You probably have a handful of those bulky orange life jackets in a locker that'll satisfy U.S. Coast Guard safety requirements should you be boarded. But would you ever wear one unless it was absolutely-like the boat is sinking-necessary? And even if you'd wear it, it's still not a harness that will help keep you attached to the boat. You don't want to be left treading water while your boat sails away, do you? The solution is simple: Wear an inflatable PFD/harness and use a tether.
Most safety equipment is something you have to carry and hope to never use, but inflatable PFD/harnesses are different. They get used-as in worn-but not used-as in inflated-all the time. If you're in the market for this piece of safety kit, there's a couple of things to consider. First, do you want a manual inflator, in which you pull a rip cord to inflate the device, or would you like the security of having an automatic backup? (See "Inflation Mechanisms," next page.) You should also figure out if a simple, easy-to-wear PFD will do the trick in lieu of one with an integrated harness. A harness model generally costs a bit more. If you'll be doing any offshore cruising, a harness model will let you clip into jacklines and, in a worst-case scenario, be easily hauled aboard at the end of a halyard. On the other hand, if your plans include only daysailing and coastal cruising, a model without a harness will be better than not wearing any PFD at all.
After you've resolved these issues, it's simply a matter of finding one that fits. Weight and fit will vary, so try on a bunch of different models until you find one that's so comfortable that you'll forget you're wearing it-until you really need it. The following roundup of PFD/harnesses will help you get a feel for the choices.