Hey Big Man, We've Got You Covered

Published in the September 2011 Issue September 2011 Industry Brady L. Kay

Room For AllNothing quite beats that awkward pause after a desperate search below the seats comes up empty and all the captain is able to dig up is a size-large life jacket for his oversized guest.

That awkward silence is normally followed by the courtesy line, "Uh, try this one, it might fit." It's called a courtesy line because everyone on the boat watching this situation play out knows without a shadow of a doubt the life jacket won't even come close to fitting this guy. But out of obligation to the skipper, the big man maxes out the buckles and attempts to squeeze into the one size fits "most" life jacket, only to further extend this awkward situation.

Being 6-foot-5 myself, I know a thing or two about the need for bigman life jackets onboard. I also know that if you go looking at most marina stores to find one, you'll most likely come up short. There was a time when I just accepted the fact that stylish life jackets weren't made in bigger sizes. I was just glad to find one that actually fit me and that was good enough for my simple needs. But I quickly learned I was wrong in thinking good-looking life jackets don't come in XXL sizes and bigger. I knew the jackets were out there, I just needed to find them. While searching I came up with five great options for the big-man boater.

Bart's Water Sports

Bart's Water SportsAvailable in black/blue and black/red colors, Bart's Water SportsBart's Men's 4-Buckle Nylon Life Jacket is one of those comfy jackets that ranges in sizes from XS (28-32), all the way up to 5XL (62-66). The nylon over foam construction includes four heavy-duty buckles and is a U.S. Coast Guard approved type-III vest. Regardless of what size you choose, the price is $39.99 on Bart's website catalog.

Staff Tested:

We love the price, proving you don't need to spend a lot to get a comfortable and stylish life jacket in the size that you need. Plus it truly is lightweight and you feel very secure with the four solid buckle design. The specific life jacket tested was size 4XL and was very comfortable.


Cabela'sMade of four-way stretch 2mm neoprene to Cabela'soffer maximum flexibility for skiing, tubing and wakeboarding, Cabela's XPG Neoprene Ski Vest is a great option for big guys. This free-moving, high-performance neoprene ski vest is a U.S. Coast Guard approved type-III PFD, ranges in size from S (34-36) to 2XL (50-52) and is available in yellow or red colors. The two-buckle design with snug-fitting zippered closure retails between $59.99 and $69.99.

Staff Tested:

Finally a life jacket that actually fits both large and tall frames. From big muscular football player bodies to tall lanky basketball bodies, this life jacket with a solid heavy-duty zipper is designed to accommodate a lot of different users. The neoprene is much more comfortable than nylon, and the vest fits nicely and doesn't ride up and down like some others do when bouncing around on a tube behind the boat. Tested was the 2XL model, which is the biggest size offered for this specific vest.


Cabela'sAnother solid option from Cabela's is the Cabela'sCool Mesh Flotation Vest. At $34.99 it offers a great value for a U.S. Coast Guard approved type-III vest. The lightweight, comfortable mesh top and sides provide cooling, ventilation and freedom of movement. Plus the rugged 200-denier nylon shell features two adjustable nylon waist belts with reliable quick-release nylon buckles. Available in sizes ranging from S-M (36-42) all the way up to 4XL (56-60), the Cool Mesh comes in four different colors including mango, royal blue, charcoal and an Advantage Max-4 HD camo version.

Staff Tested:

Very lightweight and very comfortable to wear. We tested the 2XL/3XL model that gives you plenty of freedom and mobility for activities like fishing and with plenty of slack to work with; it doesn't feel like a typical life jacket at all. The mesh top provides great ventilation for those in extreme hot weather states. Plus it was included in this roundup because surprisingly it doesn't ride up when you're in the water so this is more than just a great fishing vest, you can tube with it too.


Overton'sOverton's Men's BioLite Vest With Flex- Fit Overton'sV-Back ranges in sizes S (32-36) to 3XL (52-56) and is available in blue, gray, red and yellow. The lightweight jacket is designed to increase mobility and is a U.S. Coast Guard approved type III vest. There are two heavyduty buckles, plus a zipper for a snug fit. Priced at $69.99, this jacket received a lot of positive reviews on Overton's site for being a comfortable option for big men.

Staff Tested:

When you wear this life jacket it actually feels like it was made for you and is not just the biggest vest that someone was able to find. We absolutely love the heavy-duty zipper for that extra snug fit. It's the type of high quality zipper that you'd expect to find on dive suits. It's a little longer than most vests and that's probably why we like it so much. We tested the 3XL, which fit perfectly, but sizes tend to run a little small so if in doubt, go with the next size up.

West Marine

West MarineWest Marine has several options when it West Marinecomes to 2XL life jackets including the Watersports Life Vest. Available in a stylish black and blue design (a pink version is available for the ladies) the men's version ranges from S-M (32-40) to 2XL (50-60). Great for the active watersports enthusiast looking for style, comfort, and value, this U.S. Coast Guard approved type III vest features its Rapid-Dry technology so you won't feel soggy, or bogged-down with added water-weight. The three quickrelease buckles help make the vest adjustable to keep it from riding up or shifting and the vest retails for $39.99, regardless of the size.

Staff Tested:

We tested the Adult Super Large model (2XL) and we love the stretch fabric on the sides. The extreme graphics and design will make it an instant hit for most boaters. It truly does dry quickly and the three buckles provide a great fit.

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