Snorkel Vest vs. Life Vest

If you’re planning a snorkeling trip, you will need to prepare for the right type of snorkel gear to bring along with you on your journey. Aside from the traditional snorkel and mask, fins, and wetsuit, there may be something you’re not considering: a snorkel vest.

Depending on where you are planning to snorkel a vest may or may not be optional. Many professional snorkeling guided tour companies are starting to require that you either bring your own or use one of theirs. This is because of added safety that you have in the water when using a snorkel vest.

SealBuddy Inflatable Snorkel Vest

What is a Snorkel Vest?

A snorkeling vest is a small inflatable piece of garment that you can use to help you maintain your buoyancy while floating. Typically, they contain no foam and will be inflated by the user. You can achieve different levels of buoyancy depending on how much air you put into it.

In addition to being inflatable by the user, the snorkel vest comes in bright colors. Usually, neon colored they additionally provide a snorkeler with high visibility when in the water. When snorkeling in open water, it is essential to have this extra layer of visibility.

Why do you need one?

There are several reasons you may be in need of a snorkel vest.

  • The snorkel tour company requires you wear one.
  • You are not a good swimmer and need extra floatation.
  • You are in open water and need extra visibility from the guide boat.
  • State or local laws require you wear one.
  • You will be snorkeling for long periods of time and do not wish to get tired.

These are just a few examples of reasons that you will find yourself in need of a snorkel vest on top of other essential gear like a snorkel mask. Usually, if you are taking a guided tour, they will provide a snorkel vest if they require you to wear one. But if you are hitting a local watering hole, you may need to bring your snorkeling vest if local laws require it.

ScubaPro Cruiser Skin Dive Safety Snorkeling Vest

Weaker swimmers, people with musculoskeletal problems, people with medical concerns that could cause them to fatigue quickly, or snorkelers who want to take it easy, are all people who should use a snorkel vest. If you have back injuries, a snorkel vest can help protect your spine and give you a break when you need it. Consider your medical status before declining a snorkel vest, even when they are optional.

How is it different from a Life Vest?

You may be wondering why you can’t just grab a regular life vest to go snorkeling. The essential design elements of a life vest are very different from a snorkel vest. So is the purpose of the jacket. The life vest consists of dense flotation foam. The foam is designed to keep your head above water. Because of that purpose, you have most of the foam on the front of the chest. There is a small foam strip to support your head. Life vests are designed to keep you floating, with your head out of the water, while you await rescue.

If you are snorkeling, keeping your head out of the water may not be ideal. Trying to snorkel with a traditional life vest can be difficult. Most people will find that they have a hard time putting their body in a prone position in the water while wearing a life vest. This is a good thing. It means that the life vest is working; but not so good if you are trying to snorkel.

Stearns Adult Classic Series Life Vest

Also, it is hard to swim forward when you're wearing a traditional life vest. The big pieces of foam that rest on the chest create massive amounts of drag. This drag can make snorkeling extremely tiring. Most people would be hard-pressed to enjoy a snorkeling trip in a vest they couldn’t swim in.

When you put a snorkel vest on the first thing that you will notice is that there is a bib on your chest and a loop around your neck. You can fill the snorkel vest with a lot of air or a little air, depending on the level of floatation assistance you need. Also, since it is air and not foam, the air will move around inside the snorkel vest allowing you to assume a prone position with ease. There is also little worry about drag because you can deflate the snorkeling jacket as needed.

What to consider when you buy one?

When you are buying a snorkel vest, you have a lot of construction elements to consider. Some of the main things to look at when buying a snorkel vest are:

  • Height and Weight Classification
  • Zippers or Straps
  • Waist straps or leg straps

Height and weight classifications should be one of the first things you look at when purchasing a snorkel vest. Just because a snorkel jacket fits you, doesn’t mean it will support your weight. All vests have height and weight restrictions that you have to take into consideration or it will not function correctly.

Vests typically come with either straps or zippers. These are a personal preference for your comfort. Many people enjoy the full support of a zippered snorkel vest while others like the minimal feel of a strap attached bib. These choices are entirely based on how you’re most comfortable. Try on multiple styles before making your purchasing decision.

Finally, you should consider waist or leg straps. These straps serve to support your lower body during floatation. These straps are suitable for those younger snorkelers who may tire faster than their adult counterparts. Additionally, people with lower extremity weakness or low back problems will benefit from the lower body support provided by leg straps or straps that go below the waist.

Now you have all the information you need to make a good choice when planning your next snorkeling trip. Remember each person in your party may have their personal preferences for a snorkel vest, and they may already own their favorite style. Getting you comfortably into the water is going to ensure you have the best snorkeling trip.

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