It is never too early to begin to introduce your little ones to water and get them comfortable. It also allows you the best opportunity to teach them how to swim, so they do not have to sit on the sidelines on your next water-themed family vacation. However, you always want to ensure that the entire family is safe, even if they are not actually ready to jump into the water yet. That is where having an infant life jacket or infant life vest is important.
Finding the right infant life jacket is just as important as finding your own. The main job of the life jacket is obviously safety for the child, but there are a number of options that make it easy to find one that fits correctly too! Putting a life jacket on a baby can seem like a challenging task, so we will lay out some options for you to make purchasing one as painless as possible.
The Purpose of a Life Jacket or Life Vest
A life jacket is an important piece of equipment that is used to aid a person in keeping afloat in the water. Any child that is under the age of thirteen should wear a life jacket or life vest if they are on a vessel on the water for safety, like when you are out boating.
Life jackets and life vests are generally very lightweight and have foam, so they are able to float on top of the water, and they only have to displace about one pound of water. While the body has a limited amount of buoyancy already, a life jacket or life vest will not have to support all of your weight. Instead, it just needs to be able to displace enough of the person’s weight to keep their head above the water.
Finding the right size life jacket for a child is different than how you would for an adult. You want to measure chest size to determine the size of an adult PFD (Personal Floatation Device), and you will need to use weight for the kiddos. You can find the sizing information on the inside of the back of the life jacket.
The following information is what you may typically see:
Infant PFDs: up to 30 pounds
Child PFDs: 30 to 50 pounds
Youth PFDs: 50 to 90 pounds
There are five different types of PFDs set by U.S. Coast Guard in total: Type I, Type II, Type III, Type IV and Type V. In children’s PFDs, there are three types: Type I, Type II or Type III.
Type I PFD
Type I has the most floatation, making it the bulkiest and not ideal for a relaxing, calm boat ride. Rather, it is for rough and open waters where rescue might take a while. Type I infant life jackets will be able to turn most unconscious wearers face up while they are in the water and they offer the best protection while also being able to retain some of the person’s body heat.
The additional foam and fabric that are used in the design of Type I infant life jackets make them bulkier but are also able to keep the child’s head higher above the water. However, the Coast Guard has not approved any Type I inflatable PFD’s for the general public as of yet.
Type II PFD
For infants and smaller children that are not competent swimmers, we suggest you stick with Type II because it will turn the wearer to face-up position. Type II infant life jackets are typically worn for day cruising, fishing, and sailing. They offer better protection for those remaining closer to the shore with a higher probability of being rescued sooner rather than later.
They are much more comfortable than a Type I PFD, but also offer less flotation. They also do not guarantee that the wearer will be in a face-up position. Inflatable PFD’s are also not recommended for children under the age of sixteen because they may require the wearer to tread water.
Type III PFD
Type III infant life jackets are the most comfortable, but are not as buoyant and will not turn the child to the face-up position. These types of life jackets are usually worn for kayaking, water skiing, fishing, and canoeing and are also best for those staying closer to the shore.
Here are 3 main features you want to see on your child’s life jacket:
- Padded head support to help keep the child’s head above water.
- Grab handle to assist retrieving the child out of the water.
- Crotch strap to help keep the PFD from riding up.
When choosing a life jacket or life vest for an infant, you want to ensure that the life jacket is always properly fastened and cinched, so they have a very secure and snug fit. To do this, put on the life jacket and grab the top of the arm openings and pull up gently. Place the child’s arms straight up and make sure that the life jacket will not slip off over their head, or ride up, so it hits them in the chin or face.
You also want to make sure that you are choosing an infant life jacket that has been Coast Guard approved for a child that weighs less than thirty pounds. The jacket should have the Type II rating as previously discussed because this type has the safety features needed to keep the infant’s head upright and out of the water.
If the infant life jacket does not fit properly, then it will not be able to do its job in case of an emergency. You should never replace a Coast Guard approved infant life jacket for a swim vest, inflatable toys, or other flotation devices.
Let’s take a closer look at our options!
1. Stohlquist Nemo PFD
This PFD is tried and true – the most popular choice for safety and comfort. The double flotation collar provides great support for the baby’s head, ensuring their mouth and nose are above the surface.
Additionally, there is a large, sturdy grab handle, making retrieval easy and quick. The crotch strap is important to help the life jacket stay in place and stay down when the baby is in the water. The strap also helps prevent the life jacket from riding up over their head or hitting their chin and face.
The front entry zipper also makes it ideal for an infant because it is easy to put on them. It is also a Coast Guard approved Type II PFD.
2. MTI Infant Life Vest
Another awesome Type II option for a child weighing up to 30 pounds. This infant life jacket will turn the baby face-up within seconds because of the supportive collar. The collar has two foam blocks, creating a crease to help baby be where it needs to be–in the middle of the collar.
Slightly bulkier around the arms, it has both a crotch strap and belly strap for a secure fit. It is also available in many different colors to offer increased visibility for safety and also employs US Coast Guard approved fabric.
3. Mustang Lil’ Legends 100 PFD
This infant life jacket does not lack in features. Along with the grab handle, waist, and crotch straps, it also includes a Cooling-Channeled interior back panel to help prevent overheating and a cranky baby; benefiting both the parent and the child!
The Mustang Lil’ Legends infant life jacket is high on the list because of the extra support around the baby’s head. Additionally, having the two side foam squares will help protect the baby’s face.
This particular life jacket was made in response to parents that were looking for a more comfortable option for their child that also offered improved mobility while reducing the thermal burden. It has been through many advanced field tests to ensure its safety and effectiveness and is US Coast Guard Type II approved for most coastal boating activities.
4. Speedo Infant Life Jacket
Visually, this is your most kid-happy option because of the fun, playful graphics! It still meets all US Coast Guard standards, but having a brighter color is a great way to boost visibility if they are in the water.
There are two crotch straps to go around each leg which helps this PFD fit more securely, but won’t make a much bigger difference than a single strap. The fabric is also anti-microbial treated and helps prevent the formation of mildew, mold, and odors that can occur following use.
The mesh drainage pockets at the bottom of this infant life jacket help eliminate any water build-up which helps keep this infant life jacket as lightweight and as buoyant as possible.
5. Stearns Infant Life Jacket
Here’s another infant life jacket that gets the job done! It is not known to be the most comfortable, but it does meet all the requirements of being US Coast Guard approved. This style also comes in many sizes so that you could get matching life jackets for the whole family!
It is the ideal choice if you are in the beginning stages of introducing your little one to the water and the leg strap and grab handle offer additional safety and protection in the water. The Stearns Infant Life Jacket was specifically designed for children weighing under thirty pounds.
6. O’Neill Infant Life Jacket
This is another very well-made PFD for your little one. It is a bit bulkier Type II flotation device option but contains all the necessities (head support, straps for best fit, grab handle). The head panel provides the head and neck with adequate support and the adjustable straps allow for a more customized and snug fit for the child.
The quick-release buckles are also an added benefit for the parent because they make it much easier to put the infant life jacket on or off the child. Some children might find this infant life jacket a bit uncomfortable, which makes it even more important that you find the right fit for your child, so they do not pull on it or try to take it off.
7. Full Throttle Infant PFD
Because of the large padded head support and the low volume at the back, this would be a comfortable option if the baby is going to be laying down the majority of the time. It also has a clip for the head support making it easier to put on without too much of a fight!
The Full Throttle Infant PFD is one of Amazon’s top choices, and its patented design is specifically made for children weighing under thirty pounds. The life jacket is made from a lightweight and durable foam material and includes conveniently placed buckles making it easier for the parents to put it on their child and take it off.
It is a US Coast Guard approved Type II infant life jacket.
8. O’Brien Baby Life Vest
This life vest is very similar to the Full Throttle option above. It is a poly/spandex material making it softer to the skin but will take slightly longer to dry. If the plan is not to let your baby get wet, this would be the better option because it is gentler on an infant’s fragile skin.
The O’Brien Baby Life Vest is stretchable, so you can find your child’s perfect fit and still provides easy and quick entry for the baby while being US Coast Guard approved for use in the water. The life vest is specifically designed for children weighing under thirty pounds.
9. HO Infant Life Jacket
Another Type II, up to 30 pounds option that comes in great, bright colors and neoprene, so it is softer to the skin. It is sure to provide a secure fit with the zipper and the belly and crotch straps. It has the crease in the middle of the flotation collar to help baby’s head stay where it is supposed to.
The life jacket includes a pull strap so that parents can grab their child out of the water much quicker and the bright colors you can choose from are great for added visibility while in the water. The crotch straps will help keep the life jacket from riding up and slipping off the child as well.
10. Stearns Infant Puddle Jumper
With a zippered back and two leg straps, it is sure to be a snug, secure fit. Made with Hydroprene™ Material, it makes this infant life jacket very lightweight and soft, and a great choice for your baby’s sensitive skin all day long.
As the name suggests, this option is only for a very controlled environment, like a pool, but is also considered a US Coast Guard approved infant life jacket.
How do I know the Life Jacket fits correctly?
It should be pretty easy to realize if the PFD is too small if it looks very uncomfortable where they are having a hard time breathing properly. If it is too small it will not be buoyant enough and therefore unsafe. To test if it is too big, raise their arms above their head and if the life jacket touches their ears or chin, it might be too big. To really tell, try lifting them by the shoulders of the jacket, and if they slip through it, it is too big.
One more test! …
In the pool or bathtub, gently place them face-down in the water. The jacket should flip them onto their back within seconds, keeping their face out of the water. If this doesn’t happen, this is not the right life jacket! It is unsafe to use for your baby, so check out a different one on the list.
Life vests are necessary and important when it comes to the safety and well-being of your family. It is of utmost importance that you take the time to carefully select and fit life vests for each member of the family for the added safety and security that life vests can provide for a family on vacation.
Lastly, have fun making memories with your little girl or guy on the water!