Let’s talk safety for a minute – I know, it is not nearly as exciting as discussing the kayak or the fish… but it is essential to consider your fishing life vest – also called a personal flotation device (or PFD). Life vests are essential for all water sports. It is a mistake to think that because you may be a good swimmer, only fishing is calm water or just wading, that one is not needed for kayak fishing. However the properly selected and fitted fishing vest could keep you from becoming bait yourself. We get a number of inquiries from friends and fellow kayakers asking which is the proper fishing vest and what to consider when purchasing a vest used for kayak fishing. The various ranking systems and items can be confusing – so what do you really need and what is the safest? There are several different types of flotation devices that come with different US Coast Guard (USCG) classifications. We list some of the things to consider when selecting a fishing vest that is best for your particular use.
1. Make sure your life jacket or any fishing life vest is certified by the United States Coast Guard.
2. Review the life jacket’s classification. Life vests- including those for kayak fishing, are classified as Type I, II, or III
a. Type I: are considered off shore life jackets and provide the most buoyancy. These are designed to turn most unconscious wearers to a face up position in the water.
b. Type II: classified as near-shore buoyancy vests
c. Type III: classified as flotation aids- they offer the same minimum buoyancy as Type II but more comfortable to wear as they are not designer to turn the wearer over in the water.
3. Base your fishing vest selection on the type of kayak fishing you will be doing. If you believe you will be further from shore, encountering turbulent waters or challenging conditions, than you will want the Type I. If you will be closer to shore and in calmer water than a II or III could be adequate. The fishing vests we have reviewed as being the favored for kayak fishing are in the later class and are intended for kayak fishing. If more extreme conditions are going to be encountered, we recommend a vest that is classified as Type I, which can be purchased at better sporting stores.
4. Select the vest that is correct for your size and weight- most manufacturers indicate the recommended weight range for their vest sizes. Select a life jacket that has straps and riggings to fit you personally and comfortably. When fitting the vest, you should wear the clothing that you anticipate wearing with the vest- whether it be a bulky layer or a swim suit. The jacket should fit snuggly and not move freely or chafe when you are in motion. If you take out that fishing kayak in different seasons, make sure to readjust the fit to accommodate the clothing you will be wearing.
5. Decide on which extra features are important to you in a life vest. We recommend those whose materials are designed to avoid mold growth. Pockets…
6. Try the vest out in shallow water or a pool to make sure it is fitted properly and in proper working order. The vest should provide the buoyancy you need without riding up, slipping over your head or becoming cumbersome if arm movements are needed. Always make sure that every person in your party has their own properly fitted fishing vest or flotation device.
After reviewing a number of fishing vests for kayak fishing, here are those that received the highest rankings from our readers and respondents:
Extrasport Osprey Canoe/Kayak Rafting Fishing Personal Flotation Device/Life Jacket
Reader Rating: 4:5
A comfortable PFD that you will not even know it is on. The thin lower back section is designed especially for kayak seat backs preventing it from riding up while fishing and paddling. This model is easily adjusted for secure and comfortable fit by adjustable mesh shoulder straps. Equipped with 7 expandable pockets which hold gear for those items you want close at hand and the shell casing holder and the camouflage pattern makes this a great option for duck hunting as well.
NRS Chinook Mesh Back Fishing PFD
Reader Rating: 5:5
Stellar review ratings for this Fishing PFD. The nylon and mesh back allow for comfortable sitting in the kayak with no bulkiness or vest riding up. The 8-point adjustment system accommodates and amazing variety of shapes. Many reviewers (especially those who indicated that they were a bit heavier) claimed this was the most easily adjusted and comfortable vest on the market. The 8 pockets allow you to keep all your gear at hand. The NRS Chinook Mesh Back Fishing PFD was hands down our reader survey favorite.
Winning Edge Deluxe Fishing Life Vest
Reader Rating: 4.6:5
Though the manufacturer has you order by chest size rather than height and weight, this caused some confusion and had some readers order the wrong size. But all readers felt this was a fantastic vest and, for the price, is a leader in this category. The adjustments were ample enough to oblige most and the pocket configuration was a favorite among anglers.
Stearns Hybrid Fishing/Paddle Vest
Reader Rating: 4.7:5
The fold down fly bench and the work tray made this a favorite vest among respondents. The open shoulder areas allow for a wide range of motion when flycasting. The adjustments allow the universal sizing to fit most and the back allows for comfortable sitting in a kayak without the vest riding up.