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What's the difference between a Buoyancy Aid and an Impact Vest?

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

We think you will agree that Stand up paddle boarding (SUP), along with other water sports is an extremely fun way to get out on the water. And what a summer we have had!!

When venturing out on the water it’s best to head out prepared.

We have talked about safety in depth before but for this piece we really just want to explore the topic around your choice of PFD (Personal Flotation Device).

We want to help those who have wondered before, what the difference between a Buoyancy Aid and an Impact vest is?

As with all water sports, a PFD is an essential piece of safety equipment.

In a perfect world we could all wear a traditional life jacket which would roll us onto our back if anything serious happened to us on the water.

In the real world, when partaking in any water sport that requires a high level of maneuverability we know a full on life jacket is just not practical. The are bulky and restrictive. Especially when you are trying to climb back on a board after falling in. So we will move on to the topic of when to choose a buoyancy aid and when an impact vest may be your preference.

Disclaimer - Lifejackets are a must for non swimmers and young kids. This article is aimed at those who are comfortable in the water and are able to swim efficiently.

Buoyancy Aid Versus Impact Vest

Today we will concentrate on the pro's and con's of buoyancy aids and impact vests.

We’re going to give you the info you need to pick the most suitable PFD for when you are stand-up paddle boarding.

Whether you require a buoyancy aid or an impact vest will depend on the type of watersports activity you take part in.

A buoyancy aid or an impact vest are mainly used for paddle boarding, water skiing, wake boarding, kite surfing, dinghy sailing, kayaking and jet skiing.

Buoyancy aids and Impact Vests are generally less bulky and are much easier to swim in than a life jacket. For the most part They generally allow the user to continually enter and exit the water with very little effort.

Impact vests

An Impact Vest is perfect for protecting you when you're out on the water going at speed. Worn by Wake-boarders, Windsurfers, Jet Skiers, Kite-Boarders, etc., the foam in the vest means that the jacket will absorb the impact when you hit the water and stay afloat to a certain level when in it, but it is not a life jacket.

Pros and cons for an impact vest


  • Very comfortable

  • Comes in multiple styles and shapes/sizes to suit all sexes.

  • Not bulky

  • Very warm as its normally made with neoprene( like a wetsuit)

  • Takes impact in case of fall/impact

  • Good protection of the upper torso


  • Whilst it does give a little buoyancy, it does not have the same newton level as a buoyancy aid

  • You do need be able to swim

Buoyancy aids

Probably the most commonly used type of PFD is the buoyancy aid. It is a great all rounder and ticks a lot of boxes.

Used by everyone from kayakers to sailors, the buoyancy aid comes in hundreds of shapes and sizes but the one constant with all of them will be the newton level and CE marking.

Most adults will tend to work between the 40-70 newton range but may give up on newtons for the comfort of the right buoyancy aid for them. The newtons are the measure of how bouyant the jacket is essentially.

They are many different styles depending the sport you will be using them for, some streamlined others with pockets!


  • Comes in multiple styles and shapes/sizes

  • Those that are streamlined are not very bulky

  • A lot of options and price points to choose between


  • Tricky to find a con with these but if there was one maybe it would be those with the multiple pockets can be bulky on the chest area.


Buoyancy is measured in Newtons (N) and will have a standard CE stamp telling you how much volume or lift your buoyancy has.

Most adult PDFs will tend to have 50-70 newtons of lift which basically allows you to float or have a comfortable bob in the water . The chart below will give you an idea of what level of newton you need to allow you to float.

NOTE: Buoyancy aids and Impact Vests provide additional floatation when in the water, yet they will not keep a person upright if unconscious. A 50N buoyancy is standard for adults and juniors who are competent swimmers whereas 100N is standard for children's models.


I have personally been involved in watersports coaching since the mid 90,s and tend to be overly cautious when it comes to PFD's and safety.

My 12 year old daughter will always wear a buoyancy aid over an impact vest although she is a strong swimmer and If I am kayaking I will wear a buoyancy aid.

When I am Stand Up Paddle Boarding I prefer to choose an impact vest. I value the comfort and warmth it gives and also it gives me my full range of motion.

So it really all comes back to your personal choice. If you still have questions, then get in contact and I will happily point you in the right direction.

We hope this post has helped clear up any questions you may have had!

Stay Safe and have fun.

If you have any more questions please reach out and call on 086 1022203 or email


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