Wearing a personal flotation device is not only good sense, it is the law. Federal regulations from the United States Coast Guard require any boat to have a wearable Life Jacket (CG approved Type I, II, III or V) onboard and accessible for each passenger. Boats over 16 feet are also required to have one throwable PFD (Type IV). That much being understood, there is a vast variety of PFDs to choose from. Selecting the best one depends on the type of activity you are enjoying and the temperature of the waters in which you float.
When selecting flotation equipment, begin with the basic considerations: How far from shore will the activity bring you? How long can you survive in that given water temperature? Off the coast of New England or the Pacific Northwest, exposure to cold water is a serious concern versus the lesser risk of warm water exposure. If sailing offshore through cold waters, exposure suits with integrated PFDs are an excellent choice. Mustang survival jackets and suits are comfortable, offer great mobility and keep you warm topsides while greatly extending survival time in the water.
If warm air temperature makes immersion survival suits unreasonable, inflatable vests are a great compromise for comfort. Many offshore inflatable vests now integrate a harness with D-ring clips into their construction, allowing crew to clip into jacklines for safety. The harness adds peace of mind for any work forward in rough weather or night-time crossings. Going below or emerging topsides is thus simplified in an integrated jacket/harness system by doffing or donning only one item.
Specialty life jackets tailored for particular watersports activities increase comfort and also improve the likelihood that a PFD is on when it is needed. Waterski and personal watercraft jackets offer mobility and resistance to rushing water. Some even use neoprene wetsuit material for maximum comfort and fit. For paddle sports, life preservers are typically cut higher around the naval to maximize comfort in a seated position. Fishing and hunting jackets integrate handy utility pockets and some integrate camouflage patterns. Should man's best friend be along for the day, pet flotation vests are a great idea.
To fully equip any vessel, a Type IV throwable flotation device should be within easy reach. These function both as a position marker for a man overboard and added flotation to support a victim until they can be recovered. Rings, horseshoe buoys and flotation cushions all fulfill this onboard USCG requirement.