If you want something a little less heavy-duty, consider one of these two models, which I found to also be completely comfortable. The $75 Manual Belt Pack PFD, part of West Marine's "Comfort Series" line, fits around your waist like a fanny pack; you barely notice it's there. Inflated, it provides 22.5 pounds of buoyancy, which makes it a U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type V PFD. Or consider West Marine's $99 Paddling Life Jacket Chest Pak manually inflating PFD, designed with watersports in mind, given its contoured fit that allows a full range of motion. Even better, the 200-denier nylon shell features a front pocket, perfect for keys and other gear, and hand-warmer pockets on both sides. Its back and shoulder pads are adjustable for head and neck support.
Of course kids must wear PFDs at all times while on the water, but getting them to do so can be a challenge. Our five-year-old model was happy to wear one from Sterns for about eight hours, thanks to the fun Spider-Man design and comfy fit. It comes with different characters to please even the most discerning child.
This article originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.