Paddle boarding is easy to learn but hard to master. You can get the hang of it on the first day or in a few days. After that, you’ll want to take on bigger challenges – like going on paddle boarding adventures, in flowing rivers, or out in less-than-ideal conditions.
Even if you are a good swimmer, any body of water can be dangerous and once you start to push your limits the chances of something going wrong increases, so you need to take safety seriously.
Like any other water sport, paddle boarding can be dangerous. You need to wear protective gear, such as a personal flotation device, to stay safe.
Should you wear a life jacket when paddle boarding?
The term ‘life jacket’ is actually the wrong thing to say, for paddle boarding you should wear an appropriate personal flotation device (PFD), like a buoyancy aid.
So, to be precise you do not need a life jacket to go paddleboarding safely, you need a PFD. Life jackets tend to be bulky and are mainly used for sailors in yachts. You are better off with a lighter and more comfortable personal flotation device than a full life jacket.
For this article, we use ‘life jacket’ and ‘PFD’ interchangeably, because even though it’s technically wrong to say life jacket, it’s probably what you searched to get here!
What is the difference between personal flotation aids and life jackets?
A life jacket is meant to keep your head above water.
A personal flotation aid will not keep your head above water; it will only help you float. You will have to keep your head above the water yourself. This is fine for paddle boarding because the chances of you becoming unconscious are extremely slim.
Always wear your leash
Whatever the conditions and extra safety equipment you have, your leash will always be the number one safety device. If you fall off your board, you don’t want it to float away.
The board is the biggest flotation device you will have when paddle boarding, so make sure you always attach yourself to it!
You might also like to read our blog – what to wear when paddle boarding.
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Paddle board (SUP) life jacket reviews
Different flotation aids are better for different people and different situations. If you need safe, reliable buoyancy, a foam vest might be the best choice. If you want something less bulky for comfortable long-distance paddles, a PFD belt might be the better option.
Here are our choices for the best life jackets for paddle boarding
The Palm Meander is a highly reflective and secure foam vest that keeps you as safe as possible.
From £80.00 – View on Palm’s website
- Waist strap holds the vest in place and prevents it from pulling up over your head in an emergency
- Reflective coating for excellent visibility
- Foam vest that does not require inflating
- No significant disadvantages
The Palm Meander is an excellent foam vest for those who want to maximize safety. It fits very securely (the waist belt works wonders) and won’t accidentally come off in an emergency. It is not an inflatable vest, so there is no risk of the CO2 inflation system failing.
The reflective coating on the outside of the vest can save you in a situation where visibility is limited. If fog or anything else makes it hard for a boat to see, they might hit you. If you want to be as safe as possible, get a reflective vest.
The Palm Meander is easy to put on and easy to take off and fits well because of its adjustable straps. The zippers are of good quality and won’t break any time soon.
The internal pockets use velcro rather than zippers, so they are not as secure as they should be. Don’t store anything too important in a Velcro pocket. Keep important things like your keys in the front pocket, which is at least zippered.
Jobe 50 Newton Bodywarmer
The Jobe 50 Newton Bodywarmer is a good choice if you are looking for something stylish and warm that doesn’t resemble a typical life vest.
- Stylish appearance and very comfortable
- Durable zippers that you don’t have to be gentle with
- Two inside pockets
- Made out of strong nylon
- Water drainage system
- Some products offer more buoyancy
- Way to warm for the hottest UK summer days
The Jobe 50 Newton Bodywarmer is one of the best choices if you are looking for something a bit cooler looking. It resembles a body warmer but works as a reasonably powerful 50 Newton flotation device.
The Jobe doesn’t even look like a flotation device, which is great if you don’t like the way life vests look. It has some casual style to it and might not immediately be recognised as a flotation product at all.
The Jobe is easy to get into and out of. There is a front zipper, and it is just like getting to and out of any other zippered vest. It is made out of strong nylon, and the zippers are well made.
There is even a water drainage system, plus internal pockets and a large range of sizes. Make sure you get the right size because while it probably will fit well, it doesn’t use straps like a typical life vest.
This is perfect for winter paddle boarding and is a great additional warm layer.
Decathlon Itiwit 50N+ Buoyancy Aid
This BA from Decathlon is perfect for those just getting into paddleboarding who don’t want to splash out on something expensive.
From £29.99 – View all Decathlon buoyancy aids
- Great value
- Perfect for beginners
- 2-year warranty
- A little bulky
- No pockets
Decathlon is very good at making decent watersports gear for those on a budget. Sure their products don’t compare with the likes of Red Paddle Co, but when you buy Decathlon you know what to expect, something simple but perfect for getting on the water.
The Decathlon Itiwit 50N+ buoyancy aid is as simple as it comes. No pockets or fancy linings, just a well made buoyancy aid that’ll keep you safe on the water. Coming in 2 different colours and a range of sizes depending on your weight, this buoyancy aid does the job really well and is perfect for the weekend warrior.
It won’t be comfortable enough for someone who does long-distance or racing, but that’s not who it’s designed for.
If you want something a little more technical from Decathlon, they have plenty of other buoyancy aids available.
Spinlock Alto Belt Pack
The Alto Belt Pack is for those who want a very small flotation device that they hardly notice.
- Very lightweight, only 374 grams
- 75N buoyancy despite its small size
- Certified as an effective flotation device
- Not good enough for children for weak swimmers
- Does not inflate automatically
The Alto Belt Pack is a great choice if you are looking for something light, simple, and compact. You will hardly notice that you are wearing it. It is great for paddleboarders as well as kayakers, motorboaters, and anyone else who wants to spend time on the water safely.
The Alto Belt Pack is manually operated, which makes it a bit less safe than a flotation device that inflates automatically. However, you won’t have to worry about it inflating when you don’t want it to. Despite its small size and low price, the alto belt pack is certified as an effective flotation device.
To get the Alto to work, you pull a cord. This makes a tube come out of the small pack and inflate.
The tube then slides up to your chest and supports you under the armpits. While it is not as good as a full life jacket, it can keep your head above the water.
The Alto offers a huge 75N buoyancy, which is great for such a small device. The alto weighs only 376 grams, so you will hardly notice it. You can also get the Alto with a whistle if you want, but that is optional.
Helly Hansen Rider Vest
The Helly Hansen Rider is for people who want a high-quality and comfortable vest that is still lightweight. While a vest is easier to notice than a belt, you may still hardly feel it if the fit is good. It weighs only 550 grams.
- Lightweight and comfortable
- Easy to put on and take off
- Soft foam
- Front pocket
- The bulky front clip might scratch the board when climbing back on
If you are looking for a classic foam vest that is not bulky, the Helly Hansen Rider Vest is one of the best on the market. It is not quite as unnoticeable as a good inflatable vest, but the flexible panels make it comfortable to wear.
The vest is relatively short – it doesn’t go all the way down your torso and restrict movement.
The mesh lining will also keep moisture away from your skin and is breathable as well. It also offers a large front pocket which is big enough to keep some essentials when you’re on the water.
The Palm Glide offers an enormous amount of buoyancy for such a small device.
- Impressive 100N buoyancy
- Small and lightweight
- Pockets and d-rings
- Somewhat expensive
The Palm Glide is incredible if you want something that packs a huge flotation bladder into a small space. The 100N flotation bladder will keep even a heavier person afloat, and it fits into a tiny waist pouch that you hardly notice. The powerful 24g Co2 cylinder makes this all possible.
Despite its small size, the Palm Glide has room for pockets. It has a zippered rear pocket for a waterproof phone or something else that is small but important. There are also d-rings on the belt so that you can attach things for additional storage.
The Palm Glide passes ISO 12402-5 and ISO 12502-6 standards for watersports/paddlesports safety. With 100N of buoyancy, it offers twice the buoyancy required. On the downside, this is somewhat more expensive than most of the other flotation belts available.
The Palm Peyto is a stylish women’s flotation vest that fits comfortably and has hand warmers, large pockets, and adjustable straps.
From £129.38 – View on Palm
- Great appearance for a typical looking life vest
- Large, zippered pockets
- Hand warmers
- Comfortable fit that can be adjusted
- Relatively expensive
While the Palm Peyto obviously looks like a flotation device and not anything else, it is still stylish. The Peyto is available in a large range of different sizes, and straps make the fit adjustable.
The Palm Peyto is one of the best vests you can get if you want a lot of pockets. The front pockets are big enough to store something like a small radio, and there is a back pocket big enough for a water bottle as well.
Like the Palm Meander, the Palm Peyto uses a waist strap to make it as safe as possible. If you fall off of your paddleboard, the last thing you want is for the vest to pull up over your head.
The anti ride waist strap will keep the vest in place, making the Palm Peyto very safe. You can adjust the shoulder straps as well as the waist straps for an excellent fit. The only disadvantage is the relatively high price.
The Yak Xipe has a large hydration bladder and plenty of pockets for long expeditions.
- Excellent waist belt
- Highly visible – red or orange colour plus reflective coating
- Excellent storage
- Not a lightweight or minimalist choice
- Some people might not like the appearance, although others think it looks great
While the Yak Xipe looks fairly bulky, it is actually comfortable to wear. You may like or dislike the appearance. It looks stylish, but it is not meant to cover as little of your torso as possible.
The Yak Xipe offers excellent visibility. It is red or orange and is covered in a reflective coating. A boat will notice you even if visibility is limited.
It is also a strong and secure foam vest that doesn’t need to be inflated. The waist belt, which is not visible, keeps the vest on you if you fall.
If you like to have water with you while you go paddle boarding but don’t want to bring a water bottle, the Yak Xipe stands out for its particularly good hydration system. The back pocket is a large hydration bladder you can fill with water before you head out.
The Yak Xipe stands out for its excellent storage. There are two large front pockets, and you can use the back pocket to store more belongings instead of water.
Gul Garda 50N Buoyancy Aid
The Gul Garda combines the reliable safety of a foam vest with the flexibility that one expects from inflatable vets.
- Fits in a way that makes it flexible and comfortable to wear for a long time
- Good value
- Black colour gives low visibility
- No pockets
The Gul Garda is great if you want a foam vest that offers flexibility. Sometimes, there is a trade-off between the safety of foam vests and the flexibility of inflatable vests, but that is not the case here.
The Gul Garda sits around the chest, at the lower ribcage, and doesn’t interfere with movement. Function-wise, the Gul Garda is an excellent product. The super lightweight PVC foam is a great material for flotation vests.
Some people might not like the colours or the appearance. The Gul Garda is mostly black with some gold and a bit of grey and silver. Some people might like the appearance, but brighter colours are better for visibility and look better on most people.
Red Original Airbelt
The Red Airbelt is very durable and holds your head above the water in an emergency.
£104.95 – View on Red’s website
- Holds you up by the head and neck, keeping your head above water
- Very durable
- 5-year warranty
- D-ring attachments
- Gas canister can be replaced for repeated uses
- Strong waterproof fabric
- Quite a few steps are required to inflate it
The Red Airbelt is a powerful product that can keep your head above the water in an emergency. When the compact waist pack opens up and inflates, the tube moves up past your neck and holds your head up. This is great if you are hurt and find it hard to swim.
While the Red Airbelt only offers a standard 50n worth of buoyancy, it may still be safer than other air belts. It holds you up around the head and neck, not under the arms. It is not a good replacement for a full life jacket if you have kids that can’t swim well, but it can still keep an injured person’s head above the water.
The Red Airbelt also has one large pocket at the front (a single large pocket can be better than many small pockets that you can’t fit much into) and is suitable for people who weigh anywhere from 40KG to 130KG.
Pulling the tube out of the waist pack might be a little too difficult in an emergency, especially if you are hurt badly. You will have to open the bag, pull the tube up to your neck, and pull the cord to inflate it.
This is not as safe as a foam vest that works without you having to do anything. If you do get the Red Airbelt, you might want to practice pulling it out without inflating it a few times before you take it out.
Aztron N-SV 2.0
This is a great looking vest that you open from the sides and close with straps, rather than open with a zipper. This makes it impossible for the vest to slip over your head in an emergency.
From £50 – View on Puravida Board Riders
- Reflective panels for visibility
- Won’t slip off in an emergency
- Good choice of materials
- Silver colour is not ideal for visibility
While dark-coloured, the N-SV 2.0 is covered in reflective panels, making it one of the more visible choices. It also fits onto your body very securely and can never slip over your head.
You enter the vest from the sides – there is no front zipper. This makes it take a little longer to get into, but there is no way for the closed vest to slip over your head. It is one of the safer choices.
It is made of strong nylon and uses very light EPE foam for buoyancy. It fits around your chest rather than your waist, so it is comfortable to wear and doesn’t interfere with movement.
Jobe Pet Vest
If you want to take your best friend with you on a paddle board (of course you’re going to try!), you need to keep them safe. It might not be easy to hold on to a small dog if anything goes wrong.
The pet vests work as intended. You can get the vests in a very large range of sizes, plus there are straps for further size adjustment. The vests are well designed to fit onto dogs’ bodies.
£32.99 – View on The SUP Co
What makes a good paddle board life jacket (PFD)?
A good flotation aid must reliably do what it is intended to do and help you float in an emergency. You might be injured or in rough water. It might not be very easy to stay afloat without a flotation aid in an emergency that comes out of nowhere.
Comfort and flexibility
A good flotation aid should also be comfortable to wear – make sure it fits well. If your flotation aid is uncomfortable, that can take the fun out of a great summer day.
Make sure it is comfortable enough that you can wear it for hours. Some vests are better shaped than others. Ring-shaped flotation devices also vary in comfort.
It should not be loose fitting as that can be a safety hazard as well as less comfortable. If it is too loose, it might come off if you fall off of your paddleboard.
It should also not be too tight and make it hard to breathe. Make sure you get a good-fitting vest that is snug but not tight.
It is important to get a life jacket (or flotation device, you probably won’t want a full life jacket) that you can put on and take off easily. It should be simple to adjust the fit of your vest.
Pockets and pouches
Many flotation aids include pockets. You might not want or need any storage on your vest, but it can come in handy sometimes.
If you are only taking your paddleboard out for an hour or two at a time, you might not want pockets. However, you might plan on taking your paddleboard out all day, and deep pockets can come in handy in these situations.
Some vests even have built-in water containers, which are a great feature as you can’t easily carry a water bottle with you. You will sweat a lot while out on the water, so consider a vest with a hydration system.
Some people even take their paddleboards out for days on expeditions. You will need to bring things with you in these cases, and pockets can store some of your belongings.
Keeping you afloat is not the only way personal flotation devices can keep you safe. They can also make you visible to boats that could potentially hit you.
Many people are injured every year by being struck by boats; a good vest can help you avoid being one of them. A personal flotation device should be colourful and reflective to make you as visible as possible in dim light.
You should get a life jacket or flotation device that inflates quickly and automatically. If you fall off of your board, especially if you get hurt, you need a flotation device that will automatically inflate. It should also be possible to inflate it manually if the automatic inflation fails.
Everyone wants to look good while playing a sport outdoors, and some vests look better than others. Don’t get an uncomfortable or unsafe jacket just because you like how it looks, but flotation devices don’t have to be drab or awkward looking either. Many vests both work well and are reasonably stylish.
Other aspects to consider
You need to take your height, chest size, and weight into account when buying a flotation device. It needs to fit properly, and it needs to be buoyant enough to keep you afloat.
Don’t walk into a store and buy the first life jacket you try on. Try a few life jackets out and pick the best one. It should be well-suited to someone of your height, weight, and build.
If you are buying a life jacket online, you should also look at the information about its size carefully. Order a life jacket or flotation device that will fit well and not barely fit you. Usually, you can use the straps to tighten it and make it fit properly, but this is not always enough if you get the wrong size.
If you aren’t sure whether or not your life jacket is tight enough: try putting three fingers between your shoulder and the jacket. If three fingers fit, your life jacket is too loose. If tightening it won’t work, your life jacket is too big.
What kind of life jacket do I need for paddleboarding?
You need different types of personal flotation equipment for different types of paddle boarding. You may need extra protection for the more dangerous forms of the sport or prefer lighter and more comfortable protection if you are doing something safer.
Your swimming skill is relevant, but remember that you might be injured in an emergency. Don’t assume that being a strong swimmer means you can get away with minimal protection.
Foam VS inflatable
Sometimes, a simple foam vest is better. A foam vest is always buoyant; it does not have to inflate. If you fall into the water while injured and a long way away from shore, you can rely on a foam vest to keep you afloat.
Inflatable vests are a bit less reliable. Inflatable vests use gas canisters to blow up immediately. Sometimes, this inflation system can fail, so they are a bit less safe.
An inflatable vest may require you to pull a chord to get it to inflate. This is not the best system in an emergency where you might be hurt or even unconscious.
A vest that inflates automatically as soon as you hit the water is a better idea. Since the gas canister system might always fail, a foam vest is the safest.
Despite the advantages of foam vests, many people prefer inflatable ones. Foam vests are bigger and bulkier and not that comfortable if you want to be out with your paddleboard all day.
If you use an inflatable vest, it won’t inflate until you need it. It takes up little room, and you can move freely in it and hardly notice it.
If you want something you will notice as little as possible, you can get an inflatable flotation belt. Since this is a belt rather than a vest and won’t inflate until it needs to, you won’t even notice it. This is significantly safer than paddleboarding with no safety equipment at all and feels just the same.
If you are both going to be out for many hours and be out on calm water and not too far from shore, lighter safety equipment might be a better idea. Bulky equipment can take some of the fun out of the day. Being around others is another thing that makes heavier safety equipment less important.
If you are on rougher water, a long way from shore, or alone, you might go with a heavy foam vest. You might still not need a full life jacket, but bulkier personal flotation gear might be better.
Do you need safety equipment to legally paddle board in the UK?
No, but it’s a good idea to have safety equipment with you anyway. If the risks seem low, go with the lightest protection. Get an inflatable belt – you will hardly notice it, and it could save your life if anything goes very wrong in what seemed like a safe situation.
About the author
Watersports Pro is managed by Ollie, who has been in the industry since 2007. A paddleboard and advanced windsurfing instructor, Ollie has travelled the world teaching these sports.
Now based on the South Coast of England, he shares his experience and knowledge on watersportspro.co.uk.