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11.4.2018 Drew Bartek

What is the difference between a CGA vest and a Competition Vest?


Coast Guard Approved (CGA) Life Jackets


CGA (Coast Guard Approved) life jackets are the most common type of vest you will see across water sport participants.  CGA vests are required to meet specific buoyancy levels ensuring floatation. The vests consist of more foam, multiple buckles, and are a bulkier vest.  For individuals where flotation is a number one priority a CGA vest is for you. Some states require riders at lakes and cable parks to wear a CGA vest. Federal regulations often require that there is a CGA life jacket on board for every person on the boat.

Wearing a CGA vest is the safest option that you have and is recommended for the casual rider or someone that does not have strong swimming skills. Although it is "not as cool" it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Competition Vests

Competition (Comp) vests also known as impact vests are not life jackets because they do not meet the buoyancy requirements.  However, in the wakeboard, wakesurf, water ski and kiteboard community they are very popular with riders. We have interviewed over 700 riders and 85% of them ride with a competition vest.  Riders choose to wear a competition vest for the comfort, weight, and mobility. Riders believe that having these improvements in a vest can make them a better rider and land more tricks.  

Almost all of the pros ride with a competition vest, but some have been able to continue to compete at high levels by wearing a CGA vest like Shaun Murphy who is a legend in the sport. If you do choose to wear a competition vest we advise you to have other safety measures in place.

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  • Maximum comfort with a vest that forms to your body.
  • Often 2 to 3 times lighter than a CGA vest.
  • Less restrictive, gives riders full range of motion.  
  • Easier to do tricks, spins, grabs, and passing the handle.


  • Less buoyancy, you can’t fully rely on the vest to keep you afloat.  Depending on your weight it will provide some flotation, you may have to tread water a little bit.  
  • When you take a hard fall there is less foam to absorb the hit.


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Published by Drew Bartek November 4, 2018
Drew Bartek