We all like to think we’re invincible out in the water, but the truth is, big spills always happen to every rider.
And wakeboard accidents, like car crashes, aren’t predictable, so it’s always a good idea to always have your wakeboard life jacket on.
Of course, like car safety belts, you might think life jackets are not cool, bulky, or aren’t fun to use, but when the “wear it” message is ignored, the consequences can be grim.
I’m a living testimony!
I recall the day I went out wakeboarding with my son when things took a turn for the worst around noon.
My hand slipped off the wakeboard handle as I went for the wake, getting dragged into the water and hitting my head.
I fell into the water, and momentarily, I lost my consciousness.
The good thing is I had my life jacket on, and my son quickly circled back, pulling me out of the water and performed CPR.
There’s no doubt in my mind that my life jacket saved my life.
And yes, I’m an avid swimmer, but my skills were of little help for the moment.
But my biggest worry was what if I had been alone in the water and with no life jacket?
That would’ve been the end game for me.
See, there’s one simple strategy that will save your life during recreational water activities, and that is wearing a life jacket.
Of course, it won’t save you from hypothermia or even sharks, but it’ll dramatically increase your odds of survival.
It keeps you from drowning, which is handy for the non-swimmers or when you’re knocked unconscious.
And the good news is there’s no need not to wear a life jacket because the modern-day options are not the old, bulky orange style most riders envision.
Unlike the traditional nylon versions that limited mobility and rode up your chest, choking you, the modern designs have progressed alongside everything else in the sport.
Today, we’ve much more comfortable, lightweight and stylish options. Some even have technologies that help to keep the wearers cool and comfortable.
Now, if you feel the need to have one of these amazing life-saving devices, you’re in the right place.
Here, I’ll share everything you need to know about selecting the best wakeboard vests.
I’ve also outlined some of my favorite wakeboard life jackets.
Table of Contents
The Best Wakeboard Life Jackets For The Money
#1 O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG Life Vest - EDITOR'S CHOICE
You can never go wrong with O’Neill.
And when I first came across the Superlite Coast Guard Life Vest, I instantly knew I found the right wakeboarding life vest for my needs.
It hasn’t disappointed me a dime!
For starters, the Superlite is unique in several ways, which sets it apart from other wake vests in the market.
For example, unlike the more mainstream life wakeboard vests, which tend to have open sides with large front and back segmented foam panels, the Superlite has a more enclosing design.
The foam is more evenly distributed, and the greatest benefit to this design is better floatation.
It’s such a practical option that my autistic son has no problem using it in the pool. Remember, he has never learned to swim, but the wakeboard life jacket supports him well. He’s now able to float, swim, and do all the things he wants to do safely without us needing to be right there.
Another benefit of this wakeboard vest is the choice of material.
I love nylon for several reasons.
First, it’s simple and robust.
The construction is great and has been durable so far.
Personally, I’ve hit the lake at 35 mph, and it has held up well. It protected my chest but, more importantly, kept me floating.
Plus, it doesn’t fall apart easily as most materials do. The foam backing on the backside of the life vest doesn’t fold over inside, and I’m quite happy with the wakeboard vest.
The second benefit of this material is how practical it is.
Nylon dries faster than neoprene material, so even when I take a tumble, I know it doesn’t stay soggy and uncomfortable.
Another unique design feature of the Superlite is the fitting system. See, almost all wakeboard vests use a front zipper and belt for security.
The Superlite does it differently. It skips the front zipper altogether and replaces them with four heavy-duty quick-release buckles.
This gives the life vest unbeatable strength, ensuring the vest won’t come off your body even when you hit the water at extreme speeds.
Secondly, it ensures you have an easy time adjusting the quick-release buckles for a close but comfortable and snug fit.
Speaking of fit, how’s Superlite sizing?
It’s an extremely close-fitting and compact vest.
For me, it was the best and biggest vest I could find. I’ve a large barrel chest and always had to buy a bigger than a normal vest, so I was expecting this one to be tight or barely fit.
To my surprise, the vest has a nice sizing and secure fit. I was pleased and good job to O’Neil for this one.
For wakeboarders with normal or small chest sizes, you simply need to choose your size. The vest sizes run the same as your shirt sizes.
Backtracking a little bit, we mentioned the Superlite encloses your upper body more than other wakeboarding life vests.
Now, you might think it’s restrictive, but that is further from the truth.
A low-profile design and anatomical flex points mean you’ll soon forget you’re wearing it.
The hollow armpits are flexible, so it doesn’t pinch, nor does it ride up and make you float weirdly.
In fact, when not wakeboarding, I can effortlessly use the Superlite for paddling or kayaking, thanks to the good arm clearance.
The padding on the Superlite has been kept as thin as possible, but there’re double-thick segmented foam panels on either side of the tapered waist to add more buoyancy without getting in your way. It’s a clever design.
Overall, the O’Neil Superlite is a nice design, practical, and perfect for multiple sports.
#2 O’Brien Traditional Neo Life Men’s Vest - Best Wakeboard Life Jacket for Men
The O’Brien Neo Men’s is my favorite vest.
It’s a fitted neoprene shell wakeboard vest, and we use it for different water sports.
While there’re higher-end life wakeboarding life vests out there, you don’t need them because the O’Brien is a great all-around vest for everyday use.
Now, for all wakeboard vests in our list, floatation is always key, and this US Coast Guard-approved life jacket doesn’t disappoint.
It’s a Type 3 floatation device, so it’s a nice all-around watersports jacket.
I love it because I’m not a pro-swimmer but sometimes love to “dangle” in the water. The vest always gives me a good feeling while offering the extra safety I need to keep me from sinking.
Plus, I love how foamy it comes, totally enclosing my ribs, back, and front chest. Each segmented panel is adjoined by a high-quality stitching, which almost feels like being tailored. So, yes, this USCG-approved life jacket is also quite high quality and premium.
While the wakeboard life jacket is fully enclosed, it has a low-profile design as our first pick.
The vest is anatomically designed and comes with huge arm cutouts for maximum agility and a great range of motion.
It means it’s quite flexible and allows enough arm movement, so it’s perfect for use for any water sport or just recreation.
When not wakeboarding, I can use the board for paddling, kayaking, or even on a jet ski.
What about the material?
It’s the best there’s.
The neoprene outer used on USCG approved life vests is soft, adds a little extra warmth, and does a great job of floating. So, I can also use it for surfing.
But it’s the comfort factor for me.
See, I like my jet-skiing life jackets tight before getting in the water because if they’re not, they tend to shift up and get obnoxiously in my chin/neck space.
But not the O’Brien neoprene wakeboard vest.
The vest fits snugly in and out of the water. They expand a little when you get them wet, but they shouldn’t start to shift up on your body when you’re in the water.
The material is also so much more comfortable and feels better. They also fit much better than the traditional wakesurf life jackets, and I was happy with everything on this vest.
On top of it all, the material is of high quality and doesn’t break down easily.
I’ve taken numerous hits on this wakeboard life jacket when wakeboarding, and yet it remains sturdy and compact.
I’ve also used it on my chlorinated pool, and it doesn’t deteriorate or wear as other jackets would.
O’Brien is also one of the easiest wake surf life jackets to use.
It closes with a full-length zip, two belts for added security and combines with a stretchy material for a perfect fit.
Overall, the O’Brien is a nice water vest and has some really good properties that any wakeboarder would benefit from.
#3 O'Brien Women's Impulse Neo Life Vest – Best Wakeboard Life Jacket for Women
My wife is excited to use her new O’Brien Women’s Impulse Neo wake vest.
This wake vest offers a great fit and doesn’t ride up or make her choke as other vests do.
As a bonus, it perfectly matches the tie-dye purple of her new wakeboard.
And as with all the vests on our list of the best wakeboard life jackets, the Neo wakeboard life jacket is approved for all water activities.
It’s a type 3 life jacket, and so, beyond swimming, it’s also perfect for use for kayaking, wakeboarding, canoeing, and other sports.
It works well for the new swimmers or those who fear getting into the water.
The Neo wakeboard vest keeps you afloat and is comfortable. It doesn’t flip you over on your back if you’re unconscious. It’s a life-saver.
It also feels great to wear; the 1.5mm neoprene provides an excellent buffer when you hit the water.
My better half has also used it for the whole of last summer on the lake, and it has held up pretty well. She says it remains comfortable and still looks good. It’s a quality vest.
Using this vest is also a joy.
We give O’Brien a thumbs up by adding wide armholes and multiple segmented hinge points in the front and back for a good range of motion.
The arms on the vest are cut wide for comfort and will follow every move you make on the wakeboard.
It also doesn’t ride up into her neck when sitting on a tube or riding a wakeboard. It also has lots of range of motion in the arms for swimming.
With the help of a front zipper closure and two adjustable belts with squeeze-style side release buckles, this vest is comfortable and secure.
It fits like a charm, looks fantastic, and doesn’t ride up.
On top of that, it’s quite tight and works as it’s supposed to when she’s in the water.
See, the point of a wakeboard life jacket isn’t just about keeping your nose and mouth above the waterline but also keeping your chest above the water.
And the good thing with this purchase is it’ll fit even the ladies endowed with large breast size.
But with lots of negative reviews on the sizing, it’s easy to get misled on what size you need. I find most of the reviews to be wildly inaccurate. Some of the reviewers simply don’t know their true size.
I can safely say that if you’re realistic and actually follow the sizing chart with the real measurements, you won’t need to size up or size down.
Overall, the O’Brien wakeboard vest is a wonderful safety vest with plenty to offer, especially for dedicated women water enthusiasts.
It may lack pockets for holding your keys, but it comes with an attached D-ring to keep the keys on hand.
#4 Stearns Adult Watersport Classic Series Vest – Best Budget Wakeboard Life Jacket for Adults
My kids are generally good swimmers, and so when looking for their wake vest, I wanted something inexpensive since it’s a legal requirement.
I’m actually pretty happy with the purchase.
Sure, the Stearns Classic wakeboard vests are not anything fancy, but they get the job done.
More importantly, anything that can make my wife feel better- even confident leaving the kids in the waters is a WIN.
This wakeboard vest is comfortable, and my son easily swims in it and moves freely without feeling too bulky.
He’s completely at ease and floats easily in the water when he wants to take a break from swimming and just rest.
Be sure to check on the weight recommendations to ensure you pick the appropriate size!
As I mentioned earlier, there’s nothing special with this purchase, but the price is good enough for the kids and even adults weighing under 90 pounds to get going.
The vest keeps my kids afloat and will even support my niece, who has recently had surgery on their back. It left him unable to swim, but the fit and comfort of this life jacket made him comfortable going out in my kayak in very deep water.
While most PFDs are not famous for their luxurious and comfortable fit, this option is different.
I like how it’s cut, making it pretty easy to fit on just about any body type.
The open design is handy for the smaller body or the extra-large body frames.
More importantly, the design is so relaxing, and you’ll almost forget you’ve a wake vest on.
The specially cut holes on the arms are flexible and offer a whole range of motion, so it’s easy to use this vest for hand-intensive water activities, including paddling and kayaking.
Along the open sides, I also love how light and comfortable the vest is.
It doesn’t create any discomfort around the neck or chest. And on top of that, it comes with adjustable hidden straps you can use to customize the fit.
We also have to give the manufacturer a big thumbs up for their durable construction.
The coated nylon shell and inner lightweight PE foam are quite sturdy and will stand up to whatever you throw at it.
It’s soft to the touch and will also protect you against the heavy impacts when you wipe out.
More importantly, the shaped rear panels ensure you always stay afloat.
#5 Liquid Force Ghost 2019 – Casual Wakeboard Wake Vest
Sometimes, what you need while wakeboarding is a lightweight and comfortable vest.
And that’s what you get with the Liquid Force Ghost.
In my opinion, it’s arguably the most comfortable and lightest life jacket vest in the market.
You should know that the Ghost wakeboard comp vest, as all comp vests, isn’t approved by the United Stage Coast Guard.
Does it mean it is less protective?
Technically, yes, but unless you’ll be in the water for extended periods waiting for rescue, I would recommend it.
Also, if you’re an average swimmer and have some floatation basics, the Ghost would still be a viable pick.
I wouldn’t recommend it for non-swimmers or kids with no swimming skills.
That said, the lack of a United States Coast Guard certification doesn’t make it a lesser model.
In fact, it’s like no other vest we’ve reviewed.
The vest is truly a technological achievement in design, materials, and construction.
For example, it comes with a never-seen Stitch-less Flex Panel architecture.
The benefit of this design is unmatched flexibility. It offers a wide range of motion and hand movement that you’ll be surprised at what it can do.
For starters, you’ll even forget that you have anything on your body.
More importantly, it’ll allow you to perform tricks and hand movements that you wouldn’t otherwise manage with other wake vests.
For this reason, the Ghost isn’t only ideal for swimming and wakeboarding but can also be used for other water sports such as water rafting, kayaking, paddling, and so much more!
The other unbeatable benefit of this pick is the unparalleled comfort.
I mean, I can’t imagine that it felt so plush and easy on my skin for such an inexpensive and simple wake vest.
All the comfort on this vest is credited to the futuristic construction process consisting of a new 4x stretchable segmented foam core, Bio-Spline 3D pattern, and chill stopper water-resistant liner fabric.
Simply put, riders will benefit from an ultra-light sensation, unmatched comfort, and greater flexibility. These are benefits that you’ll definitely need when jumping that boat wakes.
And that’s not all!
The construction gives users better impact protection, so it’ll be easier for you to take on the crash landings or wipeouts when wakeboarding.
Yet, the board also has decent buoyancy performance.
Liquid Force Ghost wakeboard vest may not be highly rated in this department, but it does an incredible job of keeping you floating and ensuring you stay alive.
Best Wakeboard Life Jackets Buying Guide
I’ll go over everything you need to know about purchasing your next wakeboard life jacket in the section below.
Our guide will help you make an informed choice and get the right jacket for your wakeboarding needs.
But first, let’s look at the different types of wakeboard life jackets.
Two Common Types of Wakeboard Life Jackets
In your search for the right wakeboard life jackets, you’ll come across two main types, and they’re:
1) Coast Guard Approved
2) Competition (Comp style)
Coast Guard Approved
As their name suggests, these life jackets come with the United States Coast Guard (USCG).
Usually, this good life jacket has more than two quick-release buckles and straps for a proper fit and better buoyancy in deep water.
However, the US Coast Guard-approved jackets focus more on safety than comfort, so they tend to be stiffer and have fewer anatomical flex points.
The comp-style life jackets don’t come with any regulation or certification for safety.
Comp vests won’t guarantee excellent floatation, but they tend to be more comfortable.
If you know how to swim well, you might prefer this type of life jacket.
How to Choose the Best Wakeboard Life Jacket
We’ve already introduced our favorites and showed you the different types of wakeboard life jackets.
But how do you choose the ideal pick for your swimming needs?
And is there consideration to ensure you stay comfortable, and more importantly, safe?
We’ll share what you need to know when selecting your next wakeboard life jacket in the section below.
A wakeboard life jacket should fit like your usual garment.
It shouldn’t be too restrictive or too loose.
If it’s too big, you risk slipping and losing it during an impact. And if it’s too small, it may feel uncomfortable and may not have adequate floatation.
Instead, it should offer a snug and form-fitting size for the best wakeboard life jacket performance.
If you don’t know the right size, you can always refer to the manufacturer’s sizing chart as a guide.
Secondly, consider gender. Remember, there’re life jackets tailored for men, women, and kids.
Life jackets come in different styles.
While their core duty is to offer safety, adequate floatation, and comfort, they have different styling elements.
For example, do you prefer a buckle or front zipper?
There’s no difference in performance between the two, but it’s more of a personal preference.
Secondly, consider the size of the armholes to ensure you can move your arms freely as you hold the rope and jump the wake.
While the open-sided options offer the most arm room, they tend to be less supportive.
Generally, the material from which a life jacket is made determines the quality.
High-quality materials life jackets endure extended periods in the water and stand up to potential shearing forces from wipeouts.
Now, the two common materials for wakeboard life jackets are nylon and neoprene.
Neoprene is our favorite material because it offers a snug fit when dry. Also, neoprene expands to a comfortable fit when wet.
It’s also warmer and softer than other materials, which is why it has such a high price tag.
Nylon is a less expensive option, ideal for entry-level wakeboarders.
However, it gets heavier when wet, making it less flexible and reducing its mobility.
The good news is it’s durable and can take a beating.
Finding the appropriate size for your life jacket will determine the overall comfort.
A comfortable life jacket doesn’t shift or chafe, which will allow you to wear it for longer.
Also, jackets with more padding are comfortable because of the softer segmented foam core.
The choice of material also determines the overall comfort. For example, poly span inner (PE) tends to be the most comfortable material.
The color of your life jacket is more than just aesthetics.
It’s also a safety factor when in the water because it makes you more visible in the water.
So, it’s easier for oncoming boat traffic to see you.
Usually, life jackets come in bright neon or reflective colors such as orange to increase your visibility.
The USCG has determined there’re five categories of PFDs.
Knowing the different categories will help you choose the right one for you.
These PFDs are bulky and buoyant and designed to be used when a rescue may take a while.
They can turn the unconscious victim face up.
These vests have a strong exterior.
These wake surf life jackets are usually used in the inland calm seas, oceans, and rivers where rescue would be rapid.
However, they’ve a less minimal bulk design than our first pick but are more comfortable.
They can also turn an unconscious person face-up.
These are used when quick rescue is possible.
For this reason, they’re comfortable for long-term wear and quite flexible.
While they can place themselves in an upright position, victims might need to put their heads upright to prevent a face down.
These PFDs are not for wearing but instead thrown to a conscious drowning person to assist with buoyancy.
They come with life rings and buoyant cushions.
They’re used for specific activities such as kayaking, deck suits, and windsurfing.
Best Wakeboard Life Jackets Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: What is a wakeboarding life jacket?
A: This is a floatation device that provides buoyancy and impact protection.
Unlike the traditional wake vest, it protects you against impacts and crashes on the water at high speed.
Q: If I fall, does a wakeboard life jacket keep me floating?
A: Yes, it does.
All the models we’ve reviewed are buoyant and won’t let you sink.
However, not all models will turn your face up.
Q: What’s the difference between wakeboarding and a Jet skiing life jacket?
A: These two designs differ in material, design, and function.
For example, the wakeboarding life jackets have more arm mobility than the jet skiing option.
Secondly, a wakeboarding life jacket is better suited for enduring the high-impact water forces more than a jet ski wake vest.
Q: Can I wear a jet ski life jacket on a wakeboard?
A: Yes, you can.
But remember, the wakeboard jacket is designed to offer extra protection against the impact and pressures of surfing.
Wrap Up: Our Choice
Our winner for the best wakeboard life jackets is the O’Neil Superlite USGC Life wake vest.
It’s an incredible option that goes above and beyond our performance expectations, ease of use, and reliability.
This Coast Guard Approved life jacket is super reliable and will stand up to whatever you throw at it while remaining, ensuring your face is up and guaranteeing your safety.
I would highly recommend it.