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5 Best Life Jackets for Kids: Our Top Picks

5 Best Life Jackets for Kids: Our Top Picks

October 15, 2018life jacket1661Views

Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental deaths in the world. Even more disturbing is that the highest percentage of those deaths belong to children aged 1 to 4, followed by kids aged 5 to 9, according to the World Health Organization.

This may be alarming to parents who love to engage in water activities with their kids—but don’t let that stop you and your family from getting in the water. If you’re planning to enjoy a dip in the pool, go boating on a lake, or participate in watersports, all you need to do to virtually eliminate the risk of your children being in danger is to have them wear a life jacket—or a life vest/personal floatation device (PFD). It’s that simple.

Even bigger kids who already know to swim could also benefit from a life jacket, especially when they start feeling too tired and can’t ask for help to keep them afloat. As for infants and toddlers, wearing a life jacket while they’re young will help them feel more comfortable in the water long before they become old enough to learn how to swim.

Another major reason for you to have your child wear a life jacket, particularly when boating, is the fact that the law requires it. The US Coast Guard requires that all children under the age of 13 wear one whenever they are on a moving boat. You can check the law in your state for their specific requirements here.

Before we give you five specific examples of the best, highest-rated kiddie life jackets on the market (so you can quickly prepare for your next family water adventure), here’s how you can choose the right one for your kids.

How to Choose a Life Jacket

young boy with life jacket and floater in pool

When purchasing a life jacket, make sure to look for the following:

Brand New

It may not be common knowledge, but life jackets do have an expiration date. And when it’s not well taken care of, its lifespan shortens as the material can become brittle, the inner foam can get soggy, and the straps can start to wear out and become unreliable. The bottom line is, there’s no way to be sure how safe your child will be in a second-hand life jacket.

Considering the main purpose and value of a life jacket, it ought to be worth every penny. They’re generally inexpensive—you can get a decent life jacket for $20 (see below)—so it’s always wise to invest in a brand new one that will give you peace of mind.

U.S. Coast Guard Approved

Look for a seal or indication (usually inside the life jacket) that the item is approved by the US Coast Guard before even thinking of purchasing it. You should also be able to find a label that states the condition that it is approved for, such as commercial use, personal watercraft, recreational watercraft, and so on.

Classified for Kids

Life jackets or PFDs are actually classified into up to five types, but you’ll want to look for those that fall under Type II and Type III.

Type II vests are the “classic” life vests that we commonly see being worn in calm waters. They are typically designed to make the wearer float upright even if they fall unconscious or when they can’t move by themselves, making it precisely what infants and toddlers need.

Meanwhile, Type III PFDs are less buoyant, more comfortable to wear (as they’re not designed to keep the wearer upright), and ideal for well-supervised water activities (such as in swimming pools), so they’re great for young and older children.

Suitable for Current Weight

Life jackets also have weight limits printed on the inside. You’ll need to make sure that the jacket you choose meets the current weight of your child as sizing for children depends on their weight—not the chest size, as it does with adults. But to give you an idea, here are the usual weight restrictions for each age range:

  • Infant/Toddler PFDs — 8 to 30 pounds
  • Child PFDs — 30 to 50 pounds
  • Youth PFDs — 50 to 90 pounds

Well-Fitting

Don’t mistake life jackets for a “clothing item” that you’ll need to buy in bigger sizes so they can be worn for an extended period of time. Aside from making sure that it meets your child’s current weight, it has to fit your child well. And by well, we mean it can’t be too big or too small. Here’s how you can check:

  • If the life jacket touches your child’s chin or ears when they raise their arms above their head, the jacket may be too big. You can confirm this further when your child’s head and/or arms and body are able to easily slip through when you lift the jacket by its shoulders.
  • If your child is struggling to breathe comfortably or if the jacket feels too snug, the jacket may be too small.

Secure

Now that you’re sure that the jacket fits your child well, it has to stay on at all times. And if the jacket is comfortably snug, your child is not likely to slip through it. It helps to choose one that has a crotch strap that runs between the legs so the jacket won’t slip over your child’s head, especially when they jump into the water.

Brightly-Colored

If you’re going to be boating or swimming in open water, a high-visibility jacket will increase your child’s chances of being recovered quickly in case of an emergency. So, instead of simply going for a jacket that comes in your or your child’s favorite color, choose one that contrasts with the blue and green of the water. Bright and vivid reds, oranges, and yellows are good options. Stay away from blues, grays, and dull/pastel colors.

Features a Grab Handle

For infant and young child life jackets, look for a grab strap at the back of the jacket. It’s usually just a big loop that sticks out near the back of your child’s head so he or she can easily be pulled back into the boat after accidentally falling into the water.

Best Life Jackets for Kids

smiling young boy wearing bright orange life jacket in boat

Now that you know the importance of buying a life jacket, the different types of life jackets, and how you can choose the right one for your child, let’s look at a few of the most popular ones on the market today.

Airhead Infant Nylon Life Jacket

LeisurePro Price: $13.95

Blue Airhead Infant Nylon best life jackets for kids

Designed specifically for babies and toddlers, the Airhead Infant Nylon is specifically designed to keep your little ones safe in the water. It supports infants weighing up to 30 lbs. (although it may not fit the smallest of babies) and features a big, comfortable head pillow with a big grab strap loop at the back, in case your child needs to be rescued from the water.

This adorable life jacket also features three bright yellow adjustable straps (with quick-release squeeze-style buckles) that you can tighten for a snug fit. More importantly, there’s also a crotch strap that will help keep the life jacket on at all times. It doesn’t come in cartoonish designs but in two high-visibility color combinations: Yellow-Blue and Yellow-Red.

Key Specifications:

  • Infant-Sized Type II Life Jacket
  • US Coast Guard-Approved
  • Supports up to 30lbs (13.6kg)
  • Built-In Head Pillow with Grab Strap
  • Three Adjustable Front Straps with Squeeze-Style Buckles
  • Adjustable Crotch Strap with Squeeze-Style Buckle
  • Constructed with Nylon and PE/PVC Foam
  • Best for Supervised Swimming in Pools, Lakes, and Beaches

Stearns Puddle Jumper

LeisurePro Price: $18.95

Stearns Puddle Jumper best life jackets for kids

The Stearns Puddle Jumper may not be an actual life jacket, but it is actually a US Coast Guard-approved Type III personal floatation device that wraps the upper arms and the torso. It is recommended for 30 to 50-pound older toddlers who are just learning to swim as well as little children who refuse to wear bulky and uncomfortable life jackets.

As a Type III PFD, It is not designed to keep your child floating upwards and doesn’t feature a grab strap, but it will keep their torso and head out of the water while maintaining a swimming position. Your child will love that this PFC comes in bright colors and many different designs—no wonder it’s one of the most popular among kids aged 3 to 6!

Key Specifications:

  • Child-Sized Type III PFD
  • US Coast Guard Approved
  • Supports 30 to 50 lbs. (13.64 to 22.74 kg)
  • Rear Adjustable Buckle and Snap Closure
  • Constructed with Nylon and PE Foam
  • Great for Swimming in Lakes, Pools, and Beaches

Mustang Survival Lil’ Legends 100 Foam Life Jacket

LeisurePro Price: $52.95

Mustang Survival Lil' Legends 100 best life jackets for kids

The Mustang Survival Lil’ Legends 100 is popular among parents for its safe and ergonomic head support, extra zipper closure on the front (aside from the thick and secure belt strap with a large quick-release squeeze-style buckle), range of sizes that can fit your toddler and bigger children, and ability to offer the security of a Type II jacket and the mobility of a Type III jacket.

This PFC also comes in fluorescent yellow and green to ensure your child’s visibility in the water and is well-designed to easily match mommy’s and daddy’s boating vests. It also features a crotch strap underneath so it doesn’t slip off even during the most exciting water activities.

Key Specifications:

  • Infant to Child-Sized Type II Life Jacket
  • US Coast Guard-Approved
  • Three Sizes Supporting up to 90 lbs. (41 kg.)
  • Shaped Segmented Head Pillow with Grab Strap
  • Front Zipper and Adjustable Belt Closure with Squeeze-Style Buckle
  • Adjustable Crotch Strap with Squeeze-Style Buckle
  • Constructed with Delran Plastic and AirSoft Foam
  • Ideal for Coastal Boating

Stearns Child’s Classic Series Life Jacket

LeisurePro Price: $19.95

Stearns Child's Classic Series best life jacket for kids

If you’re looking for an actual life vest that will provide the most comfort for your young child, consider the Stearns Child Classic Series life vest. It doesn’t have a neck pillow and has open sides to offer mobility and comfort for children who don’t want to feel too restricted in a PFD. Nonetheless, it has three adjustable straps with squeeze-style buckles that cover the entire chest and an adjustable crotch strap with the same quick-release buckle for maximum security.

You can use this vest for virtually every water activity, such as boating, swimming, tubing, water skiing, and other child-friendly water sports. However, it’s important to maintain supervision as this jacket doesn’t come with a grab strap.

The Stearns Child’s Classic Series is designed to fit children weighing 30 to 50 pounds, so make sure you check your child’s weight before purchasing this high-rated life jacket.

Key Specifications:

  • Child-Sized Type III Life Jacket
  • US Coast Guard-Approved
  • Supports 30 to 50 lbs. (13.6 kg to 22.7 kg)
  • Three Adjustable Webbed Buckled Belts
  • Adjustable Crotch Strap with Squeeze-Style Buckle
  • Constructed with Nylon and PE Foam
  • Ideal for Swimming, Boating, Tubing, and Watersports

Hyperlite Toddler Indy Life Jacket

LeisurePro Price: $33.95

Hyperlite Toddler Indy best life jackets for kids

Truth be told, it can be challenging to shop for reliable, USCG-approved infant life jackets, so we’re featuring another one for you parents of babies—the Hyperlite Toddler Indy life jacket. The vest is designed to attract attention with its bright colors and designs, plus it has all sorts of safety features to help keep your baby safe.

The Hyperlite Indy has a comfy head pillow with a bright red grab strap at the back, a full front zipper closure that is further secured with an adjustable strap and squeeze-style buckle closure, and an adjustable crotch strap that also has a squeeze-style buckle.

Suitable for infants under 30 pounds, the Indy is made of Neoprene and designed with the brand’s new, Tru-Fit cut to ensure optimum comfort for delicate little children.

Key Specifications:

  • Infant-Sized Life Jacket
  • US Coast Guard-Approved
  • Supports up to 30 lbs. (13.6 kg)
  • Head Pillow with Grab Strap
  • Full Front Zipper and Adjustable Strap with Squeeze-Style Buckle
  • Adjustable Crotch Strap with Squeeze-Style Buckle
  • Constructed with Neoprene Foam
  • Great for Boating and Swimming

As you can see, purchasing a safe, reliable, and well-fitting USCG-approved life jacket for your little one is the best solution for ensuring their safety—and enjoyment—in the water. And once you’ve picked out a vest for your child, head on over to our Kids Corner and check out our wide array of water sports gear for children to find other swimming necessities, including pool inflatables, swimsuits and rashguards, swimming caps, goggles, and more.

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