Water Ski Life Jackets vs Competition Ski Vests, Which One To Choose

Geno Yauchler With Competition VestIf you enjoy water sports such as wakeboarding, hydrofoiling, swivel skiing, or water skiing, it’s essential to have the right safety gear.

Water can be dangerous, after all. Not all life vests are the same.

A swivel skiing life jacket might not be the best choice for hydrofoiling or slalom skiing as it doesn’t provide the same cushioning as a life jacket met for higher speed water sports.

There are some basic features that will always be the same, but the comfort in a small boat doesn’t always come together with the security you need for high speed water sports.

The best water ski life jackets for water sports need to be durable enough for the most extreme water sports, fit securely, and be comfortable enough to wear for hours on the water.

Before you head out, make sure you have a water ski life jacket on board for every passenger, sized to fit their current age and weight. This single boating investment reaps benefits in safety every time you go out on the water.

Competition Ski Vest Sizing Chart

Size Men's Chest Men's Waist Women's Chest Women's Waist Jr Chest Jr Waist Jr Height








Neck To Waist










































Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) are ranked using 5 different categories. Most of the best life jacket for water sports are category III and V flotation aids. Here is an overview of each type:

  • Type I - These are the emergency life jackets found on commercial boats and ships. Designed for rough or remote offshore waters where rescue may take a while, they provide the highest level of buoyancy and can even flip unconscious victims face up. The downside is that they are very bulky and uncomfortable.
  • Type II - Type II life vests provide a large amount of buoyancy, but are less bulky and more comfortable than type I jackets. They are designed for use in near-shore waters, and are ideal for infants and kids. They can roll some unconscious victims to the face-up position.
  • Type III - Type III flotation aids are the most comfortable life jackets, designed to allow freedom of movement. Because of this, they are the best life jackets for water sport. As for safety, they are designed for use in areas where quick rescue is expected.
  • Type IV - Type IV life vests are the personal flotation devices designed to be thrown into the water to help someone stay afloat. They are the ring buoys and cushions you will see on swimming pools or on the side of ships.
  • Type V - Type V special use devices are specialized life jackets designed for specific activities such as sailing, paddling, waterskiing, or windsurfing. 


Life jackets for water sports should be tight to your body, but still give you enough comfort so you don’t feel uncomfortable and restricted. High-impact water sports such as water skiing require a very secure fit. For these kinds of sports, look for life vests fastened by three or four belt buckles. This will guarantee a secure fit even during high-speed rides.

Even though watersports life jackets offer plenty of adjustment options, it’s still important to ensure you order the right size. To determine your size, measure around the broadest area of your chest then compare your measurements with the provided size chart and order the appropriate size.


Since the material a life jacket is made of will be subjected to a lot of abuse, it should be quick drying and resilient. The outer shells of life jackets are made of nylon, polyester or neoprene. All these materials are lightweight and quick drying while still being resistant to tearing and UV rays. Nylon is exceptionally lightweight and quick drying while neoprene is extremely tough and provides a cushioning and flexible fit for all-day comfort.

As for the flotation medium, most water sports life jackets are inherently buoyant and feature foam flotation. For comfort, the foam should be soft and flexible so it can conform to your body and move with you as you move. When considering durability, the foam should be resistant to breakdown to water exposure. Inflatable life jackets use a chamber of air to provide flotation.

Weight Capacity

Since this is a safety device you will be relying on to keep you afloat, it’s crucial to make sure it can support your weight in the water. This is why manufacturers make life jackets for kids, youth, and adults, and offer standard and oversize sizes. While most manufacturers only provide the chest measurements the life jackets are designed for, some also provide the weight limit.

It’s important to confirm that the life vest you order is rated for your chest size and weight range. As long as you select the right life vest for your age and size, the life jacket shouldn’t have a problem holding your weight in the water and keeping your head above water.


While the color to go for comes down to personal preference and what you will be doing on the water, opting for a high visibility life vest is always a great idea when it comes to life jackets for water sports. This is especially important if you will be exploring remote waters.

Having a bright life jacket can help rescuers spot you quickly. If you ride in low light conditions, a PFD with reflective accents keeps you visible in all water conditions. Another advantage of going with a bright life vest is that it will help keep you cool when enjoying the water in the heat of summer.


Last but not least, your life jacket should be able to keep your head out of the water, without requiring effort on your part. According to the US Coast Guard, most people need at least 7-12 lbs. of lift pressure from a floatation device in order to stay afloat. The best life jacket for water sports provides buoyancy lifts way above this, so you can count on them to keep you from sinking.

US Coast Guard Life Jacket

CGA (Coast Guard Approved) life jackets are the most common type of life jacket that you will see across water sport participants. These CGA life jackets require to meet specific buoyancy levels to ensure proper flotation. The life jacket consists of a lot of foam, multiple buckles, and there are a lot more bulkier than the competition vests.

Type lll life jackets provide US Coast Guard compliant floatation to keep your head out of the water, but does not have the head pillow. Whitewater rafting requires type ll.

Competition life vests are not US Coast Guard Approved and are for excellent swimmers doing active competitive water sports. These life vests offer warmth and protection against hard landings without full floatation. The US Coast Guard considers them to be a wetsuit garment.

For water sports enthusiasts where flotation is the number one priority then a CGA life jacket is for you. Some states require riders at lakes and cable parks to wear a CGA life jacket.

Although wearing a CGA life jacket is the safest option that you have and they are recommended for casual water sports enthusiasts that do not have strong swimming skills.

Water Ski Life Vest Comfort Guide, Nylon Or Neoprene

Nylon Life Vests

Neoprene Life Vests

Nylon is lower priced and very cost effective.

Neoprene is more expensive

Nylon is light when wet and lighter when dry.

Neoprene is heavier when wet unless you buy a closed cell PVC marine foam integrated life vest.

Nylon life vests are mostly scratch and uncomfortable. (Must wear a rash guard underneath)

Neoprene is soft. No need for a rash guard.

Nylon doesn’t stretch and is generally uncomfortable.

Neoprene stretches to fit your body, thus making it more comfortable. Will be very snug when dry but when wet it stretches out to fit correctly. The dry tight fit problem is solved with the more expensive neoprene vests that integrate closed cell PVC foam.

Nylon never uses closed cell foam

High end neoprene vests integrate closed cell PVC foam.

Nylon is cold and offers no warmth in the water.

Neoprene provides some warmth in the water, and even warmer with a rash guard.

Nylon life vests for women are not comfortable for the upper body.

Neoprene life vests for women are form fitted to a female's upper body shape for maximum comfort.

Fit and comfort are the most important features to look for in a water ski life jacket. When your cheap nylon life vest feels scratchy, or doesn’t fit correctly for your age and gender, you are tempted to take it off in the middle of your boating trip, thus risking your safety. The chart above shows that neoprene is by far the best choice for a life vest.

If you buy a nylon water ski life vest to save money, we recommend wearing a t-shirt or a rash guard underneath for better comfort.

What Is A Life Preserver

life ringA lifebelt, lifebuoy, water wheely, ring buoy, lifering, lifesaver, life donut or life preserver, also known as a “Kisbee ring,” or “Perry buoy,” is a life saving buoy designed to be thrown to a person in the water, to provide buoyancy and prevent drowning.

What Is The Difference Between A Life Jacket And A Personal Flotation Device

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs), unlike traditional lifejackets, are more comfortable because they are designed for constant wear. However, they do not generally offer the same level of protection as lifejackets for staying afloat and turning an unconscious person onto their back so you can breathe.

Competition Ski Vests

Angela Wearing Am Eagle VestCompetition (Comp) Life Vests also known as impact vests are not life jackets because they don’t meet the buoyancy requirements. These comp life vests are very popular in the wakeboard, wakesurf, water ski, hydrofoiling and swivel skiing community. We have been to numerous water ski shows and the vast majority of water skiers choose to wear a competition vest for the comfort, weight, and mobility. Water skiers believe that having these improvements in the vest can make them a better rider and land more tricks.

Most of the pro riders use a competition vest, but there are some riders who continue to compete at high levels by wearing a CGA vest like Shaun Murphy who is a legend in the water skiing community. If you decide to wear a competition vest we advise you to have other safety measures in place.


  • Maximum comfort with a vest that forms to your body.
  • Often 2 to 3 times lighter than a CGA vest.
  • Less restrictive, gives riders full range of motion.  
  • Easier to do tricks, spins, grabs, and passing the handle.


  • Less buoyancy, you can’t fully rely on the vest to keep you afloat.  Depending on your weight it will provide some flotation, you may have to tread water a little bit.  
  • When you take a hard fall there is less foam to absorb the hit.

Competition Ski Vest Buyer’s Guide

Water skiing is a physically demanding water sport that requires a comfortable full range of motion. These competition life vests are specifically designed for water sports, offering functionality combined with safety. Since you are a responsible water skier, your personal safety should be of the utmost importance while on the water.

Take a look at the best competition ski vests that are currently on the market.


Water sports are a great way to have fun, but there is always that element of danger. Getting a watersports life jacket or competition vest is essential if you want to stay safe as you have fun on the water. We hope our life jacket vs competition vest for water sports article has made it easy to decide on the best life jacket or competition vest for water sports to get.