offer 50N or 60N of additional buoyancy in the water.

Adjustability: having adjustable shoulders, sides and a waist belt can make a life vest or buoyancy aid much more comfortable and will stay in place better during your sorting activity.

The cut and shape: If you are kayaking, you may require a slightly different shaped lifejacket than if you are dinghy sailing or paddleboarding, Sitting down in a kayak means you will need to avoid too much foam too low down as it will get in the way of your lap. Buyt you will want the arm holes to have plenty of space to move without chafe. For dinghy sailing, you may want a higher cut buoynacy to enable ease of movement around your boat, but you don’t need such large arm cut outs. If you are paddleboarding and will be standing, then a longer cut buoyancy can be worn with the larger surface area of foam, the foam can be thinnner overall, while still giving a minimum of 50N buoyancy. The longer cut buoyancy can be useful when climbing back on to a paddleboard from the water. The arm cut outs for a paddleboarder optimised buoyancy will be large with plenty of room to articulate without chafe.

Visibility: some Buoyancy aids are dark coloured, others are really brightly coloured. Being seen easily, especially if you are in moving water, or the sea will potentially be a benefit to you. On the other hand, Buoyancy aids tend to last a long time and a darker colour is more forgiving for not looking dirty.

Pockets and accessories : If you plan to go off adventuring for long days at a time, then it’s worth considering a buoyancy with a pocket or two. If you are playing in the surf or wizzing around the race markers in a dinghy then pockets are less useful. Some buoyancy aids have clips and surface mounts for lights and other devices such as satellite trackers. These can be useful if you are going to paddle long distances or out of phone signal range.