Top Features to look for in a Buoyancy Aid
What is a Buoyancy Aid?
As the name suggests, a buoyancy aid is something that is designed to help you float. It should not be confused with a lifejacket, that is designed to both keep you afloat, and normally to turn you into the correct orientation to keep your airway clear of the water. A buoyancy aid is designed to help you stay afloat during on-water activities that would be impractical to do when wearing a lifejacket, which is normally much more bulky. As a comparison, a buoyancy aid has a buoyancy rating of at least 50 Newtons (for adult sizes - junior may be less), whereas a lifejacket will be at least 100N, or more likely 150N.
TYPES OF BUOYANCY AIDS
Buoyancy aids can generally be broken down into 3 types: front zip, side zip and impact vest. They all do the same job in terms of floatation, but are optimised for different activities. Below we have put some common examples of the 3 types, showing the differences. Probably the most common type is the front zip, this works well for most applications, is easy to don and is comfortable on the water. The impact vest is designed to be a tighter fit. While they often have a front zip too, they are bolstered by several wide straps, so that you can really tighten these jackets around your torso. They are designed for use in high-speed on water activities, and are designed to not come off if you hit the water at speed. A side zip jacket is normally sits somewhere between the other two. Slightly tighter than a front zip, these are favoured by dinghy sailors after the minimum amount of bulk and also a more secure fit. They are not as tight/secure as an impact vest however, and are a bit harder to get in to than a front zip - they must be placed over your head.
WHAT WILL IT BE USED FOR?
For water activities where the chance of ending up in the water is quite slim, a front zip is normally the preferred option. They are popular with people canoeing and kayaking, as well dinghy sailing/cruising in more stable boats. They will help you float in an emergency, but can ride quite high on your torso when supporting you in the water, so are not ideal if you intend to intentionally spend some time in the water. A side zip buoyancy aid is better for this sort of activity, an example of which would be dinghy racing, where the chance of capsize are quite high. These will feel better when in the water, but the penalty is a slightly more snug fit out of the water and they are a bit harder to get on and off. For high speed activities such as water skiing, wakeboarding and jet skiing, an impact vest becomes essential. The speeds involved mean that either a front or side zip buoyancy aid could be pulled off you by the force of the water, and the inability to use your feet when strapped to skis or a wakeboard mean that you will want the security of a well fitted and tightly strapped impact vest.
When looking at a buoyancy aid you will normally find that sizing is done by weight. They must also fit you well (bear in mind the above about how the jacket works for your chosen activity) so check the weight ranges carefully. Most are sized in kilograms, so see below our rough conversion chart of stone to kilograms.
Some key features to look for in a buoyancy aid:
Pockets - Somewhere to put your keys, a radio or just a chocolate bar can come in quite handy, particularly if wearing over a wetsuit or drysuit without its own pockets. Make sure it has either a zip or velcro closure for security.
Adjustment - the more the better. Most have an adjustable waist band, but adjustable shoulder straps can really help create a perfect fit.
Cut - make sure when you try it on you move your arms and try it while sitting down. Basically mimic your intended activity and check for rubbing or anything that irritates you.
Accessory attachment point - great for securing a lanyard to.