Differences Between Life Jackets, Buoyancy Aids and Impact Vests

Differences Between Life Jackets, Buoyancy Aids and Impact Vests

Differences Between Life Jackets, Buoyancy Aids and Impact Vests

When engaging in water sports or any activity involving water, choosing the right type of flotation device is crucial for safety. Here's a guide to help you understand the differences between life jackets, buoyancy aids, and impact vests.

Life Jackets

Purpose: Life jackets are designed to provide maximum buoyancy and keep the wearer afloat in the water. They are intended to turn an unconscious person face-up, ensuring their head remains above water.


  • High buoyancy, usually over 100 Newtons.
  • Collar to support the head and keep it above water.
  • Bright colours and reflective strips for visibility.
  • Whistle attached for signalling.

Use Case: Ideal for open water activities, such as sailing, kayaking, or when there is a high risk of falling into the water far from shore. They are also suitable for non-swimmers and those who are less confident in the water.

Buoyancy Aids

Purpose: Buoyancy aids provide additional buoyancy to help the wearer stay afloat but do not guarantee to keep an unconscious person face-up. They are less bulky and offer more freedom of movement.


  • Lower buoyancy, typically 50 to 70 Newtons.
  • Slimmer and less restrictive design.
  • Usually worn like a vest.

Use Case: Best for confident swimmers and for activities where mobility is essential, such as canoeing, kayaking, or paddleboarding. They are also suitable for watersports where the wearer is likely to be in the water frequently and in controlled conditions, such as near the shore or in a pool.

Impact Vests

Purpose: Impact vests, also known as impact protection vests, are designed primarily to protect the wearer from impacts and abrasions during high-speed water activities. While they provide some buoyancy, their main function is impact protection.


  • Padding and reinforcement to absorb impacts.
  • Minimal buoyancy, typically less than 50 Newtons.
  • Flexible and snug fit for maximum mobility and comfort.

Use Case: Ideal for high-impact water sports like wakeboarding, kitesurfing, and water skiing, where falls and collisions are frequent. They are suitable for experienced swimmers who need protection rather than flotation assistance.

Forward Wip Vests

Forward WIP specialise in innovative protective gear designed for foilers, water sports users & sailors going fast on water. WIP is the clear winning for protection.

View our range of Forward Wip vests.