Best Life Jackets for Boating Trips with Your Family

By Debbie Hanson

May 10, 2022

How to determine the best life jackets for boating trips with your family, which features to look for when selecting best life jackets for boat fishing

Since summer boating season is almost here, now is a good time to take inventory of your life jackets and boating safety gear. Make sure you have the best life jackets for boating trips with your family and that the life jackets (also known as PFDs or personal flotation devices) you have onboard are in good condition.

If you’re new to boating, it’s important to know that all boaters are required to have at least one USCG approved life jacket per person on your boat. You might be wondering, what are the best life jackets for toddlers for boating or which features should the best life jacket for boating have? What about the best life jackets for boat fishing with kids or your dog? Get answers to these questions and learn what to look for when buying PFDs for your family boating adventures.

Best Life Jacket for Baby on Boat

According to the U.S. Coast Guard's Division of Boating Safety, an infant should not travel on a boat until they weigh at least 18 pounds and can wear a personal flotation device (PFD). Most babies will reach this weight when they are between 4 and 11 months old. Life jackets for babies should be labeled as an infant PFD under 30 pounds (get the right size based on your baby's weight).

When looking for the best baby life jacket for boating, make sure it has important safety features such as the "heads-up" flotation collar, secure strap that goes between the baby’s legs to keep the life jacket from sliding up, grab strap, and is made from a brightly colored and quick-drying material.

Best Boating Life Jackets for Toddlers

The best toddler life jacket for boating (life jackets for children between one and three years of age) should have a large collar to support the child's head, a strap that is secured between the child’s legs to fasten together the front and back of the life jacket, a grab strap, reflective material, and a safety whistle that can draw attention in the event of an emergency. Always choose the size according to your child’s current weight to ensure that the life jacket keeps their head above water.

Best Youth Life Jackets for Boating

Youth life jackets are generally categorized for kids that weigh from 30 to 50 pounds or 50 to 90 pounds, depending on the weight of the child. The large, oversized collar that is included on toddler life jackets is usually no longer included in larger youth jackets, but there may still be a leg strap in the 30 to 50-pound vests. The best youth life jacket for boating should have adjustable chest belts for snug fit and better movement, be made from a fast-drying material, such as nylon or neoprene, and come in bright colors for easy visibility.

Best Dog Life Jacket for Boating

Since your pup is part of the family and many dog breeds love spending time out on the boat, invest in the best dog life jacket. Find a dog life jacket that includes a handle to make it easier to grab your dog out of the water, reflective accents for visibility, adjustable straps with buckles that ensure a secure fit, and a D-ring hook for attaching a leash. The best dog life jackets for boating are made from neoprene, which makes them lightweight, flexible, and durable.

Best Life Jackets for Fishing Boats

Gone are the days of the old-fashioned and uncomfortable orange life preservers. The life jackets for fishing that are on the market these days are breathable, comfortable, and a lot less bulky. The best life jackets for boat fishing on inland waters are PFDs that offer a full range of mobility, have a lightweight build, and stylish design. However, the best life jacket for bass boat fishing at high speeds should be a highly durable, front-entry PFD that has buckles for a snug fit, and a D-ring that attaches to the engine cut-off switch for safety.

Now that you know more about the features to look for when buying new life jackets, learn more about boating safety before heading out on summer boating adventures.

Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson is an award-winning outdoor writer, women’s sport fishing advocate, IGFA world record holder, and freshwater guide living in Southwest Florida. Hanson’s written work has appeared in publications such as Florida Game & Fish Magazine, BoatUS Magazine, and USA Today Hunt & Fish. To learn more about her work, visit or follow her on Instagram @shefishes2.