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We are going to take a look at the best automatic inflatable life vests on the market, and whether they are a good option for kayaking.
The Importance of PFDs (personal flotation devices)
We all know that PFD’s are a very important accessory when doing any kind of boating. Kayaking is no different. The only difference is that finding a comfortable PFD (personal flotation device) can be more of a challenge. If you have any doubts about why you should have one, check out my earlier post about safety and PFDs.
Okay, Let’s get to the exciting part of this article. What are the best automatic inflateable life vests?
Onyx A/M-24 Deluxe Automatic Manual Inflatable Life Jacket
This Life jacket rated very well on several websites that I encountered. Many of the reviews that I encountered were 5 star reviews based on the quality, comfort and the fact that it has zippered pockets.
With a minimum buoyancy of 22.5 pounds when inflated, it has enough to bring you to the surface if you are rendered unconscious. This PFD can be inflated two ways. Automatically when it is below 4 inches of water or you can inflate by pulling the red T-inflate pull tab. You can also convert the Onyx A/M-24 Deluxe from automatic to manual inflation only at will. The straps, back, and lower section are designed with padded air mesh which provides for additional airflow and comfort.
The Onyx A/M-24 Deluxe is designed for those over 16 years of age and over 80 lbs, but not recommended for non-swimmers or weak swimmers.
I personally like the fact that it can be used as an automatic or manual inflatable. When Kayaking, this could definitely be a bonus. Especially if you have a tendency to get wet a lot.
Some key points of this model are:
- The Onyx AM/24 is Convertible from AUTO/MANUAL inflation to MANUAL ONLY inflation
- It has Zippered pockets for a spare CO2 cylinder, or other gear. Perfect for sunscreen or chapstick
- The Onyx AM/24 is designed with Secure Pull – clips attached to the life jacket; allows for quick release when pulled for manual inflation
- Padded air mesh for add’l comfort on the lower panels, back and straps
- Padded, fleece lined sunglasses pocket, wouldn’t want to lose those out on the water.
- 1″ buckle and body belt for a secure fit
- The Outer shell is made of a 420 Denier, rip-stop nylon for durability
- U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type V Life Jacket / Personal Flotation Device (PFD) with Type III Performance
This model has replacement cartridges and you will want to look for Onyx A/M-24 Reaming Kit #1352
Many of the reviews I read on this product were from actual kayakers. That makes me feel confident that it would serve the kayakers needs well. Now, with that said, these will inflate when wet, so if you are in the habit of tipping your boat you may want to make it manual or search for a traditional type PFD. Otherwise, it could get costly replacing the CO2.
ABSOLUTE OUTDOOR Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket
Again, another great product from Onyx. This PFD is also a US Coast Guard approved type V life vest with type III performance.
This vest boasts a light-weight, compact and comfortable design. The Onyx AM/24 is made from the same durable fabric as all Onyx life vests. This particular model also has neoprene at the neck line for extra comfort. The many reviews I have read were all great and a lot of them were kayak owners. They loved the fact that this vest can be worn all day with comfort and doesn’t hinder any movement needed when kayaking and fishing.
Some key points for this model are:
- Coast Guard Approved
- Automatic or Manual inflation
- Easy to rearm
- Reflective cording for visibilty
- 420 Denier rip-stop nylon for durability outer shell, also puncture proof
- Neoprene neckline for all-day comfortWhile this vest is a great option, it is not recommended for non-swimmers or weak swimmers
Mustang Survival M.I.T. 100 Inflatable PFD
The Mustang Survival has rated very well in general with boaters and folks that work around water. Non of the reviews were actually kayakers from what I found. Although, this model is a manual or automatic inflation device, there is no way to make it strictly manual without tampering with it.
While it rates well for its comfort, low profile and light-weight design, I am not so sure I would recommend it over the other two for a kayaker.
The Mustang is USCG approved, and is designed for those over 16 yrs of age and over 80 lbs. Not recommended for non-swimmers or weak swimmers.
Some key points for this life vest are:
- It’s made out of 500 denier cordura fabric for durability
- The T1 version comes with reflective tape and a whistle
- Inflator inspection window and easy entry flap
- Provides 28lbs of buoyancy when inflated – 1.5 times that of a regular foam PFD
- Universal vest fits most adults with chests from 30″ – 56″
- 1 fold – easy repack design
- Has 3 color options
Again, a great product for someone looking to be out on the water all day, as long as you take it off before jumping in. It will inflate within 10 seconds of being immersed in the water.
This PFD did rate 4.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon. The Mustang is a popular brand and is good quality.
Bass Pro Shops AM24 Auto/Manual Inflatable Life Vest
Since I life in the land of Bass Pro Shops, I had to add the Bass Pro AM24 Auto/manual life vest to the count. You can easily order this vest online or make a trip to the store to get this vest, which makes it great for trying it on before you buy.
This is a light-weight, low profile vest made of 200 denier rip-stop fabric. The Onyx AM/24 is built for comfort while boating, fishing or anything else you would do near water. The Onyx AM/24 is USCG approved and can inflate automatically or manually. The fabric is designed to resist tears or punctures and this vest is suitable for those over 16 yrs of age and over 80 lbs. Fits adults with chests of 30-52″ and has a neoprene neckline for comfort.
It comes in 3 color combos so you might even be able to match your boat. Gotta look good out on the water. Plus you get to sport the Bass Pro Logo everywhere you go, LOL.
Some Key Points of this vest:
- US Coast Guard Approved
- 200 Denier Rip-stop Nylon
- Automatic and Manual inflation, can be switched to just manual inflation
- Soft Neoprene Neckline
Bass Pro Shops AM 33 All-Clear Auto/Manual Inflatable Life Vest
Rather than the usual clip and loop fastener, this vest sports a YKK zipper in the front for maximum protection of the inflated chamber, while still allowing for easy opening when necessary for activation. The All-Clear window allows for at-a-glance viewing to make sure there is enough power to inflate the vest. With a green indicator and a red indicator. Green meaning go and red meaning t needs rearmed.
This vest also has a wide, comfortable neckline made of soft neoprene for all day wear and it has a d-ring on the bottom for extras.
I also love the fact that it will fit most adults with a chest size of 30 – 65″, where most only go up to 52″. Again, this is a USCG approved Type V with a Type II (with manual inflation) and a Type III (with automatic inflation) performance PFD.
Key points on this vest are:
- Automatic and Manual inflation
- YKK Burst zipper front closure to protect the inflation chamber
- Wide comfortable neoprene neckline
- Green/Red cylinder readiness indicator
- High-vis inflation chamber
- Min. 35 lbs buoyancy
How to Choose your Automatic, Inflatable PFD
I found this great video on YouTube that I though would really help you decide if an automatic, inflatable PFD is what you are really looking for/ Check it out!
Now that you have watched the video I hope you have a better idea of what to look for your specific application for using an inflatable PFD.
Some key things to look for are:
- Inflation Method
Size matters! Make sure you take accurate measurements before buying. I hate when I order something online or get to a store and have no clue if it is going to fit. Also, make sure you are adhering to the recommendations of the manufacturer. Most inflatable life vests are designed for people over the age 16 and over 80 lbs. It is a safety issue if you do not follow the guidelines.
Don’t compromise on comfort. If it is not comfortable, you won’t wear it. The vest will not do you any good if you don’t wear it.
Inflation method. For kayaking specifically I would certainly prefer a dual method. All the vests that I have here are automatic and manual. Some even come with an air tube for blowing it up yourself if needed. Obviously, the automatic option is great, but if you are lacking an extra CO2 cartridge to rearm it during a trip, the manual option is going to come in handy.
Material and durability are important as well. These vests are somewhat of an investment, so you want them to last as long as possible. You are definitely going to want one that is easy to rearm, and one that resists punctures and tears.
Finally, you want one that fits. You are not going to be happy if the thing falls off the first time you fall in the water because it is too big. Make sure you have a good fit. Too small is not a good option either. Make sure the straps and buckles are fitting you correctly.
There are a lot of options on the market today for automatic inflatable life vests. The 5 I have highlighted here have rated at the top of the charts and have been popular with many folks.
Before you purchase, do your homework. Do not trust your safety to anyone but yourself. I hope that I have made that decision easier for you and that you find what you are looking for.
I believe that all the above are great options for fisherman, kayakers and boaters alike. I personally would have a few of the standard foam PFDs in a boat if you were going to be doing any skiing or tubing. I would not recommend these for that kind of sport.
I also read that while these vests are Coast Guard approved, if you get checked while out on your kayak or boat you must be wearing it at the time that you get pulled over. It will not count as a required PFD if it is laying in the boat. You must have it on and properly secured at time of being pulled over. Otherwise, you better have a standard type PFD in the boat with you.
Hope this has helped you in you decision-making and on to the next review!
Until Next Time!