Kayakfisherly is audience-supported. When you buy through links on this site, we may earn an affiliate commission that we use for site maintenance. Learn more


Do Surfers Wear Life Jackets? – Not Really Unless …

Written by Jessica Herron
Last Update: August 14, 2023

Do surfers wear life jackets?

No, they don’t. If you‘re not a good swimmer, you shouldn’t try surfing in the first place.

But other extreme water sports like wakeboarding, wakeskating, tow-in surfing, and kiteboarding do require these vests and helmets, especially if you’re not in the pro-level yet.

The only possibility we can think of is when you’re knocked out by a boat around. There are often lots of ameteur boats in the popular surfing areas and if the unthinkable happens, at least you will be floating unconscious.

Why Most Surfers Don’t Use Life Jackets

Why Most Surfers Don’t Use Life Jackets

  • The surfboard itself is a giant PFDs

The surfboard is a giant floatation device that you are strapped with – the main reason you don’t need other forms of protection. These boards are extremely buoyant and surfers almost always attach a rope around their legs for easy access once they are in the water.

  • Your level of knowledge about the ocean

As a surfer, you’re supposed to be familiar with the waves, rip currents, and changing tides. Identifying a wave is an advantage  and the more you surf, the better you will be in this sport and you will be able to take good care of yourself sooner than your expectations.

  • Strong swimmers

You also need to be a good swimmer to excel in this sport. Those who are not usually stay near the shore. No matter what, a life jacket isn’t really necessary

  • Life jackets make paddling harder

Surfers spend more time paddling than surfing. You need to dig your arms consistently into the water for efficient paddling.

A life jacket makes surfing difficult by reducing your shoulder movements.

  • Wetsuits make you more buoyant

The wetsuit helps you stay afloat and add more buoyancy. The thicker the suit the more flotation you get to enjoy.

Neoprene is an excellent choice here for better buoyancy while the 5mm suits are designed for extreme cold.

We recommend that you wear wetsuits rather than life jackets to float effortlessly.

  • Life jackets are bulky and restrict movements

Surfing is an intense sport that involves fast reflexes. You will be able to change your directions and get away from the dangerous waves only with your movement skills.

But a life jacket can be difficult to handle because of its bulkiness. Also, the positioning of your body can be restricted.

  • Life jackets make you look weird

Although this is not the main reason surfers don’t wear life jackets, you’ll be considered a newbie if you do. We have to admit that we surfers often worry about our images!

When Surfers Actually Wear Life Jackets

When Surfers Actually Wear Life Jackets

Big wave/tow-in surfing

When it comes to big waves, inflatable PFDs are the best innovation. Inflatable life jackets contain CO2 that they release when you tug off a cord. The jacket inflates and helps you get back to the shore safely.

So, how do you get back up and keep on going after falling on big waves if you are not wearing PFDs?

Step 1: Stay calm when you fall and don’t try to fight the wave. The wave won’t roll you once it has lost its strength to roll you.

Step 2: Roll a few times and then sink by spreading your arms and legs. Don’t forget to be relaxed

Step 3: Now roll under the water and then back up to the wave’s backside and let it get you out of it

Weak swimmers

A poor or a weak swimmer should wear a life jacket most of the time when they surf. The waves or strong rips may catch you off guard and throw you into the water.

A life jacket will also give you the confidence to learn more about the ocean.

Newbies and kids

A life jacket can be very useful for the newcomers and children alike. When younger kids go surfing, parents usually put on a life jacket until they can swim.

This is quite the same with new surfers. In the beginning, a life jacket can save your life and help get back to the surface. When you gain confidence, the life jacket can be removed and you can go into the deeper water.

Benefits of wearing a life jacket for surfing

1. Confidence

A life jacket can add a small amount of confidence to your first days in the ocean. If you are caught in a rip or a big wave, it will help you to keep your head above.

2. easy to spot

Because life jackets are bright and reflective, they can make you easier to spot. Still, if this is the reason you are interested in using a life jacket then you can use a reflective rash vest.

Disadvantages of wearing a life jacket for surfing

1. Bring surfers to the surface.

Because of Life jackets, it keeps pushing you on the shore. The chances of drowning and running out of breath may cause for wearing a vest.

2. Can’t rely on life jackets.

If you are not a good swimmer, then you shouldn’t be surfing. you need to be able to swim comfortably without assistance. If you rely on a life jacket, then you will be in some trouble.

3. Duck dive.

The technique to sink your surfboard underwater so you can dive under waves with your surfboard. It’s difficult for you to paddle and duck dive when you are wearing a life vest.

What other types of surfers can use life vests?

Wake-skating and Wakeboarding

Yes, a lot of injuries happen in wake-skating and wakeboarding including broken bones, knee and shoulder damage, and unconsciousness. Using a life jacket can help you to protect yourself.


Yes, an impact vest for kitesurfers helps protect your upper body from the hard impact on the water. The vest fits comfortably against the body so no water penetrates and the vest absorbs the impact of the fall.


1. Is a PFD the same as a life jacket?

Answer: The purpose is the same. A PFD keeps the wearer afloat the body in the water. And a jacket is designed to be used for a long time and constant wear. A PFD provides the same level of protection.

2. What type of jacket is best for surfing?

Answer: The best type of jacket is an inflatable life vest for surfing. They’re expensive but they can save your life.

3. How long will a life jacket keep you afloat?

Answer: A good life jacket can keep you afloat for a long period. Whether the wearer is alive or not. Practically it depends on the water temperate and how long you can survive. In saltwater, you will die in three days from dehydration.

About the author

Jessica Herron

Hi! This is Jessica. I can be your virtual outdoor buddy, lol! My friends call me a devotee of adventure. I believe, as any outdoor enthusiast does, adventures are all about the thrill. My love consists of a mix of fishing and camping in the wild, if you ask (what thrills you most?). So, I could be of help (through my articles on this website) to any adventure seeker as long as backpacking, survival, camping, hiking, and fishing are concerned. Are you planning to take a trip to the wild next weekend? Maybe, you already are in the middle of a journey. No matter where you are, my words are on the air!

Leave a Comment