CGA vs. Impact Vest – Which life jacket is better for you?

Choosing the right wakeboard and waterski competition life vests and jackets could save your life.

Theres really only two types to choose from Coast Guard Approved (CGA) and competition style impact vest.

In the case of a mishap, a Coast Guard Approved (CGA) vest will keep you afloat in the water, roll you over on your back, and keep your head out of the water.

While the impact vest may not have the same level of buoyancy, it can offer targeted protection and increase your mobility.

If you don’t have time to come in and visit our store, we’ll do our best to break it down for ya on the do’s and don’ts of choosing a life jacket.

Why Do I Need a Life-Vest?

Protection is vital with riders zooming up to 25mph behind a boat and pulling off tricks in towed watersports. With proper padding and flotation, you will not only remain on the surface, but the vests will also shield your torso from heavy crashes that can break ribs or hurt vital organs. 

Not only that, but by enhancing your comfort and mobility, a suitable vest can also boost your performance.

Types of Vests

Coast guard approved vests

Simply put, these vests have been approved by the United States Coast Guard. These vests have been comprehensively tested to ensure that they’ll protect you in case of a severe fall or boating accident. They are genuine life jackets designed for use in everyday watersports.

They come with nylon straps with buckles and provide proper flotation. These vests roll you over on your back, and keep your head out of the water in case of knockout or concussion.

Impact vests

Also known as a comp vest or competition vest, the impact vest is not regulated, meaning some jackets will float better than others. They are thinner material with a fewer number of pads. You should wear a competition vest only in the designed setting. These vests are neither actual life jackets nor designed for watersports. Unlike the CGA vests, the impact vests do not meet the U.S. Coast Guard safety requirements.

Since they are not designed for protection, impact vests will not save you from injury or drowning in case of an accident. These vests improve mobility for riders and are desired as opposed to going completely bare which we can’t recommend against enough. Please be smart. Please be safe on the water. 


Since they are used as flotation devices, CGA vests contain a lot of foam and multiple buckles. Their padding makes them bulkier vests in general. They are usually belted with three or four belts to fasten your torso and have nylon straps with buckles. They can have extra large arm holes for more flexibility. They can also feature a neckline safety strap and padded undercarriage. 

With protection being the priority, it is up to the vest manufacturer to make the CGA products stylish. Most CGA jackets come with additional inner foam panels covered in nylon or neoprene that protect the padding and add color. 

Impact vests, meanwhile, lack other buckles but can feature targeted padding. They are also more lightweight, form-fitting, and flexible. When making a style statement, impact vests reign supreme because of the immense variety. They also provide a greater range of motion in the arms and shoulders.


Since both CGA and impact vests come in nylon and neoprene variants, you must decide which material works. 

Nylon is highly affordable and is considered a cooler material. Wet or dry, it is much lighter than neoprene. However, the material doesn’t stretch and can be uncomfortable. The material can also irritate your skin, requiring you to wear a rash guard underneath. 

Neoprene is expensive and usually heavier unless you pick a closed-cell PVC marine foam vest. Since it’s warmer, neoprene is suitable for colder temperatures, and it’s also more form-fitting. Despite being heavier, neoprene vests can be less bulky. 

While the material can affect a vest’s flexibility, the paneling is more impactful. A nylon outer shell and a coarse neoprene layer will be less flexible. Ensure that the paneling is divided into multiple segments to make the vest easier to fold. While such a design will be more expensive, the flexibility will be worth it.


The CGA and impact vests fit differently. Your CGA vest should always be a snug fit, especially when you zip it up and buckle it. Since the buckles can help you tighten it up, a CGA vest can cover a broader range of body shapes. Always try on a CGA and choose the perfect fit. Security is the keyword, and you have less margin for error. 

The impact vests, however, should feel like a wetsuit against your body. Zipping them up should take a bit of effort since you must pull the vest’s two sides together. Feel free to check for mobility by doing a series of stretches while wearing the vest.

It is also crucial to consider how you’ll put the life vest on. The first primary entry method is the pull-overs, where you pull the vest down over your head like a t-shirt. There is also the zipper/buckle option, where you can put on the lifejacket through the access point on the front or the back.

Which Life Vest Should I Choose?

If you’re a beginner at wakeboarding or just want to have some family friendly fun, go for CGA vests. They follow all safety regulations and will help you feel more comfortable in the water. The superior padding support will also keep you afloat, helping you learn the watersports and enhance your progression.

If you’re an experienced rider looking for a full range of motion to maximize your riding style and pull off those sick moves, impact vests are the way to go. Since the padding is laid out differently, you’ll get targeted protection. Experienced riders can also anticipate a fall and may not need the additional security the CGA vests offer.

However, remember that safety should be the number one priority regardless of your skill level.

Get the Best Life Jacket at Miami Nautique

Choosing a life vest can be tricky. Miami Nautique’s team of professionals is here to guide you and help you find suitable kinds of bindings. We will find you the vest you need according to the type, the fit, the flotation, and the entry method.

Our list of premier manufacturers includes Hyperlite, Ronix, Liquid Force, HO Sports, and other top brands. Stop by the Miami Nautique pro shop or browse our site to find the perfect vest.

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