Kayaking as a family can be a very rewarding experience because it creates memories, instills confidence on the water, and encourages family bonding. The most important aspect of water adventure you should plan out is safety which makes picking what life jacket (aka PFD-Personal Flotation Device) your kiddos wear, a big decision.
Finding the right size life jacket for a child is different than how you would for an adult. Where you want to measure chest size to determine the size for an adult PFD (Personal Floatation Device), you use weight for the child. You can find the sizing information on the inside of the back, here is typically what you will see:
- Infant PFDs: up to 30 pounds
- Child PFDs: 30 to 50 pounds
- Youth PFDs: 50 to 90 pounds
Remember, in order for the life jacket to do its job it needs to be worn. Kids are not used to wearing what can be a bulky, uncomfortable vest. So make sure you do your research and get the right life jackets for your family so there is less push back on being safe!
1. NRS Vista Youth PFD
Material: Outer 420-denier nylon, lining 210-denier nylon
Due to adjustment points on the front, shoulders, and sides, this life jacket will securely fit any child ranging from 50 to 90 pounds. Don’t neglect the benefit of having pockets on your kiddos PFD so they can carry some snacks or toys or whatever else they feel they need to have with them.
2. NRS Crew Youth PFD
Material: Outer 200-denier nylon
This is a basic PFD but it fulfills its duty of keeping your child safe! Because there are no added features it is a sleeker are arguable more comfortable design. A great option especially if you are trying to keep the price down. (See child size for 30-50 lbs.)
3. Stohlquist Escape Youth Life Jacket
Material: Outer 200-denier Nylon, 200-denier oxford liner
Is your child starting to grow out of their kid’s PFD but you don’t want to splurge on an adult size yet? This life jacket comes in 2 sizes, Youth (50-90 lbs.) and Youth LG/Adult XS (75-125 lbs.). This sleek fitting jacket also has a front zippered, pleated pocket.
4. Astral Otter 2.0 Youth PFD
Material: Outer 200 x 400-denier ripstop nylon, lining 200-denier nylon
Compared to some of the other options this can be a little bulkier because it has a shorter torso, which does make it an ideal option for whitewater. Combining 6 adjustment points and 3 buckle closures make for a secure and snug fit. Bonus feature is the sewn in grab handle on the back for easy rescue.
5. NRS Big Water V Youth Life Vest
Material: Outer 420-denier nylon
Here’s a Type V PFD for those class V adventurers! This means that there is high flotation and a flotation collar to help keep their head up out of the water. Labeled as a high profile PFD, it is sure to keep your child visible and afloat.
6. Stohlquist Drifter Youth Life Jacket
Material: Outer 500-denier Cordura® Nylon, 200-denier oxford liner
For being a youth PFD, this is stacked with features which are beneficial if they are getting into whitewater paddling. In addition to zippered and buckled front there are cross-chest cinch straps to eliminate ride-up. Wide armholes and stretchy adjustable neoprene shoulders enable maximum mobility.
7. Extrasport Youth PFD with Collar
Material: 200-denier nylon
This Type II PFD comes in infant (under 50 lbs.) and youth (50-90 lbs.) sizes. The head support gives more confidence if the child ends up in the water. There is an adjustable crotch strap to help secure the jacket in place to prevent ride up.
8. Stearns Heads-Up Youth Life Vest
Material: Nylon shell, polyester liner
Being on of your most affordable life jackets, it still contains some of the highly sought-after features. The head float has a handle on the back for easy rescue. The crotch strap—to help hold the PFD in place—is lined with Hydroprene™-material to reduce chafing.
9. Stearns Youth Life Vest
Material: Polyester Shell
This PFD is highly rated because of its value. This is a generic and not highly durable, but if you are just starting to get your family into boating and looking to keep costs down this is a great, safe option for you. 3 adjustable straps to find the secure fit that is easy to put on.
10. Full Throttle Youth Hinged PFD
Material: Full Throttle’s Rapid-Dry (similar to neoprene)
Without lacking the proper UCGA Type III requirements, this is a life jacket that allows mobility because of the 5 segmented hinge points. The soft and stretchable material will not hinder your child in whatever water activity they find themselves in!
How do I know the Life Jacket fits correctly?
First, make sure they have the PFD on correctly. All the straps should be fully loosened when you first put it on. Then fasten any buckles or zippers. Have your child find their belly button, this is about where the bottom strap should be, so tighten that first. Then if there are shoulder straps, tighten those, then any other straps that need tightening. 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.
Get out your camera because the whole family in their PFDs can make for a fun, unique Christmas card!