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Which Life Jacket is Best for Kids and When to Use It

  • Category: Kids' Tips
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  • Written By: Baton Rouge General
Which Life Jacket is Best for Kids and When to Use It

Anywhere you find water, drowning is a real risk, especially for children. Wearing a life jacket is one of the best ways to stay safe in the water, and the U.S. Coast Guard has approved certain personal flotation devices (PFDs) to help ensure the safest water experience. (Approved devices even have a USCG stamp on them to make it easy!) Here are some tips for how to choose one and when to wear it.

PFDs for kids fall into one of three categories:

  • Life vest: most commonly used for children under 30 pounds and are designed so that babies floats face up with neck support. They can be bulky or restrictive, so practice with baby before that beach trip!
  • Jumper lifejacket: the very popular “puddle jumper” with back claps is best for kids who are 30-50 pounds and gives more freedom of movement.
  • Life jacket: what most of us picture when they think flotation device, with buckles in front and a leg strap in the kids’ versions.Life jackets

Floaties, or “water wings,” which are affordable and accessible, may seem like they offer safety, but they are not USCG-approved PFDs and provide a false sense of security in the water. Any other foam or inflatable pool toy is just that, a toy, and shouldn’t be used as a safe flotation device.

Regardless of the type, you want to make sure the PFD fits properly. They are marked with child/adult and a weight range. The best way to check for fit is by having your child raise their arms above their head with the PFD on, while you grasp the tops of the arm openings and gently pull up. It shouldn’t ride up over your child’s chin or face. If too big, the PFD could push up around the face, which is dangerous, and if too small, the PFD may not be able to keep your child afloat. Double check that all buckles and straps are fully functional, and toss the PFD if they’re not.

When to wear a PFD is just as important as the type you pick. When boating or doing any water sports, anyone -- regardless of swimming ability or age -- should wear a PFD. When swimming, whether at a lake, pond, waterpark or swimming pool, PFDs should be used by small children (5 and younger) and weaker swimmers of all ages.

What’s a “weak swimmer”? The American Red Cross recommends that you conquer five minimum swim skills to be considered competent in the water: being able to enter the water and resurface, controlling breathing, floating, turning, and moving to safety in the water and exiting.

Water safety is more than wearing a life jacket, and there are several layers of protection you should take, like making sure your kids become strong swimmers, teaching them to always ask permission before going near water, fencing pools, and of course paying close and constant attention to children when they’re in or near water.