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The Best Dinghy Sailing PFDs Of 2022 Helpful Guide

Small boat or dinghy sailing is incredibly fun. It can be fast and exciting or nice and relaxing. When you are out on the water you never know what might happen. It is a good idea (And sometimes legally required) to wear or have a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) with you. If that sounds like a good idea then here are some of the best dinghy sailing PFDs available now and a buying guide.

Below are out top picks for best dinghy sailing PFD. For more detailed reviews and life jacket information and FAQ see below.

Top Pick

Editor’s Choice

Best Value

Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Vest

Gill USCG Approved PFD

Onyx General Purpose Vest

  • Low profile design with SOLAS reflective patches and built in whistle

  • High quality PFD designed for sailing with adjustable straps and reflective strips
  • Low cost PFD with open arms and lightweight design

The top 5 best small boat sailing PFDs

We examined several of the most popular dinghy sailing PFDs.  Here are our reviews of the 5 best options available now.  We considered ease of use, price, options, functionality, and customer reviews in our selections of the best dinghy sailing PFDs. We did not consider any inflatable PFDs for this review as we do not consider them safe for small boat sailing.

1 – Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Vest

Top Pick

  • Mesh in lower back fits high back seats
  • Shoulder adjustments with neoprene comfort pads
  • SOLAS grade reflective material for visibility
  • Expandable zippered pockets with mesh drainage
  • 200 denier nylon ripstop and nylon oxford
  • Attached whistle for safety

Summary

The Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Vest is a USCG Approved Type 3 PFD designed for paddling sports. It is designed to conform to your body shape and allow free arm motion while sailing. The vest uses a single zipper for taking on and off and has 6 adjustable straps for fit. It uses nylon construction with a mesh back. It comes in 3 sizes to most adult paddlers. It has an attached signal whistle. All these features make it an excellent value and our top choice for best dinghy sailing PFD.

PFD Specifications

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III
  • Foam Flotation
  • Single Zipper
  • Materials : 200 denier nylon ripstop and nylon oxford
  • Weight: 2.2 lbs
  • 3 sizes

What we liked

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III
  • Low profile design for easy arm movement
  • 6 adjustment straps
  • SOLAS grade reflective material for visibility
  • Attached safety whistle
  • Zipper pocket

2 – Gill USCG Approved Front Zip PFD

Editor’s Choice

  • TECHNOLOGY – US Coast Guard Approved; UL1123 Type III approved design
  • END USE – Power Boating and Sailing; Canoeing; Kayaking; Yachting; Fishing
  • FEATURES – Adjustable shoulder length with neoprene padding; Two front zippered pockets; Easy front zip access
  • FABRIC COMPOSITION – 100% Nylon, PE Foam
  • FIT – Ladder lock adjustment for a secure fit

Summary

The Gill USCG Approved Front Zip PFD is a US Coast Guard approved type III PFD. Gil is a maker of high performance dedicated sailing gear and this is this product is no different. It features a tight conforming low profile design with adjustable waist and shoulder straps. The should straps feature neoprene padding for comfort. There is 2 front zipper pockets for storage. This PFD is near the high end on the price scale for type 3 PFDs. It is an excellent piece of gear for enjoying a day ripping around in a high performance dinghy or skiff. This makes it my top pick for best dinghy sailing PFD.

PFD Specifications

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III
  • Foam flotation
  • 1 zipper, 1 buckle front entry
  • Materials : Nylon with neoprene shoulder straps
  • 4 sizes

What we liked

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III
  • Adjustable shoulder straps with neoprene padding
  • Front zipper pockets
  • Low profile conforming design
  • Reflective strips

3 – Onyx General Purpose Boating Vest

Best Value PFD

  • Adjustable belts and chest strap to keep vest from riding up
  • Lightweight durable flotation foam
  • Large armholes for comfort
  • Open-sided styling
  • Bright colors to add visibility on the water

Summary

The Onyx General Purpose Boating Vest is a US Coast Guard Approved type 3 PFD. It is a low-cost PFD made for a variety of water sports. It has 3 buckles and an open arm design to give you unrestricted arm motion. It is available in youth, adult, and oversize to fit a variety of body sizes. This PFD was not designed specifically for sailing. It isn’t as low profile as sailing and paddling PFDs but still very usable. These features make this our pick for best value dinghy sailing PFD.

PFD Specifications

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type 3
  • Foam flotation
  • 3 buckle
  • Materials : 200 denier nylon and 150 denier poly-twill
  • Weight: 1 lbs
  • 1 size fits all for adults

What we liked

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III
  • Very low cost
  • Open arm design for easy arm movement
  • 3 buckle design
  • Lightweight

4 – Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket

  • Graded Sizing creates a better and more appropriate fit for a wider range of users
  • Ergonomic Wrapture shaped torso wraps around the body
  • Large, top loading front pocket for secure storage
  • Adjustable shoulders, 4 side pulls, and front waist buckle
  • Low cut, offset front-zip entry

Summary

The Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket is a USCG Approved type 3 PFD designed for paddle sports. It has large arm openings for unrestricted paddling. This also makes it good for sailing when freedom of motion is needed for adjusting sails and steering while hiked out. It features an offset zipper opening for better comfort than a center zipper. It has graded sizing of the foam cushions to be a better fit for different body sizes. It also has a large front, top-loading, zipper pocket for storage. This is a PFD made to make your day dinghy sailing more safe and enjoyable.

PFD Specifications

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type 3
  • Foam flotation
  • 1 Zipper 1 Buckle
  • Materials: Mini-Ripstop nylon shell & 200 denier oxford liner
  • Weight: 1.8 lbs
  • 3 sizes

What we liked

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type 3
  • Graded sizing of foam cushions for better fit
  • High visibility 3M reflective accents
  • Offset entry zipper for better comfort
  • Large arm openings for unrestricted arm movement
  • Large front zipper pocket for storage

5 – NRS Ninja PFD

  • Soft PVC-free foam panels are shaped for comfort and the floating front panel follows your movements and doubles as a handwarmer on chilly days
  • AirMesh fabric on shoulder straps and inner panels provide ventilation throughout the jacket
  • Side-entry with six adjustment points for a customizable fit
  • Redesigned front clamshell pocket features internal organization for essentials and the dual-entry zippers create a frosty-beverage-compatible pocket
  • Features a lash tab and strap garages

Summary

The NRS Ninja PFD is a US Coast Guard approved Type 3 PFD designed for sailing and paddling sports. It has large arm openings for unrestricted motion. It uses a 2 buckle entry to be easy to take on and off. There are 6 adjustable straps for a custom feeling fit. It has a hand-warming pocket behind the front zipper pocket. This is a high featured PFD to help you have an enjoyable day on your small sailboat.

PFD Specifications

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type 3
  • Foam flotation
  • 2 Buckles
  • Materials: 200-denier nylon
  • Weight: 2.0 lbs
  • 3 sizes

What we liked

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type 3
  • Handwarmer pocket
  • Front chest zipper pocket for storage
  • 2 buckle entry
  • 4 side and 2 top adjustment straps
  • Low profile design with large arm cutouts for easy arm movement

Thistles sailing at mark rounding

How To Choose The Best Dinghy Sailing PFD – Buying Guide

Nothing ruins a day on the water worse than someone drowning. I have experienced this one time at a sailing event and hope that none of you reading this ever have to. A few guys were sailing a Lighting with automatic inflatable PFDs. They capsized the boat and one of them got trapped under in the rigging when their PFD inflated. This topic on PFD’s is near and dear to me because of this. Always be careful when heading out on the water because unpredictable things can and will happen.

The United States Coard Guard has officially considered small sailing boats or dinghies as vessels. This means that anyone 13 and over, using one, is required to have a Type I, II, III, or V PFD with them. If you are under 12 you must wear it. To read more about USCG requirements click here. There are many styles of PFDs including inflatable and ones using foam flotation. What is best to use for dinghy sailing? You will find the answers to all these questions below.

US Coast Guard Approval Classifications

The US Coast Guard has 5 types of PFDs. The below video has a some good information on the different types and benefits of each.

Type I

Type I PFD’s are designed to turn you upright in the water if you are floating unconscience. These are traditional U-Shaped big bulky orange PFD’s you see in the abondon ship supplies on commercial boats.

TYPE I PFDS / OFF-SHORE LIFE JACKETS:  Best for all waters, open ocean, rough seas, or remote water, where rescue may be slow coming.  Abandon-ship lifejacket for commercial vessels and all vessels carrying passengers for hire:

https://www.dco.uscg.mil/CG-ENG-4/PFDSel/

Type I –  has the greatest required inherent buoyancy and turns most unconscious persons in the water from a face down position to a vertical and slightly backward position, therefore, greatly increasing one’s chance of survival.

https://www.uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/life-jacket-wear-wearing-your-life-jacket.php

Type II

Type II PFD’s are slightly less bulky than Type I PFD’s. They are still designed to turn an unconscious person upright in the water. This type of PFD is not very common.

TYPE II PFDS / NEAR-SHORE BUOYANT VESTS:  For general boating activities.  Good for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue.

https://www.dco.uscg.mil/CG-ENG-4/PFDSel/

Type II – intended to turn some unconscious persons from a face down position in the water to a position where the wearer’s respiration is not impeded.

https://www.uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/life-jacket-wear-wearing-your-life-jacket.php

Type III

Type III PFDs are the traditional life vest that everyone thinks off. These are designed for use on inland waters or where you will be rescued quickly. They are not designed to turn an unconscious person upright in the water. You will float face down with one of these on. They are meant for most water sports including kayaking, paddleboarding, canoeing, waterskiing, wakeboading, sailing, etc…

These PFD vests can be tailored toward different water sports. PFDs meant for paddling or small boat sailing will have big shoulder cutouts for easy arm motion. PFDs meant for wakeboarding, waterskiing and tubing will be tight fitting with 3 or 4 buckles and maybe a zipper too because they are meant to stay on when you hit the water at speeds fast enough to ski or board.

TYPE III PFDS / FLOTATION AIDS:  For general boating or the specialized activity that is marked on the device such as water skiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and others.  Good for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue.  Designed so that wearing it will complement your boating activities:

https://www.dco.uscg.mil/CG-ENG-4/PFDSel/

Type III – intended to support a conscious person in the water in an upright position.  This type of device is not required to turn an unconscious person in the water from a face-down position to a position where the wearer’s respiration is not impeded.

https://www.uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/life-jacket-wear-wearing-your-life-jacket.php

Type IV

Type IV PFD’s are throwable flotation devices that aren’t designed to be worn. They must have at least 16.5 lbs of flotation. This is your traditional square flotation cushion or ring or horseshow floaty.

Type V

Type V PFD’s are speciality PFD’s that don’t quite fit the other categories. Inflatable PFD’s are classified as Type V’s and frequently labeled as meeting the flotation performance of a Type I, II or III PFD. They also include some paddling PFDs that may not have enough flotation to meet Type III guidelines. Type V PFD’s can include the following:

  • Hybrid Inflatable PFDs
  • Canoe/Kayak Vest
  • Boardsailing Vests
  • Deck Suits
  • Work Vests for Commercial Vessels
  • Commercial Whitewater Vests
  • Man-Overboard Rescue Devices
  • Law Enforcement Flotation Devices

TYPE V PFDS / SPECIAL USE DEVICES:  Only for special uses or conditions.  

See label for limits of use:

https://www.dco.uscg.mil/CG-ENG-4/PFDSel/

Type V – is approved for restricted uses or activities such as boardsailing, or commercial white water rafting.  These devices may not be suitable for other boating activities.  The label indicates whether a particular design of Type V can be used in specific application, what restrictions or limitations apply, and its performance type.

https://www.uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/life-jacket-wear-wearing-your-life-jacket.php

Inflatable PFDs

Inflatable PFDs are a great invention but one has to use them with caution. They require maintenance. The C02 cartridge use to inflate them is only rated for a certain length of time. It needs to be replaced periodically. The vest should be inflated to check for air leaks at the same time.

The Coast Guard approves inflatable PFD’s only for people age 16 and older. For more information on age restrictions click here.

Inflatable PFDs are meant for people who know how to swim. They automatic inflating vests inflate quickly but not instantly. Manual inflating PFDs require you to inflate them usually by pulling a cord after you are in the water. They will lose air pressure over time and may need to be topped off. Most have an inflation tube you can use with your mouth to add more air. If the air cushion gets a hole or torn then you will lose all flotation and have to swim. Inflatable PFDs are not meant for people who don’t know how to swim.

Please see the below video for a demonstration on how an inflatable PFD inflates.

Inflatable PFDs and Dinghy Sailing

Manual vs Automatic Inflation

Automatic inflating PFDs should never be worn for certain activities such as small boat sailing where it can trap you in the rigging during inflation. I was at a regatta on Lake Erie where tragedy struck when someone capsized their boat and the automatic inflating PFD inflated in rigging trapping them under the boat. Nothing ruins a fun day on the water faster than someone drowning.

Automatic inflating vests should only be used for things where you don’t plan on falling in the water or walking in the water or wading in the water. They shouldn’t be used in situations where an inflating vest can get you trapped in something such as the mast and standing rigging under water.

The below video shows how automatic inflating PFDs inflate and how long it takes to surface.

Inflatable PFDs should not be used when your doing an activity where it is common to jump or fall in the water or to wade out in the water. If your sailing a dinghy on a windy day where you might capsize an inflatable PFD shouldn’t be used. Once it’s inflated you are then stuck wearing a very large bulky air cushion that can get caught and tangled in the boat rigging.

For a manual inflating PFD you have to be able to inflate it after you are in the water. That usually means pulling a cord to activate it. That means you must be able to swim to use this type of vest since you have to have enough control of yourself in the water to pull the cord after falling in.

When to use an automatic inflating PFD

Automatic inflating PFDs work well for large boat sailing where the boat has a keel and nobody is expecting to go in the water. This then becomes the situation where it may take a few minutes for the boat to get back to you if you fall in. You may end up in the water after getting hit by the boom so something that acts as a Type I or Type II becomes a good idea. You may not float unconscious face up in a Type III. For big boat racing an offshore rated automatic inflatable PFD with built in harness becomes a really good idea. This type of PFD is not suitable for a small boat that may capsize.

Suspenders vs Belt

Inflatable PFDs come in 2 main variety. One is called a suspenders type which is basically a U-Shaped air cushion worn around your neck and over your shoulders with a waist strap. These are essentially a Type I or Type II style PFD with an inflatable cushion. They are always Type V but will be marketed as having Type I, II or III characteristics. They are comfortable to wear because they are only a small strip going around your upper body.

The second main type of inflatable PFD is the belt PFD. This looks like a fanny pack. You inflate it the cushion in front of you and then have to manually pull the neck strap over your head. You have to be able to swim to use this because it takes some effort to put it on after inflating. These are really good for paddling on a hot day on really calm water or something like a bassboat where your fishing and don’t plan on getting wet.

The below video demonstates how a belt PFD inflates and is put on in the water.

Types of Type III PFDs

Type III PFDs are the most common PFDs out there and what you normally think of when you say PFD or life jactet or life vest. There is a huge variety of them available and they are designed for different purposes. They all have a minimum of 15.5 pounds of flotation.

General Purpose

This is the generic type 3 that is okay for everything but not great for any purpose. It usually has the minimum flotation required and it uses 2 or 3 buckles. It is made with nylon material.

Dinghy Sailing and Paddling

The next version of Type III PFD is the type designed for paddling (SUP and Kayak) and small boat sailing. Although they sound different both these 2 activities have very similar needs. These PFD’s are designed with large arm openings so you can freely move your arms to paddle or adjust lines. They are low profile and cut high around your stomach so you can easily sit or bend over while wearing it.

They usually use a combination of a zipper and a buckle to hold them on. They are almost always made of nylon material over foam but can have neoprene padding on the straps.

PWC/Wakeboard/waterskiing/tubing

This category of PFD is designed to be very tight fitting and to not come off if you fall in the water while going fast. They usually have 4 buckles. Sometimes 3 for smaller sizes. They can be made of nylon but higher performance versions will all be made of Neoprene for a tighter fit and also to provide some padding for you when you hit the water. They are usually not low profile meaning they are made to be worn in a standing position or slight bend in the waist. As they are designed to not come off easily they do not have large arm holes as paddling PFDs have.

PFD Materials

Almost all PFDs are made with with ripstop nylon or neoprene or some combination of the 2.

Nylon

Nylon is used as the outer fabric over the foam cushions because it is quick drying and durable. For paddle boarding quick drying is desirable since you don’t want to feel like your paddling around wearing a sponge full of water. Most PFDs designed for paddling are use nylon except for straps where you want a little cushion for comfort.

Neoprene

Neoprene or spandex is a spongy material that stretches and conforms to your body shape. It is the same material that wetsuits are made from. It is used as the main material for PWC/waterskiiing/wakeboarding PFDs where fit is really important and you may want some padding against hitting the water. For paddling it is not terrific since it sponges up water and you’ll feel like your wearing a wet sponge while your paddling around. Wetsuits work by trapping water next to your body and not drying out so a neoprene PFD will function the same way.

catamaran flying kite

Dinghy Sailing PFD FAQ

Q: What is a PFD?

A PFD is a Personal Flotation Device otherwise know as a life jacket or life vest or flotation aid or a bunch of other names. It is something you wear that has flotation that will keep you floating if you fall in the water.

Q: Do I really need to wear a PFD?

This entirely depends on the situation and your personal comfort level. I tend to personally wear one almost all the time on the water. I’ve experienced being at an event where someone drowned and it’s not a good feeling. Tragedy can strike and it is never expected. The US Coast Guard considers dinghies as a vessel so you are required to have at least have a PFD with you on a small sailboat. To read more about USCG rules click here.

Q: What type of PFD is best for me?

The best PFD for you is one that fits you well and works well for the activity that you’ll be doing. For dinghy sailing one that doesn’t get in the way when your moving around the boat or make it hard to hike or adjust lines.

Q: What are inflatable PFDs?

Inflatable PFDs use a CO2 cartridge to inflate an air cushion for flotation. They can be either manually or automatically inflated when you get in the water.

Q: How do inflatable PFDs work?

Manual PFDs work by having a pull cord or some other method to release the CO2 gas into the air cushion. Automatically inflating PFDs typically have a seal on the CO2 cartidge that melts releasing the CO2 into the air cushion. Most inflatable PFDs have a mouth tube for manually blowing air into the air cushion if they start losing pressure.

Q: What is special about small boat sailing PFDs?

PFDs meant for small boat or dinghy sailing have large arm openings to not restrict your arm motion while operating the boat and hiking. They have a lower profile shape in your torso area to not restrict your body motion while in a seated or hiked out position.

Q: How long will a PFD work?

A type III PFD using foam flotation has a maximum life of 10 years. After that it should be replaced. For more information click here.

Q: How much do PFDs cost?

You can get an inexpensive general purpose USCG approved type 3 for about $25. An offshore rated automatic inflating PFD with a safety harness can easily cost over $200. Most PFDs meant for dinghy sailing run from $50 to $100.

Q: What is a pinnie?

A pinnie is a small tight fitting sleeveless shirt that is worn over top of your PFD. Most junior, highschool and collegiate sailing require them. They prevent straps and buckles on your PFD from catching on lines and rigging of your boat. You can learn more about pinnies here.

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About the author

My name is Doug Ryan. I am an outdoors enthusiast always looking forward to my next adventure. I spend as much time skiing, biking, and paddleboarding as I can. I decided to start Endless Rush Outdoors as a way to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for all things outdoor adventures and to help other people have as much fun as me.

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