Water safety is an important issue for families. Across the globe, drowning is consistently among the top 10 causes of death in children, according to the World Health Organization. Life jacket use—whether in the pool, at the beach or on a boat—is one important step families can take to help keep their kids safe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say life jackets are a must. “Make sure kids wear life jackets in and around natural bodies of water, such as lakes or the ocean, even if they know how to swim,” this CDC article advises. Also keep in mind that kids are more likely to wear a life jacket if their parent is, too, so especially in a boating scenario, model good safety by donning your own life vest.
When shopping for a good life jacket, make sure that you find one that is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. You also need to pay attention to the weight rating, making sure that your kids haven’t outgrown your life jackets before using them.
Here are nine of our best life vest (all USCG rated) picks for you to consider.
1. Puddle Jumper Kids 2-in-1 Life Jacket and Rash Guard
Puddle Jumper brand life vests consistently earn top ratings among parents for their life jackets. This product, rated for 33- to 55-pound children, combines the company’s life jacket with the sun protection of a kid’s swim shirt with built-in UPF 50-plus sun protection.
We tried this out on our 3-year-old with fantastic results. We loved how easy it went on—just slip your kid’s arms through the sleeves, zip in back and fasten the clasp. It’s designed so that kids can’t get out of the vest without help from their parents (another safety must). He enjoyed bopping around in the pool thanks to the buoyancy that this provided, and we also loved the colorful designs.
2. O’Neill Child Reactor USCG Life Vest
This U.S. Coast Guard-approved O’Neill life vest is great for water sports. There are quick release safety buckles over the heavy duty front zipper for security. It offers a relaxed fit for swimming, water skiing or tubing. Recommended for children weighing between 30 and 50 pounds, there is a grab strap on the top and a strap that runs under the legs.
3. Stohlquist Kids Life Jacket
For kids weighing between 30 and 50 pounds, the Stohlquist Kids Life Jacket is Coast Guard approved. It offers quick release buckles over the front zipper for added security and the padded head support has an additional foam band designed to help keep a child’s face up in the water. It offers a comfort fit and a grab handle.
4. West Marine Runabout Life Jacket
This life jacket is rated for inland water use and provides good buoyancy. The West Marine Runabout Life Jacket comes in several design choices (we loved the tie-dye design), as well as an infant version (0 to 30 pounds), a child size (30 to 50 pounds) and a youth size (50 to 90 pounds).
The jackets have larger neck and arm holes so that kids are more comfortable moving around a bit, and there’s also a “handle” at the back for helping to keep kids steady on water crafts.
5. TRC Recreation Kids Super Soft USCG Vest
The TRC Recreation Kids Super Soft USCG Vest offers a great alternative to the bulkier jackets. The vinyl-covered, closed-cell foam design feels smooth and light. It comes in extra-small (0 to 30 pounds), child (30 to 50 pounds) and youth sizes (50 to 90 pounds).
This material is also great because it repels water as opposed to absorbing it, which can make other life jackets feel very chilly after soaking in the water and then putting them on in cooler weather. It also dries instantly, which is great for packing up after your day at the beach or pool.
6. Stearns Puddle Jumper Deluxe Child Life Jacket
Parents of kids who aren’t swimmers yet recommend this life jacket for helping kids stay buoyant at the pool. The Stearns Puddle Jumper Deluxe Child Life Jacket takes the concept of “water wings” and adds an extra pad around the upper chest and back to help keep kids afloat. It’s best for smaller kids (rated 30 to 50 pounds) who don’t mind wearing snug sleeves around their upper arms.
Overall, this design is less bulky than a traditional life jacket and doesn’t rub up against the neck. There’s a safety clasp at the back, which means the jacket will stay secured until mom or dad removes it.
7. Body Glove Paddle Pals Motion Hologram Learn to Swim Life Jacket
Half the battle when it comes to kids and life jackets is just getting them to wear the darn things. These designs from Body Glove are totally kid-approved, from cars and planes to pirates and mermaids.
The design is similar to the Stearns Puddle Jumper, with arm floaties connected to a chest floatation panel, with a clasp at the back. It’s rated for children 30 to 50 pounds.
8. Speedo Supersaurus Personal Life Jacket
We’re a little jealous this one doesn’t come in adult sizes. Who doesn’t want to pretend to be a dinosaur while wading through the water at the lake? The Speedo Supersaurus Personal Life Jackets feature an extra floatation collar behind the neck, cleverly designed as the dinosaur’s frill. The remainder is a standard life jacket with two body straps and a crotch strap. It’s best for kids between 30 and 50 pounds.
9. Airhead Duckie Infant Vest
If you have an infant or petite toddler (under 30 pounds), check out life jackets that include a padded head pillow behind the neck and a grab handle at the back so that you can easily pluck your baby out of the water (or keep her steady on the beach or boat) as necessary.
This sweet design won us over, and the three belts plus a strap at the crotch means baby will stay secure in the jacket. Some reviewers said that the jacket rode up over their kids’ heads, though, so try on the Airhead Duckie Infant Vest before buying if possible.
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