Since 2008, Zhik’s popular buoyancy aid has been one of the go-to lifejackets for dinghy sailors. Lightweight, compact and high-cut around the waist, wearing it is about as close to wearing no lifejacket as you can get, yet it still keeps you afloat when you need it.
For most of the world, which uses the European Standard (CE) for lifejackets, using them in events has been no problem. However, in the U.S., the original Zhik buoyancy aid does not meet the U.S. Coast Guard standards, which, according to Zhik’s Mike Krantz, require about 10 percent more flotation that the CE standard. This meant the vest was off limits to collegiate and other dinghy sailors. And U.S. Sailing requires CG-approved vest for all of its events, unless it’s an international regatta, in which case competitors may wear flotation devices that are approved in their countries. While collegians strictly observed the rules, it has not been uncommon to see competitors wearing them in dinghy events across the country with no known significant fallout.
Still, rules are rules, and after two-and-half years of working with the Coast Guard and paying $10,000-$15,000 per color and per size, Zhik has come out with a CG-approved version of their flotation vest.
At first glance, it’s identical to the original; in a side-by-side comparison, there are subtle differences. The CG-approved version is about 2 inches taller than the original and slightly thicker, especially in the front. Comparing a four-year-old original size large to a new, CG-approved size large, the front of the new version measures around about a half-inch thicker than the original. Beyond that, the new version contains all the features of the old—front pocket, a rubber strip on the inside of the lower section to help prevent it from riding up, tapered top edges to prevent snagging the boom or sheets, zipper side entry, adjustable waist buckle and an absence of buckles on the neoprene shoulder straps. Currently available in black and cyan blue, with a red version available sometime next year.
The new version fit snugger than my four-year-old non-Coast Guard approved vest, perhaps because of the additional close-cell foam in the front. Or, it may be that the foam in the new one has not had a chance to conform to my body the way the older one has. It’s certainly not a deal-breaker, but you might notice it right off if you’re used to wearing an older Zhik vest. And, in a way, it’s good because the life jacket doesn’t ride up if you end up in the water. But, if you are at the very top end of a size range, you might want to try the next size up. Fortunately, the extra thickness doesn’t seem to restrict movement any more than the original, and it’s still considerably more compact than many of the more traditional CG-lifejackets available.