Minimal life jacket for adult poor swimmer?
July 25, 2016 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone suggest a life jacket/life vest/PFD for an adult man with physical problems swimming who doesn't want to feel smothered by a "normal" model?

Someone I know really misses being out on the water, and would like to go on the pontoon boat for cruises around the lake. Unfortunately, he's caught between poor control of his legs from a medical condition, and also being kind of claustrophobic.

So on one hand he's worried about not being able to swim if he falls overboard or stumbles when going between dock and boat, but he hates the feeling of wearing a full-size life vest.

The inflatable models that look like a pair of suspenders look good, but they cost a lot ($200 and up); will they support a full-grown man's weight? (And I wouldn't want him to have to manually inflate the thing by blowing through a tube while thrashing in the lake: compressed CO2 is a must.)

If those are out, is a kayaker's vest, with its high-cut back, the next best choice?

Thank you all for help in getting this guy back out on the lake!
posted by wenestvedt to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: There are flotation jackets oriented for folks that work on the water, pretty much look like heavy coats.

There life jackets that are some that are very vest like, clearly a preserver but with a zipper and pretty comfortable.

The automatically inflatable suspenders are quite reliable and expand when immersed, do verify that it's an automatic model though.
posted by sammyo at 11:09 AM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For around $100 USD, Cabela's and BassPro both sell minimalist vest models that use C02 cartridges to inflate. They're geared towards fishermen, definitely can keep a full grown person afloat, and don't really look out of place or feel uncomfortable.
posted by BrandonW at 11:12 AM on July 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's also coming up on seasonal clearance time so I'd keep an eye on outdoor sporting stores. We've gotten some good deals on PFDs at Dick's. My mother in law likes her co2 inflatable vest and I've found kayaking vests to be very comfortable and not claustrophobic since the float is mainly around your torso instead of covering your chest and shoulders.
posted by brilliantine at 11:17 AM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Would something like Restube work instead of a full life jacket?
posted by amf at 11:22 AM on July 25, 2016

It sound to me like a CO2 inflated model is not what is wanted. The gentleman wants support which means that the vest would have to be inflated. Those have a lot of buoyancy and would keep him floating on his back with his head out of the water. It would be the opposite of providing flotation without being very noticeable.

It's hard to identify any one type as best in this situation. It depends a lot on how good his swimming ability is. A good swimmer in good health does fine with a vest with the flotation fairly low like this inexpensive one. A weaker swimmer would be better off with more flotation up around the shoulders and upper back, like this one. A poor swimmer should have a jacket with flotation behind the head, though I don't see any of what I'm thinking of in the ads.

There is a tendency to want a jacket that fits loosely, but that can be a problem because it has freedom to float up around the swimmers head. There is a move to include a strap the goes between the legs to combat this problem.

I like the idea of a non-inflatable PFD which the user can try out in a pool.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:08 PM on July 25, 2016

Response by poster: amp, I hadn't seen the Restube before!

But since he doesn't regard the usual seat cushion as enough to keep him afloat, and his hands are dodgy, I am still holding out for something that will hold him like a garment. Thank you, though -- I will keep that in mind.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:08 PM on July 25, 2016

I have a kayak and spent what I thought at the time was a stupid amount of money on a paddling-oriented PFD and it is a completely different animal from all the basic models I grew up wearing on small boats. I don't rush to fling it off when I get out of the boat, I don't mind swimming in it at all when I'm tired from paddling but still want a swim, it's extremely unobjectionable. One important part of it is that it fits like it's custom-made; I tried on a bunch and went with the one that easily cinched into a perfect fit. It doesn't float up higher than it normally is in the water. Totally worth at least trying on in a store to see if the different fit feels better to him (and worth going somewhere with a bunch of different brands/sizes to try on). It's more like wearing a...coat? than a life vest; I just don't notice it much at all.
posted by kmennie at 1:13 PM on July 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If he only plans on swimming in the unlikely occasion he falls in, you want the inflatables linked above. They are comfortable and minimal when uninflated, and will easily float him when inflated. They will be sort of constricting and uncomfortable when inflated, but if that is unlikely, they're perfect.

If he wants to regularly wear this in the water to swim, or wants a non-inflatable option, the paddling ones kmennie linked are great, as is this sailing one. The one I liked isn't USCG approved, but is approved by the similar EU regulators. It's about as uncomfortable as a bulky vest and totally clear of your neck and face.
posted by mercredi at 3:36 PM on July 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have started using a life jacket when swimming in rivers due to mobility and balance issues. I can relax and enjoy myself and not worry about fatigue setting in. I bought a cheap one that works but I know from my kayaking days that a kayaking/rafting vest is a much better idea. They are not as expensive as they used to be. Once you find the right one they are very comfy. I am currently looking for one myself and expect to pay 50-60 bucks. Well worth the money for peace of mind.
posted by cairnoflore at 8:52 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the replies. I am going to table this until next Spring (and probably then buy an inflatable), but all the advice was gratefully received. You people are awesome!
posted by wenestvedt at 12:55 PM on August 15, 2016

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