Snorkel Vest vs Life Jacket for Snorkeling

Last Updated: December 5, 2023

Our waterbodies are, no doubt, beautiful and awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, they can turn perilous in no time and that is why it is always important to be armed with protective gear at all times.

For snorkelers, the decision of whether to wear a snorkeling vest or a life jacket is worth pondering.

The two have different merits and depending on individual preferences and swimming skills it’s important to make the right pick.

For instance, life jackets are primarily designed to keep your head out of the water (under normal swimming posture). Snorkeling vests, on the other hand, are designed to keep your face submerged.

Read on as I draw a comparison between these two floatation devices.

snorkeling with life jacket

How Do You Stay Afloat While Snorkeling?

There are several ways you can use to stay afloat when snorkeling.

Some of these methods include:

  • Natural floating – Experienced and strong swimmers are able to stay afloat using natural body buoyancy. Water is denser than human bodies.
  • Use of hands to steer – Use your hands to make flipper arm movements. The technique will push you to the water’s surface.
  • Breathing techniques – Before you dive into the waters, take deep breaths to fill your lungs to full capacity. It will increase your body buoyancy.
  • Snorkeling in salty waters – Dense, salty waters such as those found in the Red Sea can keep you afloat.
  • Use flotation devices – There are many buoyancy devices that you could use to stay afloat while snorkeling. You can wear a life jacket, snorkel vest, noodles, and swim bubbles, among many others.

What is a Life Jacket?

A life jacket is a personal floatation device (PFD) that keeps you afloat when in water. It is usually used for evacuation during airspace or water vessel emergencies.

There are two types of life jackets whose difference is the material they are made from. These are inflatable and foam life jackets. The inflatable type has a tube that is full of air.

Life jackets are designed in bright colors that are visible from a distance. The PFD is shaped like a vest and has the ability to support your head while keeping it above the water surface. The jacket has adjustable straps to help you fit in it properly.

Can You Snorkel with a Life Jacket?

Yes, it is technically possible to snorkel with a life jacket. Regardless, snorkeling while wearing one is difficult since it is primarily designed as evacuation safety gear in the event of an emergency.

A life jacket has head support and can keep you slightly on your back. When you put on the device, it keeps you in a vertical position, with the face looking up as it would do with an injured or unconscious person.

It is tiring to snorkel in the jacket since you constantly struggle to get into position, as it is designed to keep your head off the water’s surface.

life vest for snorkeling

Tips on How to Snorkel with a Life Jacket

Skilled swimmers are able to use natural body buoyance to stay afloat using minimal effort.

However, if you are not a good swimmer but are interested in snorkeling, wearing a life jacket can be helpful in some situations.

But to get the most out of this personal flotation device you’ll want to use it while wearing snorkeling fins to further increase your buoyancy.

Also, once you get inside the water, you’ll want to use your arms and legs to steer your body in the desired direction.

You’ll basically want to use your arms to push water behind you, i.e., in the opposite direction to where you intend to swim toward.

Unfortunately, for the snorkeling part that is, you’ll have to keep fighting against the tendency of the life jacket to orient you vertically. This is, however, a small price to pay especially if you’re yet to build good swimming skills or you have physical fitness challenges.

What is a Snorkel Vest?

Novice snorkelers find it better to use a buoyancy aid such as a snorkeling vest for safety measures.

A snorkel vest is a personal floatation device (PFD) that is designed specifically for snorkeling. The vest helps you to stay afloat as you swim with your face in the water. The buoyancy of the device depends on the amount of air it contains.

Snorkel Vest vs. Life Jacket – How Are They Different?

Life jackets and snorkel vests have one common purpose, to provide support and buoyancy to the user. Regardless, the two devices have several differences.

Below are the major differences between a snorkeling vest and a life jacket.

1. Ready to Go

A life jacket is ready to wear PFD while a snorkeling vest takes time to be ready for use.

Life jackets come as foam-made or with an inflatable tube. You only put it on, adjust the straps, and you are good to go.

On the other hand, you have to inflate a snorkel vest before you put it on. You also have to take your time as you fill it to avoid a puncture.

2. Comfort

A snorkel vest is comfortable and less cumbersome compared to a life jacket. A life jacket has extra padding that makes it bulkier and limiting in movements.

A snorkeling vest contains air only. You can snorkel comfortably with minimal restrictions.

3. Where Your Face Is

A life jacket provides head support that automatically keeps your face out of the water.

The jacket is designed to prevent a drowning posture where the face is in water. The device is made to turn you slightly on your back with the face looking up.

A snorkeling vest keeps you afloat while you snorkel with your face down; as you should during the adventure.

4. Weight

A life jacket contains heavy foam or an inflatable tube. That in addition to zippers and the adjustable straps. It is, however, made with light material of either polyester or nylon.

A snorkeling vest is made with neoprene and has a plain and simple design. It is a lot lighter than a life jacket.

5. Versatility

You can use a life jacket for other water activities such as water skiing and kayaking. That, in addition to their primary use in emergency evacuations.

A snorkel vest is specifically made for snorkeling. If you have an interest in other water adventures, you have to get suitable PFDs since you cannot use a snorkel vest.

5. Can You Dive?

You can dive to experience the underwater life when you are in a snorkeling vest. The device allows you to swim below the surface.

When you are in a life jacket, you have limited snorkeling postures. You can only stay on the surface, you cannot dive while in a life jacket.

girl with life jacket when snorkeling

Reasons to Wear a Snorkel Vest

Unexpected Weather Conditions

Weather is a major concern for snorkelers. It is good to enhance your safety when snorkeling in rough and rainy conditions. A snorkel vest will help you out in case of strong currents or a high tide.

The vest can also save your energy when you swim against the current in rough waters. The vest can also give you control in the event you are pulled by strong waves.

Boosted Buoyancy and Comfort

A snorkel vest keeps you afloat and in a comfortable posture while exploring the waters. Some vests will allow you to float in a horizontal position with the face down, while your head is above the surface.

While in a snorkel vest, you can also wear your fins to increase buoyancy and maintain still postures. The relaxed technique reduces physical exertion and keeps you safe as you enjoy the underwater view.


Safety is a priority for any watersport lover. It is crucial for a beginner or a non-swimmer to wear a floatation device. Even experienced swimmers should put on a PDF in case of an emergency, such as a sudden change of weather or a medical condition.

A snorkel vest has several safety features that enhance your security.

It keeps your head at the surface where you can breathe comfortably. Another safety feature is that the device is made of appealing neon colors that are visible from a distance. You can attract attention in the event of need.

Some vests have a little whistle to get the attention of other snorkelers or lifeguards. If your vest does not come with a whistle, you can attach one.

Ideal for Beginners and Non-swimmers

If you are starting out as a snorkeler, a vest will help you to stay afloat and keep you safe. A non-swimmer can also enjoy snorkeling when they wear the vest.

Physical Condition

If you usually tire easily, a vest would be handy for you. It can keep you afloat, with minimal physical exertion and, therefore, help you save your energy.

Other Types of Buoyancy Aids for Snorkeling


You can use noodles when snorkeling to enjoy a relaxing experience. Noodles can provide you with extra support and make it easy to stop for rest when in the water. Also, if you want to free up your hands to adjust your gear, you can sit on the noodle.

Snorkeling Floats

You can use snorkeling floats for support and stability if you get tired. Snorkeling floats have built-in windows from which you can view the underwater as you keep water away from your ears.

A snorkeling float is a great alternative if you do not like to hold your face under the water for a long time. It is a good option to add to your PFDs gear.

Floatation Belts

A floatation belt is a great alternative to a snorkeling vest. It helps you remain flexible even as you float above the water.

The device, however, does not support your head as a vest does.

You can get different types of flotation belts depending on their Newton ratings. The thicker the belt, the higher the Newton ratings…the higher the Newton ratings the greater the buoyancy.

Swim Buoys

Swim buoys are also known as swim bubbles. You can use the swim buoys to direct boats to a location or to mark your snorkeling spot. The device has a belt to keep it attached to you when snorkeling.

Swim bubbles are less cumbersome and easier to carry around compared to dive bags. However, you should not entirely rely on them for flotation. They are only meant to help you hoist your head above the water for a short time.

You can also use the swim buoy as a dry bag to keep your personal effects such as wallets, and sunglasses.


Whether you are a professional snorkeler or a novice, it is always good to wear a personal floatation device. It can keep you safe, increase your comfort, and also enhance your aquatic experience.

Will you add a life jacket or a snorkel vest to your PFDs gear?

Your water activities and swimming skills will inform the choice of your buoyancy device.

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