One of the many reasons that folks go out on or into the water without a lifejacket or personal flotation device typically boils down to the fact that the majority of PFDs can be a bulky mess to wear and still actually do anything in. In short, they’re inconvenient, but the Aegis Lifeshirt wants to change all that.
The basic idea is that the Lifeshirt, in all of its incarnations, resembles a sort of sports shirt that looks like a wetsuit or perhaps simply one designed to wick moisture. But in actuality, the design hides an inflatable bladder inside that’s connected to a small CO2 cylinder located on the back. That’s where the flotation comes from.
The majority of the different garments in the Lifeshirt line also have two different methods of inflation. They can be set so that they automatically inflate once someone’s shoulders go underwater - like, say, if someone were to accidentally fall off a boat - or to only inflate once the handle near the shoulder is pulled. The first is a fairly common request for those devices that begin un-inflated, due to the fear of the wearer losing consciousness through some terrible turn of events before activating the inflating device. There's also an oral inflation/release valve on the right shoulder.
But one unfortunate bit is that the Lifeshirt reportedly currently only classifies as a “buoyancy aid” with the International Standards Organization (ISO) rating its base shirt as a Level 50 device, meaning that it still requires movement of some kind from the wearer to keep the head above water. As in, it doesn’t actually classify as what one might consider to be a standard life jacket at the moment given that a life jacket is intended to keep the head above water regardless of movement from the wearer.
This also means that it doesn’t meet U.S. Coast Guard requirements when it comes to recreational boats, though the Coast Guard is reportedly set to eventually adopt a system similar to that of the ISO - meaning that the Lifeshirt could meet lightweight requirements in the future. The shirt material also offers wearers protection from UV sunlight.
Lifeshirt's design is still being tweaked. It is a finalist under the accessories category at ISPO Brandnew in Germany, a startup competition in the sporting goods industry, and may be on the market by early 2017.