Best PFD's for SUP

Questions to ask when deciding on a PFD

For a long time paddle boards operated in a "grey area" like surf boards meaning there was no PFD enforcement. In the late 2000's the United States Coast guard (USCG) determined that SUP boards operated outside a surfing, swimming or bathing area are “vessels” under USCG regulations which state that each paddler over the age of 12 must have a “USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or appropriate Type V” life jacket. That being said as responsible paddlers we have tried many PFD's, here's our recommendations from our testing.

What type is right for me?

Standard Vest style: If you are a recreational paddler, new too water getting in the water or not the strongest swimmer, an inherently buoyant vest is probably the best option for you. The are easy to find, relatively inexpensive, and provide plenty of flotation for paddling on the bay or on lakes and rivers. The main drawback is that they are pretty bulky and can get in the way while you're paddling. It must say on the PFD "Type III approved" for use SUP. If you've paddled with us then you have used the NRS Clearwater it's our rental PFD and is our favorite inexpensive jacket.

Inflatable Waist Pack:  For someone that is more confident in their swimming and paddling skills or just paddles in the when its really nice conditions, an inflatable waist pack is a great option. They are considered "Type V Special Use Devices" and must be worn at all times, but it's much lighter than a standard vest. Most of our instructors here at the shop use inflatables as it's the closest thing to not wearing a vest while still being safe and legal. However they do not provide flotation unless you pull the cord to activate it, which can take a second in the water to secure properly it can be a little tricky rougher conditions. The cartridges are one time use and have to be replaced if you use it or once a year. If this sound like what you're looking for the Onyx M-16 is the lightest we've tried and is under $100!


Low Profile Vest :  If you like to paddle in heavier conditions where you need a vest that provides some float, but you want something more comfortable a low profile vest is what you should look for. They are often zipperless on the front and cover a smaller surface near the arms for freer range of movement. They tend to cost more that a basic vest, but they are much more comfortable to wear and paddle in especially if you are paddling for multiple hours. Mike, Jordy, Levi, and Danillo all use the MTI Mustang Hybrid Vest while downwinding and foiling!

Need Help? Give us a call or text!

You can start a live chat or give us a call if you have any questions on what PFD you need. In over 80% kayak or paddleboard downing cases the individual was not wearing proper equipment. We pride ourselves on promoting proper safety training and equipment. We have PFD's for sale and rental as well as other safety equipment like leashes whistles and lights.