Inflatable life jackets rely on CO2 cylinders that provide buoyancy when inflated vs. inherently buoyant life jacket that use foam or other buoyant materials to stay afloat.

Un-inflated, inflatable life jackets are a less bulky, comfortable alternative to inherently buoyant life jackets.

There are three inflatable life jacket styles – belt pack (worn around the waist like a fanny pack), suspender or stole (worn over the shoulders) or vest (fuller body coverage with pockets). Each features a lightweight, compact design that provides comfort, range of motion, and is cooler to wear in warmer weather.

Inflatables are only approved for use by people 16 years and older, and are not recommended for non-swimmers. Do not use for active watersports, such as water skiing, tubing, wakeboarding, whitewater or personal watercraft.

Inflatable life jackets require regular checks and maintenance by the user. Inflatable life jackets are reusable, but, after each use, the CO2 cylinder needs to be replaced.


Inflatable life jacket uses compressed air, or CO2, to fill itself with air and provide 45% more buoyancy when inflated. This causes the person to float higher and be more visible when the life jacket is inflated. Always read the owner’s manual that accompanies the life jacket for instructions or contact the manufacturer.

There are two primary types – manual (inflates with the quick jerk of a cord) or automatic (inflates when submerged in water). Both types can be orally inflated by breathing into the inflation tube/mouthpiece. This is a back-up method to inflate the life jacket in case the inflation mechanism malfunctions, and gives you the ability to adjust the comfort of the jacket once inflated. The inflation tube is also how you will deflate the life jacket to repack it.

All inflatable life jackets have these components: air holding chamber, source of compressed gas (usually CO2), inflation mechanism to discharge gas from the cylinder into the inflation chamber, inflation tube/mouthpiece to add air to the chamber orally or to deflate, and a manual “Jerk to Inflate” cord. When wearing any inflatable life jacket, be sure the manual “Jerk to Inflate” cord is easily accessible.

An automatic inflatable life jacket will automatically inflate when the life jacket is submerged in at least four inches of water by containing either a small tablet that dissolves in water and causes the inflator to activate or by using an internal water pressure gauge that activates the inflator when the life jacket. In addition to automatically inflating, every automatic inflatable life jacket has a “Jerk to Inflate” cord in case the automatic mechanism fails or the life jacket may be orally inflated by breathing into the inflation tube.



1. I do not know how to swim. Should I use an inflatable life jacket?
No. A poor or non-swimmer could panic in an unexpected fall into the water and may forget they need to activate the manual “Jerk to Inflate” cord. Please use an inherently buoyant or hybrid life jacket (has both inherent and inflatable system of buoyancy) that provides flotation without any action on your part.

2. Is there an age requirement for inflatable life jackets?
Yes. Inflatables are only approved for use by people 16 years and older. People under the age of 16 must have an inherently buoyant or hybrid life jacket in their size range and it should be properly worn.

3. Are inflatable life jackets approved for all boating activities?
No. Full inflatable life jackets are not approved for high-speed activities such as riding on a personal watercraft, waterskiing or tubing, participating in whitewater activities, or working in commercial boating activities (please wear an inherently buoyant life jacket).

4. Will any CO2 cylinder work from a store?
No. It is important to use a rearm kit that includes a cylinder that is supplied by the maker of the life jacket. The correct cylinder to use will be indicated on the life jacket itself and in the owner’s manual, and can be obtained by contacting the life jacket manufacturer.

5. Can I use my CO2 cylinder more than once?
No. Once the cylinder has been punctured all of the gas will escape into the chamber. This is why you need to check to see if the cylinder is full before each outing. If your device has a Cylinder Seal Indicator, it will show GREEN if the cylinder is full. If it shows RED, you must replace the cylinder.

6. Can I carry inflatable life jackets on an airplane?
Most airlines will permit you to check or carry on up to two cylinders in the life jackets and two spares. However, you should check with your individual airline to confirm their policy. To avoid an accidental discharge, it is advisable to de-arm your inflatable before carrying it on board or checking in with the airlines.

7. Can an inflatable life jacket be worn under clothes?
It’s important to know that inflatable life jackets can never be worn under clothing. If so, the life jacket would function ineffectively and could lead to serious injury, discomfort, or difficulty breathing.

8. How do I maintain my inflatable life jacket?
Frequent inspections are important. Inspection would include orally inflating the life jacket and ensuring it holds air for 16-24 hours, inspecting the cylinder (not discharged and no corrosion), and checking the cylinder is screwed in tight. Always refer to the owner’s manual.

9. How do I store my inflatable life jacket?
Please store an inflatable life jacket in a cool, dry area, out of direct sunlight and away from exposure to gas or oil.

10. How do I know if my inflatable life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard approved?

Always check the label. It will indicate if the inflatable life jacket has to be worn or not to be legal. In any case, the inflatable should always be worn in order for it to provide the protection you’ll need should you find yourself suddenly and unexpectedly in the water.