Which Is More Buoyant? Flotation Wetsuit, Regular Wetsuit, Swimsuit, or Life Vest?
When it comes to swimwear you can have flexibility or buoyancy—but not both. A personal flotation device is very buoyant but not very flexible while a swimsuit is very flexible and not very buoyant. If you're looking to stay above the water and have flexibility for swimming, here is a comparison of swimwear and swim devices from the most to least buoyant.
Personal Flotation Device
Personal flotation devices (PFD) are the most buoyant of all swimwear. Personal flotation devices include offshore life jackets, near-shore buoyant vests, flotation aids, or throwable devices. PFDs are rated on a scale of 1-5 by the Coast Guard for buoyancy, with 1 being the most buoyant. Life jackets are the most buoyant device of all and are designed to bring a person back to the surface, reduce hypothermia, and maintain the person upright. PFDs can be made from inflatable plastic foams, buoyant foams (such as neoprene), or kapok (a natural silky fiber produced from the seed of the kapok tree).
A flotation suit is more buoyant than a regular wetsuit or swimsuit. Flotation wetsuits are similar in shape and size to a regular wetsuit with an inserted additional buoyant material within the fabric to create additional flotation. For example, the Floater® is a flotation wetsuit for all abled-bodied swimmers, para-swimmers, and adaptive swimmers. The Floater wetsuit provides additional buoyancy for a swimmer, raising their chest out of the water, making it easier to swim faster and farther, and to float easily without having to tread water.
A regular wetsuit (spring suit, shorty, or full suit) is more buoyant than a swimsuit. Most wetsuits are manufactured from neoprene, a plastic foam, which provides buoyancy for swimmers, surfers, and divers. However, some wetsuits are manufactured with different materials. The thicker the neoprene the more buoyant the suit. However, the thicker the material, the less flexible the suit is for swimming. Some full scuba wetsuits can be up to 8mm thick when designed for colder waters.
A swimsuit is the least buoyant of all swimwear. Most recreational swimsuits are manufactured from thin, flexible materials, such as polyester, Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT), or nylon. Suits are typically designed for such things as flexibility, breathability, speed, comfort, or fashion—not buoyancy.