Life Jackets for Kids

Get the Right Fit to FloatChild on boat raft float on lake wearing bright yellow Ikea life jacket and blue sun hat

  • What: Life Jackets for Kids
  • When: Infant to teen
  • Why: Keep kids safe in water
  • Where: Amazon

Looking to outfit your kid for safety in the water? Whether your child is a toddler or tween, these hints can help you get the best fit for your kids. Whether they’ve learned how to swim or not, some activities require a life jacket for anyone under 13 years old. If you love the water, and want to share the joy with your kids, get a life jacket that fits. 

Child wearing life jacket on beach
Getting the right fit makes all the difference in keeping kids safe.

Kids life jackets come in two types: Type II for infants up to 12 months and 30 pounds, and Type III for older kids, from 30 to 90 pounds. Once your child weighs more than 30 pounds, you can choose from the child size, which covers kids roughly 2 to 8 years and 30 to 50 pounds, or a youth size, made for kids between 50 and 90 pounds. After your child tops 90 pounds, they can switch to an adult life jacket. 

If your kid falls right on the cusp of one of the sizes, it usually works better to go with the smaller option. That makes it easier to get as snug fit, as some youth jackets can be tricky to tighten on a 50-pound child. The same is true of kids who weigh 30 pounds.

Kids wearing life jackets on dock with bright blue Adirondack chairs
Type II life jackets have an extra cushion attached to the back for head support, like the two on the left. Type III life jackets don’t have this extra piece, like the one on the right.

You can tell which type of life jacket you’ve got by looking at the neck portion. Type II jackets have a padded neck pillow that provides extra head support in the water. Type III jackets don’t have this additional cushion attached at the back. 

How will you know you’ve got the right fit? Before any toes touch the water, get a firm hold on the shoulder portion of the life jacket. Lift your child off the ground an inch or so. Does the life jacket stay in place? You’re good to go. Does it ride up higher than their ears? You need to tighten the straps, or find a jacket that fits better to keep their head above water should the worst happen.

Child wearing life jacket on board boat float raft on lake
Life jackets go a long way towards keeping kids safe in the water.

Look for buckles that make it easy to get on and off. No kid enjoys struggling to fasten the straps on their life jacket, and even less so if their parents have to tug and pull to get it on. I prefer exposed straps, so that you can tell if they get twisted, and work any slack around the perimeter of the personal floatation device. A grab handle can also make it much easier to get your child out of the water. For younger kids, a strap that runs between their legs can insure the jacket stays in place, which helps both with safety and comfort ,as it can prevent the life preserver from chaffing. Finally, we like the zipper options, as they go on more like a conventional jacket and make getting multiple kids in and out of their life jackets much faster. We also attach a whistle to our kids’ life jackets. Though we’ve never needed to use it, they like it.

Whether you’re kayaking, boating, or just floating around on a fabulous island raft, make sure to keep your child safe in the water by using a properly fitted life jacket.

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