The Evolution of Life Jackets: From Bulky to Inflatable


When it comes to water safety, life jackets are one of the most important pieces of equipment. They help keep us afloat and can even save our lives in emergency situations. However, life jackets haven’t always been as user-friendly and comfortable as they are today. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the evolution of life jackets, from bulky to inflatable.

The Bulky Life Jackets of the Past

In the early days of life jackets, they were often made of cork or kapok. These materials were buoyant and kept people afloat, but the life jackets themselves were large and cumbersome. They could make it difficult to move around and swim, and weren’t very comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. In fact, they were often called “Mae Wests” because they made wearers look like the actress Mae West, with large, exaggerated chests.

Crew of Fleetwood station wearing cork lifejackets and sou’westers circa 1890 (Photo:

The Introduction of Foam

In the 1950s, foam life jackets were introduced. These new life jackets were much lighter and more comfortable than the cork or kapok versions. They were also more effective at keeping people afloat because they had better buoyancy. The foam was also more durable than the cork or kapok, and could withstand exposure to water and sunlight without breaking down.

Foam life jackets quickly became the standard for water safety, and are still widely used today. They are often available in a variety of sizes and styles, including full jackets, vests, and even specialized options for specific activities like kayaking or fishing.

The Invention of Inflatable Life Jackets

In the 1970s, inflatable life jackets were introduced. These new life jackets were much smaller and more comfortable than their foam counterparts, while still providing the same level of buoyancy. They were also much easier to store and transport, making them a popular choice for boaters and water sports enthusiasts.

The first inflatable life jackets were manually inflated. This means the wearer had to pull a cord or blow into a tube to inflate the jacket. Later, automatic inflation options were developed that used CO2 cartridges to inflate the jacket when it came into contact with water.

The Advancements in Inflatable Life Jackets

Today, inflatable life jackets have come a long way since their introduction in the 1970s. They are now available in a range of styles and sizes, including manual and automatic inflation options. Some are even designed to be worn like a vest, providing more freedom of movement and a better fit than traditional life jackets.

One of the main advantages of these life jackets is their compact size. You can fold it up and store it in a small space. This makes it ideal for limited storage space on boats or for those who need to carry a life jacket with them while they hike or kayak. They are also very lightweight, which is another advantage over traditional foam life jackets.

The Benefits of Inflatable Life Jackets

Inflatable life jackets like the Res-T offer several benefits over traditional foam life jackets. They are more comfortable, lightweight, and easier to wear for extended periods of time. They also provide more freedom of movement, which is important for activities like boating, fishing, and water sports. Some inflatable life jackets are also designed to be worn over clothing, which can be an advantage in colder weather.

Another benefit of these life jackets is that they are easier to maintain than foam life jackets. Foam life jackets can become waterlogged over time, which can affect their buoyancy and make them less effective.You can easily inspect and maintain your inflatable life jacket. Just check the CO2 cartridge and other components.


From bulky cork and kapok lifejackets to modern, inflatable options like the Res-T, life jackets have come a long way in terms of comfort and convenience. While people still widely use foam life jackets, inflatable life jackets have become increasingly popular due to their compact size and ease of use. Whether you’re boating, fishing, or engaging in water sports, wearing a life jacket is essential for your safety. Choosing the right life jacket for your needs can make all the difference in case of an emergency.

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