Best Life Jackets for Kayak Fishing (MADE for fishermen)

If you’re in a hurry and just want to find out what the best life jacket for kayak fishing is, then we recommend the NRS Chinook OS Fishing Lifejacket.

Kayak fishing can be a great way to sneak up on unsuspecting fish! However, it can also be a little dangerous if you don’t have the right safety equipment. This includes a good life jacket! Most (if not all) states require that you have a PFD on board a kayak, while some states may even require you to wear it at all times. However, with so many styles of PFDs to choose from, it can be a little difficult in selecting the right one.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the process of selecting the best fit for your needs. We’ve also taken the time to handpick 5 of the best PFDs for kayak fishing on the market today.

By the way, as an Amazon Associate, I earn when buying qualified products through links on my site.

In a Hurry? Here’s Our Top 3 Picks…

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What Type of PFD is Best For Kayak Fishing

There are many different styles of life jackets on the market, including the inflatable kind and the bulky foam life jackets made for skiers and tubers. However, if you plan on doing some kayak fishing, I highly recommend that you avoid all the above.

While each of them may satisfy your states and the Coast Guards laws, they don’t make very good life jackets for kayak fishermen.

As a kayak fisherman, you constantly have to paddle to get from point a to point b. The last thing that you want is a life jacket restricting your arms range of motion.

The best life jackets for kayak fishermen will allow you to have a greater range of motion than traditional life jackets. They also have multiple pockets, allowing you to store gear, or whatever.

As you know, space is limited on a kayak and every little bit of storage space helps!

Color of Life Jacket

You may have not thought of this, but the color of the life jacket is also important, especially for a kayaker.

When you are kayaking, you are sitting low in the water. This can make it difficult for other boaters to see you in the water.

If at all possible, you want to select a brightly colored life jacket, to help others see you more clearly!

A brightly colored life jacket could also help save your life if you happen to get lost in the backcountry mangroves or you are capsized.

It’s much easier for search and rescue to spot a bright orange life jacket than a camouflage one.

Minimum Requirements

When it comes to life jackets or PFDs period, you’ll see a few different requirements for them. One of the most important for the United States of America is that the U.S. Coast Guard must approve the type you’re using. Otherwise, you really don’t want to use it.

States have different laws regarding the use of life jackets on boats or while kayaking, so some might be as serious as others.

For Alabama, anyone under the age of 8 needs to be wearing a life jacket on a vessel of any size. For Georgia, anyone 13 and under must wear one. Meanwhile, in Florida, anyone under 6 needs to wear one on any vessel less than 26 feet. Yet in Louisiana, anyone 16 and under must wear one on any vessel under 26 feet.

As you can see, mandatory requirements differ. If you are unsure about what your state requires, click here to find out.

Federal laws differ somewhat from this. Federal Government Regulations recommend 13 and under MUST wear a life jacket on a vessel under 12 meters or 39.3 feet in length. State laws are allowed to do as they please here, as the Federal concept is not a law. Whereas the state’s regulations are.

Do You Have To Wear A PFD On A Kayak

While most adults are not a victim to most state laws when it comes to PFDs, everyone recommends that they wear one. Kids are the ones who are most often forced by law to wear one, but if you’re an adult and not using one….you’re being reckless. Unneededly reckless too.

As mentioned, there are numerous differences in the law when it comes to these. For example, some states, such as California, force life jackets to be available or in use for every person on a boat at any given time. Yet these laws are not forced for those on kayaks or canoes.

In Tennessee, however, the rules ARE in place for those on both canoes and kayaks. Again, this is based completely on where you are. This just means you need to look into what your state requires.

Therefore, when it comes to kayaking….you are not forced to wear a life jacket in every state. Of course, after you cross by a certain age bracket. Either way, law requirement or not, one needs to be worn when you’re kayaking.

Make Sure It Meets Safety Standards

There are several different safety standards that the best life jackets for kayak fishing will require. First and foremost, you should know they work on Types, which is an important thing to remember when searching for one.

They work on the principle of buoyancy, with the idea being that they will help to keep the person’s head above water. Since the type is based on the rating of buoyancy needed as well as the application of the PFD.

You’ll see Type I, II, III, IV, and V

The United States Coast Guard recommends and/or requires one to wear one of these types, with many state law enforcement agencies backing them up on the matter. They are based like this:

  • Type I:22lbs
  • Type II: 15.5lbs (Near-Shore Buoyancy Vest)
  • Type III:15.5lbs (Flotation Aid)
  • Type IV: 16.5lbs
  • Type V:15.5 to 22lbs

It is important to remember that most adults will need an extra 22lbs of buoyancy in comparison to their body weight, in order to keep their head above water. This is the recommendation of the Personal Flotation Device Manufacturer’s Associate or PFDMA.

Foam Vs Inflatable PFDs

You might think that the best life jacket for kayak fishing would be an inflatable PFD. It makes sense right? I mean, they are not as bulky as their foam counterparts, which gives you an incredible range of motion when paddling and casting your rod and reel.

However, most kayak fishermen actually prefer foam life jackets over the inflatable ones!

Both will keep you afloat, and while the inflatable ones are slightly more comfortable due to their size, that’s where the pros stop, a least if you’re fishing from a kayak. 

You see, inflatable life jackets will inflate once they come in contact with water. In all fairness, it would take you falling into the water for that to happen, however if you’ve been kayak fishing for any amount of time, you’ve probably had some close calls. I know I have.

While it is possible to reuse an inflatable PFD after it inflates, it can get quite expensive! There is also routine maintenance required to keep it working properly. 

Another con to using an inflatable PFD while kayak fishing is that they have no pockets for storing your gear. As I stated before, you don’t have a whole lot of room on kayaks and every little bit of storage space makes a difference.

Lastly, there is always a slim chance that the thing will not inflate when you need it the most. This could mean the difference between life and death.

I’m not sure about you, but I’m not willing to take that chance! 

Reviews: Best Life Jackets for Kayak Fishing

NRS Chinook OS Fishing Lifejacket

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When you’re looking for one of the best life jackets for kayak fishing, the NRS Chinook OS certainly stands out. This is a Type III Life Jacket, making it perfect for recreation or sporting activity. It has also been U.S. Coast Guard approved.

It comes in 3 sizes: Extra Small/Medium, Large/Extra Large, Extra Large/Extra Extra Large

In life jackets, one size can actually fit two different types. This is mostly due to the buoyancy thing we mentioned above. It typically will hold 16.5lbs of flotation, so it should be good for most.

There are a ton of useful specifics to keep in mind about this life jacket too. First, it’s made from 400D Ripstop Nylon and top tier foam. On top of that, this PFD offers a mesh low back area, which will be useful for both ventilation and breathability.

All in all, it has 7 different adjustments on it to give it a proper movement. This includes 4 Side Adjustments, 2 Shoulder Adjustments, and 1 Waist Adjustment. It is even zippered in the front, giving proper security.

They also included 2 strobe holders to aid in visibility at night. This also includes 6 front pockets to offer a ton of storage potential. This even comes with a rod holder loop!

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Stohlquist Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

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We really like the Stohlquist Kayak Fishing Life Jacket, as it stands out among the best life jackets for kayak fishing pretty well. It stands out due to its unique look as a low profile Type III PFD, approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

It utilizes a 500D Cordura Shell & 200D Oxford Liner.

Perfect for kayaking, it has a cross-chest cinch harness, which ensures it’ll never ride-up on you. The mesh back allows breathability while still giving you padded shoulder & a padded low back.

You’ll notice multiple pockets that can be used for anything. A few are EVA pockets that can be pulled up and folded down with ease. It also features a mounting location for tippets, retractors, nippers, leader lines, and much more. All have drainage as well.

It comes in a number of different colors, including the notable orange. The price shifts depending on the size you purchase, for which there are 3. Those are Small/Medium, Large/Extra Large, and Extra Extra Large.

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NRS cVest Mesh Back PFD 

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When you consider the best life jackets for kayak fishing, you must check out the NRS cVest. It has everything you’d want, including a bright lime coloring that you could see from miles away it seems. It’s U.S. Coast Guard approved and has a lot of great features.

First, it utilizes 400D Ripstop Nylon Fabric, which won’t tear with ease. It also has a great mesh back, perfect for ventilation and breathability. Kayak users will also love the high-back flotation panels, which actually accommodates most kayaks seats.

A Type III life jacket, it’s obviously perfect for fishing. So you’ll love the fact that it has 2 lash tabs, 2 large zippered pockets, 2 small and dual-entry clamshell pockets, and numerous D-rings. All of this combined with reflective patches, which double as attachment loops.

They wanted you to be comfortable, so NRS has made this life jacket perfectly customizable. Thus allowing you to have 6 different adjustment points, which allows you to slip the jacket on and off as you please.

This is a 16.5lb version, that while a medium in profile, comes in 3 sizes. Those are Extra Small/Medium, Large/Extra Large, and Extra Large/Extra Extra Large.

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ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

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ONYX really outdid themselves with this perfect addition to our list of the best life jackets for kayak fishing. Approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, their jacket holds up well with others by simply being perfect for multiple things, but especially fishermen.

This jacket utilizes several different yet all equally impressive pockets. Among them, you’ll find a zippered, fleece-lined pocket, large cargo pocket, and a one-button push pocket. The cargo pocket could hold a small radio, pliers, and other accessories while the one-button push pocket can hold things like a small tackle box.

The lash tab included is perfect for holding a knife or whistle as well as sunscreen or keys. Everything has proper drainage to keep your vest good and dry most of the time.

The high-back vest isn’t a problem when sitting, especially with the addition of the mesh backing.

There are 6 adjustable straps in total. All are 2-inches of woven-elastic, making them perfect for movement around various sizes. This is why there is a Universal Size you can use that fits 30” to 52” chests. They also added an Oversize option to fit those with a 40” to 60” chest.

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Kokatat Leviathan Life Jacket 

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We love the Kokatat Levithan, simply because it truly fits well among the best life jackets for kayak fishing. It has pockets galore all over it, and it’s so padded that we fear more for the water than you if you ever fell in.

This jacket has been cleared by the U.S. Coast Guard. Be careful to use the right version when picking. This comes down to UL vs ULC. UL is certified for use in the United States while the ULC is for Canadians.

As you can tell from the 14 pockets. This includes 8 zippered, 4 mesh, and 2 for hand warming on chilly days.

multiple fixture options, this is a perfect life jacket for the fisherman. You can carry lures, tools, gears, and several other things with this life jacket. Overall, there are numerous attachment points for fishing gear. So much so, you might be surprised by a few even after repeated use of the jacket.

Made for recreation or sport, it uses body-mapped Gaia foam panels that are contoured to promise a perfect fit. The design is specifically articulated to enhance comfort completely.

The outer shell is made with 210 high-tenacity rip-stop nylon. The overall design is made for comfort, which is why it has multiple side adjustments to give you breathability without compromising safety.

It is made to be ultra-lightweight, meaning it won’t affect your paddling or fishing ability. To do this but still add safety, it utilizes Arapene mesh back and shoulders, which complement high back seats.

This life jacket is compatible with the tributary hydration system and cleared for use in the United States, Canada, and Europe. It comes in 3 colors as well as 3 different sizes, which includes: Extra Small/Small, Medium/Large, Extra Large/Extra Extra Large.

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If you’re in the market for a good fishing life jacket, then once again we recommend the NRS Chinook OS Fishing Lifejacket. However, you really can’t go wrong with any of these PFDs. After all, we selected them as the best life jacket for kayak fishing on the market today.


Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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