We all have lifejackets on board, but do you know what yours is actually like to use? We test 15 of the best lifejackets under £300 to find out
Whilst all of the best lifejackets for boaters conform to a set of minimum ISO standards, how do you know which one is actually the best for your personal use and body type?
From their basic ISO rated start point, all lifejackets take on their own characteristics and design elements. The positioning of the CO2 inflation bottle, the shape of the bladder, the position of the crotch strap and the way it is attached, the location of the whistle, the position of the oral inflation tube and the location of the lifting strop. Some of our lifejackets on test also have sprayhoods and water activated strobe lights.
We comprehensively put these lifejackets through sea survival drills and shoreside scrutiny. To learn more about what we tested and how we did it, go to the bottom of this buyers guide to see the team doing their thing.
Each lifejacket has its own review page. If you want a more in-depth review, simply click through to read more.
A note from the Tech Editor: Fox Morgan
“I have a confession.
Until just 13 years ago (2009), I rarely wore a lifejacket. Throughout the 80s, 90s and 00s I casually went about never wearing one and never worrying about it.
Until one day I was about to row, in the dark, back to my mooring.
A friend and sailing instructor commented on my lack of lifejacket. “Ebb tide runs fast through here” he said.
I was belligerent and defensive with my reply. I’ve never fallen in. I’ll be careful.
The seed of doubt had been sown and I had a word with myself. For 28 years of regularly being on boats I had got lucky.
You only need to fall in once. Much like you only crash a car once if you’re not wearing a seatbelt.”
The best lifejacket is the one you wear.
Coastal Lifejackets 150-180N
The best lifejackets for boaters and sailors
Baltic Athena Auto Inflatable Lifejacket
“best women’s specific lifejacket”
Reasons to Buy: This lifejacket is cut for women and fits really well over foul weather clothes and light weight layers. It is comfortable and easy to move around in. It is easy to fasten in all conditions. It is easy to repack and easy to check the firing mechanism.
Reasons to Avoid: The bladder might be a bit tight around the neck when inflated wearing a large foul weather jacket collar and this can be uncomfortable.
Verdict: This is an excellent choice of lifejacket for women who do a host of boating activities. High praise from all who tried this lifejacket in the dry.
Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence.
Spinlock Deckvest Lite
“Best coastal on test for everyday wear and general purpose water activity”
Reasons to Buy: This is a smart looking lifejacket with a slimline feel with very few things to get caught or snag. It comes in a variety of casing colours. It is really easy to repack.
Fits smaller adult body types well. Very high visibility bladder.
Reasons to Avoid: This might feel a little restrictive on some people with the over-the-head method of donning. This might not suit larger bodies.
Verdict: This no frills but stylish lifejacket performs well both off and on the water. It is great for everyday wear and is unobtrusive and easy to forget you’re wearing it.
Seago Seaguard 165N
“best budget friendly lifejacket”
Reasons to Buy: Excellent value for money. The cross over bladder design works well. There’s room in the casing to add a sprayhood and light. Also comes in a version with a harness loop
Reasons to Avoid: There’s a few little snaggy areas where straps or toggles could be better tucked away.
Verdict: We were very pleased with the performance of this lifejacket. Whilst it doesn’t look super stylish, it doesn’t offend either. Where it excels is as a lifejacket in the water and that’s where it really counts.
Crewsaver Crewfit+ 180 pro
“best premium coastal lifejacket”
Reasons to Buy: a smart black lifejacket that doesn’t shout look at me. Understated style. Fitted with sprayhood and light as standard. Well designed wide bladder. Very comfortable when worn day to day. Easy to adjust.
Reasons to Avoid: unpacking and repacking is a bit of a fiddle and rearming the firing mechanism is really fiddly and if you fly regularly with this lifejacket, the CO2 bottle seal will be an annoyance.
Verdict: This is an excellent lifejacket, leading the way with coastal lifejackets that will take you offshore and into the night with its well positioned strobe light and nicely designed sprayhood. The thoughtful design is apparent throughout, but perhaps was taken one step too far with the CO2 bottle anti-unscrew seal feature making it a poor choice for frequent flyers but an excellent choice for people who worry about their CO2 bottles coming unscrewed.
Reasons to Buy: Super skinny lightweight lifejacket, one of the lightest on test at 860grams.
Reasons to Avoid: A bit of a pig to repack. Very basic with no room for add-ons such as a light or sprayhood
Verdict: The target market for the stylish TeamO Micro is likely to be for those who use RIBs, go day boating and motorboating and for other inshore sheltered water activities. If you want a lifejacket with the smallest footprint, then this may well fit the bill. If you are looking for a lifejacket that you can add to later with additional safety gear, then you might look elsewhere.
Ocean Safety Sport 170 ADV
Reasons to Buy: Smart looking lifejacket, ocean safety brand is well established and trusted with service centres readily available everywhere. Crossover bladder design.
Reasons to Avoid: as per a previous test conducted on this lifejacket, it has suboptimal positioning of the CO2 canister on the curve of the bladder which causes it to rotate on inflation and jab into the chest or ribs of the wearer.
Verdict: Whilst there’s no doubt this is a good quality ISO rated lifejacket, it is smart and fits well, adjusts well and functions well in all aspects, however there’s no escaping its shortcomings in respect to the bottle position and the underwhelmingly small sprayhood.
Helly Hansen Sail Safe
Reasons to Buy: light weight and easy to stow, no frills design, neat stowage for the crotch strap on the back of the life jacket straps.
Reasons to Avoid: performance was adequate in all areas but didn’t excel in any particular area.
Verdict: The Helly Hansen Sail Safe lifejacket is a lightweight coastal lifejacket with the ubiquitous HH branding. You get good performance all over but for the (relatively high) price it does feel that you are paying for a name and higher specified lifejackets are available at a lower price.
Reasons to Buy: This is the lightest on test and weighs just 800g fully armed. The flat profile is comfortable to wear. The velcro closure makes this life jacket really easy to check the arming mechanism and really easy to re-pack
It’s very good value for money.
Reasons to Avoid: It has about as much style as a flat red thing can have. Nowhere to stow excess webbing after adjustment.
Verdict: The Waveline 165N auto lifejacket is an excellent budget option that works well in the water when inflated and is a no frills option for getting out on the water boating safely. A lightweight and simple lifejacket that is tried and tested the world over.
Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence. Where indicated, items have been tested independently of manufacturers influence.
Offshore Lifejackets 190N
The best lifejackets for boaters and sailors
Spinlock Deckvest 6D
“Highly Commended Best all round”
Reasons to Buy: Form fitting sculpted design, Bright colour of casing is stylish. Excellent elevated lighting and reflective visibility. Good snug fit holding user high in the water. Excellent sprayhood. Harness release system.
Reasons to Avoid: The bladder is a darker orange and may not be as visible as some of the brighter bladders available. The extra sculpting can make the lifejacket feel a bit stiff to wear and makes it heavy.
Verdict: This is an outstanding lifejacket with great performance across the score board. The standout features are the lighting, both elevated and lumeon, lighting the entire bladder. The essentials are labels and easy to find and this feels like a lifejacket that has really been designed with the user in mind. Every query has been answered. If we were challenged to find a way to improve this, we’re really not sure how we would.
Reasons to Buy: larger/longer bladder gives higher buoyancy, smart outer casing looks stylish, comes in a range of specification levels to suit individual needs
Reasons to Avoid: This test model version comes without a sprayhood or light which would be essential for any offshore or coastal use after dark. (make sure you opt for the higher spec model)
Verdict: This is without doubt a highly capable lifejacket and fits well both shoreside and in the water. The extra buoyancy is noticeable in the longer bladder. We were unable to test the fully fledged offshore equipped lifejacket and if this lifejacket suits you, then make sure you opt for that extra specification.
Reasons to Buy: Looks smart and generally well sculpted to form fit. The bladder has a crossover design to stop waves funneling into your face.
Reasons to Avoid: really difficult to re-pack after inflation/re-arming. Poorly designed sprayhood. Light poorly positioned, might be a bit snug on larger people
Verdict: The Seago 3Dynamic looks to offer so much on paper but in practice we found it had one too many compromises for our tastes. It is comfortable, but repacking is a real faff. the buckle was fiddly and the sprayhood was subpar. A little more thought into the layout and practicalities of this lifejacket could turn it around though to be a solid contender. at £150 it is good value though.
“Highest scoring on test”
Reasons to Buy: smart sculpted design, Excellent sprayhood, innovative design with backtow harness
Reasons to Avoid: if you deploy the backtow you’re going to need to know how to put that back together or take it to a service centre. Currently low on stock throughout the UK due to post pandemic supply/manufacturer issues.
Verdict: A truly excellent lifejacket with innovation at its heart and the user practicality forefront. a couple of points to note though would be the complexity of the backtow element means that rearming it in a hurry, unless you’re a dab hand already and have practiced shoreside, might leave you reaching for the spare lifejacket and sending this one off for someone else to do it for you. There’s also the issue of stock levels in the UK taking a while to get back to pre-pandemic numbers.
Ocean Safety Sport Pro 170 ADV
Reasons to Buy: smart stylish design from a reputable brand, neat built in stowage pocket suitable for a PLB
Reasons to Avoid: small sprayhood feels claustrophobic and too tight around the head, the trigger toggle should have better stowage to avoid accidental trigger or to avoid unsafe tucking away by users.
Verdict: This is a comfortable, sturdy, good quality and relatively well specified lifejacket at a good price. It has some great features and comes as standard with the basic equipment for going out of sight of land at night. The crossover bladder is a good design to stop waves funneling into the face, but we would advise to upgrade the sprayhood and light position to have a better in-water performance should you ever need it.
Spinlock Vito 170N Hammar
Full review coming soon…
Reasons to Buy: One of the best sprayhoods we’ve tested, low profile lifejacket casing, Hammar trigger means you can use this in wild sailing conditions without accidental triggering
Reasons to Avoid: Hammar trigger means re-arming this is a faff. quite rigid construction, might not fit smaller people as adjustment will go as small as a size 8 European female.
Verdict: This is used by a variety of professional teams, including Volvo ocean racers. The Hammar trigger mechanism is a matter for you to decide if it’s right for you. They do sell the Vito with the pro sensor trigger too. The over the head donning is a love it or loathe it style and whilst it can feel very secure and the harness loop is excellent, passing this over your head, large collar and other foulies in a rush can feel a bit claustrophobic. The back is low cut though and the sprayhood is stowed in a back panel keeping the bulk away from the collar area. It is an excellent lifejacket and has scored highly in our early test scores. The full test review is coming soon,
Ocean Lifejackets 270N +
The best lifejackets for boaters and sailors
Spinlock Deckvest 6d 275N
Full review coming soon…
Reasons to Buy: larger capacity bladder for superior righting and buoyancy, can have HRS facility, compatibility with other spinlock products
Reasons to Avoid: feels noticeably larger/bulkier than a 190N, might impede access to liferaft if you are a smaller person.
Verdict: Our pool tester Phil noted how much confidence this lifejacket inspired in the water. The bladder is significantly larger and provides a much greater buoyancy and visibility. It is large though, so we don’t recommend this for day to day sailing. The weight of the lifejacket comes in at 1529grams, which is 200g more than the standard 170N deckvest. This might not seem a great deal but over the course of a day, wearing this might be quite fatiguing. Of course if you are wearing a large immersion suit or other bulky clothes or dry suit for use in deep ocean conditions, you will be very glad of the extra this lifejacket offers.
Our previously tested lifejackets from 2017 Group test
Baltic 150 Race SL lifejacket
Reasons to Buy: Good padding, metal harness tether loop
Reasons to Avoid: less buoyancy meant a slower roll over time
Verdict: The padding was comfortable, although the inflation tube and light assembly inside the lifejacket sat over the collar bone, which could create a pressure point over time. Unlike the longer bladder of the other Baltic lifejackets, this had a shorter, higher bladder with more rounded lobes. The standard Baltic hood had a good support arch, but the elastic straps tended to slip off the bladder. It also let spray in.
Crewsaver Ergofit+ 190N lifejacket
Reasons to Buy: Impressive buoyancy, excellent sprayhood
Reasons to Avoid: a little rigid and bulky
Verdict: If performance in the water is the most important aspect of a lifejacket, the Ergofit+ 190N was streets ahead of the other lifejackets tested. It was one of the fastest to inflate, but more importantly it was a good second or two ahead on the rotation test. It was very difficult for the tester to get onto their front to begin the test at all, and they spun over in close to one second. The Crewsaver Ergofit+ 190N also produced the best freeboard figures with up to 4cm more than some of the other lifejackets.
Helly Hansen Sailsafe Race 170 Auto lifejacket
Reasons to Buy: Hammar auto activation, fast to inflate
Reasons to Avoid: thigh straps might not be for everyone, buckles slip too easily
Verdict: Hammar inflation and an inspection window make checking and maintaining the lifejacket simple. It sits flat against the body but includes space to add in an MOB beacon or PLB. The thigh straps are slightly more complex to fit, they need to be snug so they don’t slip down and limit movement. The lifejacket was the fastest to inflate on test (2017) The hood is well-made with a supporting arch and good ventilation at the sides and front, and well-located reflective strips.
The back length is adjustable, one of only two lifejackets to offer this
Plastimo SL 180 lifejacket
Reasons to Buy: adjustable back, good maneuverability in the water, storage for MOB built in
Reasons to Avoid: slightly disconcerting soft feel when inflated compared to other conventionally constructed lifejackets
Verdict: With adjustable back length, (one of only a couple of lifejackets to offer this) and inspection windowvia dedicated zip opening and a separate stowage place for a personal beacon, this is a versatile lifejacket.
This jacket is designed to remain soft and flexible once inflated. We found this disconcerting initially as it felt like it had not fully inflated. The sewn-in sprayhood was easy to find with a string to pull forwards. The oral inflation tube was less simple to use.
Lifejackets group test – what we scored our lifejackets on
Adjust speed ease difficulty
Our testers checked how easy and quickly our lifejackets were able to change from full foulies, then down to a t-shirt then back again. The double adjuster was a popular method and was scored highly by our testers.
Fastening buckle ease with gloves
The ease with which we can fasten and unfasten the various buckles, including with gloves or cold hands. Seabelt style buckles were generally scored very highly.
Comfort men women body size
The cut and design of lifejackets varies a lot. From high cut waistcoat styles that suited the men or wider shouldered and taller people and the longer in the body cut lifejackets tended to suit a slimmer person with a waist for the lifejacket to cinch into.
Practicality . bulk snagging
Some lifejackets have been well thought through. What do we do with the long surplus piece of webbing? what about all the flappy strappy bits? Are they neatly stowed? Lifejackets that had better stowage of surplus dangly bits were scored highly.
Manual inflated view and fitment
We tried all of the lifejackets shoreside, manually inflated and looked for the essential gear, whether it fell readily to hand and how the lifejacket fitted around the body in its fully inflated lifejaclet mode. A couple of the lifejackets had top up tubes that were a bit of a stretch to reach and some were difficult to locate the whistle or lifting strop.
Ease of checking and repacking
Some of our lifejackets just slipped back into their casing without a fuss, others didn’t want to go back in without a bit of a wrestle. The velcro closure lifejackets are the easiest and the tightly packed ones with all the bells and whistles required a little more consideration to careful tucking and folding. Most had easy access to check the arming mechanism within a few brief seconds.
Where a lifejacket was fitted with a sprayhood we scored it. Some sprayhood were considerably better designed than others. Of the coastal lifejackets on test the Crewsaver was outstanding.
Personal Beacon stowage
The offshore lifejackets should reasonably be expected to have adequate stowage provision for a personal locator beacon or AIS. Some were much better equipped than others. The Ocean Safety Sport Pro ADV has a pocket built in, the Spinlock Deckvest 6D has an optional side pouch which is excellent.
In water testing
We tested every lifejacket in the pool and ran each one through basic personal sea survival drills, from manual inflation, auto inflation, swimming, rafting and climbing into a liferaft, we looked at the performance of all our best lifejackets for boaters in general use.
It is clear to see that all lifejackets are not made equal. Certainly not in how they feel from person to person.
Whilst all of our lifejackets on test performed well according to basic safety standards, they all have elements that could be tweeked and adjusted to be better functioning or designed and all of them have their unique selling points.
A final note from the Tech Editor : Fox Morgan
Once you have chosen the best lifejacket that suits your needs, make sure you get to know it well. Not just in it’s rolled away form, but as a lifejacket, inflated. Know where your essential safety kit is stowed. Where is the whistle and lifting strop? Put your lifejacket on and feel around for them. Store this in your memory. The least sensible time to be doing this for the first time is when you actually need them.
Our lifejacket testing team were:
Alex : Professional Skipper of traditional sailing vessels (Charlestown Harbour)
Paula : Chief at Charlestown Harbour
Toni : Ex RNLI lifeaboatman, Ex Brixham fisherman, Professional skipper and owner of traditional sailing and fishing vessels
Phil : Ex Lifeboatman, Ex Brixham fisherman, Ex Navy Chief Engineer, Principle sea survival skills training officer, Professional Skipper and University HE lecturer.
Anna : Clipper Sailing Crew and experienced offshore sailor/racer
James : Retired GP and experienced offshore sailor/racer
Mike : Outward bound sailing instructor, poolside safety and drills at Western Maritime Training
Toby : Experienced sailor and dinghy racer, Senior writer at Future Marine Group
Fox : Professional sailing skipper, experienced offshore sailor/racer, Senior HE University lecturer, Tech Ed at Future Marine Group
Our lifejacket testing was held over several days.
Our dry testing day was hosted by Charlestown Harbour.
We tested all of our lifejackets for the ease of adjustment from wearing it over bulky clothes to t-shirts and then back to bulky clothes.
We looked at how easy or difficult our lifejackets were to fasten and unfasten and then try that again with cold hands or with gloves on.
We looked at the fitment of crotch straps and for any loose or dangling straps or toggles that might get snagged by accident when worn in a marine environment.
We manually inflated all of our lifejackets and assessed their onboard equipment and location. Some lifejackets have the minimum or lifting strop, whistle and top up tube, others have spray hoods fitted and lights. We assessed how easy those items were to find and use when wearing the lifejacket inflated.
Where suitable, we looked at where a personal locator beacon or personal ais beacon would fit on or within the lifejacket casing or bladder.
We packed away our lifejackets and assessed how easy or difficult they were to stow back into their casings. While we were doing this, we also looked at how easy it would be to rearm a lifejacket if it had been triggered.
Our Pool testing day was held in Plymouth Life Centre Diving Pool and organised by Western Maritime Training.
In the pool we had a liferaft set in place for us to run through standard sea survival drills and practice. Western Maritime Training kindly set the pool up for us as per standard STCW personal survival techniques training days.
We highly recommend that anyone who spends time heading out of sight of land for leisure or pleasure should consider doing this course.
While we were in the pool area, we assessed the manual trigger mechanism and auto inflate mechanism of lifejackets. How hard is it to pull the trigger to activate the gas canister or when auto inflating, did the lifejacket turn us over quickly?
We assessed the comfort of the lifejacket when inflated and how easy or difficult they are to readjust whilst in the water. such as tightening crotch straps or cinching in waistbands.
Where lifejackets were fitted with a sprayhood, we looked at how easy it was to locate and pull over the bladder, checking its effectiveness/practicality.
We formed a human safety circle and assessed what practical grab holds our lifejackets had, then we climbed into a liferaft, also checking for practical use and ability to physically handle a person giving them assistance to enter the liferaft.
We hung up our inflated lifejackets to dry and confirmed that all remained fully inflated for well over 48hours. In fact all of our test lifejackets remained inflated for two weeks, by which time only one of them had slightly started to soften.
What’s the scores?
Each lifejacket was independently scored by members of the testing team.
We took those scores and averaged them for each criteria.
We added up the individual element scores and converted this to a percentage rating.
Throughout the process all notes were taken from our testers and those comments can be seen in each review and within our buyers guide.
Note: all of our lifejackets tested conform to either ISO 12402-3 (coastal/non harness) or iSO 12401 (harness versions), and this means that they all meet the basic safety standards you would expect from a lifejacket.
In order to conduct unbiased testing, our test team were given full freedom to test and evaluate the lifejackets presented to them on the tests days. Their opinions are made in a professional capacity and skippers and end users of the products and are a result of direct hands on experience. This does not override any official safety rating or certification.
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