A great day on the water can quickly turn tragic without proper life-saving equipment and supervision. That’s why proper life jackets are a must-have for every boating excursion, especially if you have kids with you.
According to the CDC, drowning is the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 1-4. And it’s not always the loud, splashing noise-maker television and movies make it out to be. Sometimes, drowning is silent, and it can be swift, happening in as little as 30 seconds.
So if you’re planning a day out on the water with little ones in tow, a proper-fitting, United States Coast Guard-compliant life jacket is a must-have.
Below the results, you can find information about life jacket types, classification, and performance as well as safety.
Type II – This USCG Type II vest is an Amazon’s Choice. It comes in three sizes: child, infant and youth. The child’s version is for 30-50 pounds. Please check the weight limits for each size. This version comes in a bright neon green for high visibility. It has both leg straps and a grab loop.
Type III – This USCG Type III life jacket comes in a variety of colors including blue, turquoise, berry, and yellow. It has quick release buckles for easy on and off, and includes leg straps to keep it in place. This vest is for kids 30-50 pounds.
Type II – This USCG Type II vest is for infants between 8-30 pounds. It has a sea-level buoyancy of 7 pounds. It comes in a variety of fun, bright colors from yellows to reds and there are also blue, aqua and pink options.
Type II – This infant life vest is USCG approved, Type II, and is for infants weighing up to 30 pounds. In addition to a between-the-legs safety belt, this jacket has a head cushion with a grab loop. A few reviewers commented on the fit being a little big, so consult a sizing chart before purchase.
Type III – This USCG Type III life vest comes in three color options including black (which does not have leg straps or a grab loop), and dayglo (a yellow-green) and petunia, which both feature grab handles and leg straps. These life vests are intended for children between 30-50 pounds.
Type III – This USCG Type III life vest is for children who weigh between 50-90 pounds. Because this is for older children, it does not come with leg straps or grab handles. This vest has a zip closure with two additional belts for security. It comes in blue with bright green/yellow accents. There is also a pink and aqua version. Both colors also come in a child’s size for weights 30-50 pounds.
Type II – This USCG Type II life jacket fits infants up to 30 pounds. It has a buckle opening at the collar. The collar is oversized to help support your child’s head. There is also an elastic fabric strap for legs to help keep the jacket in position. It comes in two color options: pink and orange.
Type II – This is a Type II life vest for infants. It’s USCG approved and fits infants who weigh less than 30 pounds. This vest has leg straps, a head rest, and a grab handle. It comes in a fun yellow and blue aquatic pattern.
More than Arm Floaties and Swim Vests
If you’ve been to a pool, then you’re probably familiar with inflatable arm floaties, swim vests and similar swim supports adults use for kids.
While these are great tools to help your children build confidence in the water—with adult supervision—these are not the same as potentially life-saving life vests or personal flotation devices (PFDs).
PFDs are regulated and rated by the United States Coast Guard. Floaties and swim wings, for example, are not.
So if you’d like to take a toddler or child out onto the water with you, how do you know which life jacket to choose?
First, let’s look at some basic information about life jacket types, classifications and performance levels. This information is a great resource before you begin searching for a life jacket for your kids.
Life Jacket Types, Classification, and Performance
There are four basic PFD design types: inherent, inflatable, hybrid, and special purpose.
Wearable PFD performance types are Type I, Type II, Type III, Type V (you can read about them here). Most commonly, Types II and Types III are for children. A Type II vest is recommended for children who can’t swim.
- Type II: If unconscious in water, Type II PFDs are designed to turn a child over from face-down to a position to a position where there is no impediment for breathing.
- Type III: Type III PFDs are designed to keep a child upright in water, but they aren’t required to turn a child over from a face-down position.
The other PFD types are not recommended for children. You may be familiar with Type IV devices, such as float rings and cushions, but they are not wearable and are not for kids so you should exclude them in your search.
Also, inflatable life vests are not recommended for children younger than 16.
When searching for a life jacket for your child, here are a few suggestions:
- The life jacket should be rated for a minimum buoyancy for kids: 11 pounds for children and 7 pounds for infants.
- Look for lifejackets with a handle on the top. This will help you grab hold of the child more easily if needed.
- Life jackets with leg straps are great for kids because they should prevent it from riding up into your child’s face.
- Kids, like adults, like comfort, and a bulky life vest can discourage use. Make sure your child’s life jacket fits properly and discuss its safety importance with your kids. You can also find a fitting chart here that includes child weight and chest sizes.
- Get a life jacket with colors that contrast your swimming or boating environment so you can easily see them in water.
As we mentioned in our blog about adult life jackets, boat safety and PFD regulations are not the same for every state or location, so check out your state’s safety rules to ensure you’re in compliance.
This is especially important for child life jacket usage. However, regardless of the mandate, it’s always a good idea for young swimmers to wear a PFD. Even strong swimmers can quickly run into trouble, especially if they’re momentarily out of adult sight.
The United States Coast Guard’s Boat Safety Division is a great resource for federal, state, and other regulations.
Still need help selecting the perfect adult life jacket for your next boating excursion? Check out the USCG’s guide on “How to Choose the Right Life Jacket,” for more information.