During our Water Safety week each session, we invite all swimmers to try out life jackets, or personal flotation devices (PFDs), and practice life-saving skills so our families become familiar with these essential tools. Don’t forget! Adults should always model and reinforce safe habits by wearing life jackets – you can’t help a swimmer if you’re struggling to stay afloat yourself!
Life Jacket Types
There are ratings on the inside of every life jacket that indicate whether it is a Type I (offshore/remote water), Type II (near-shore/boating), Type III (near-shore/recreational), Type IV (throwable device), or Type V (specialty device). Every life jacket you buy should also have a label saying it is Coast Guard approved.
Type II Life Jacket
The Type II life preserver will roll your child onto their back or bring them upright with their face out of the water. It has a thick piece of foam in the front and none or very little in the back. This jacket also has a foam headrest and a safety handle so you can lift a child by grabbing the handle or by sliding a pole through the loop to lift them up and out of the water. This means that no matter which way they fall into the water, the child’s body weight will rotate down as the foam floats up, and they will turn face up, on their back. For this reason, we recommend this type of life jacket for infants and toddlers.
Type III “Ski Vest”
The “Ski Vest” jacket type does not automatically turn wearers onto their back. It has equal amounts of foam on the front and back, which means if your child falls into the water face down, they will stay face down. We absolutely DO NOT recommend this type of life jacket for infants or toddlers. These vests are designed for strong swimmers and water skiers who can right themselves, but need some flotation so they can be seen for a quick rescue.
Type V “Puddle Jumper”
The “Puddle Jumper” flotation device is a popular swimming aid for young swimmers. Though it is Coast Guard approved, if you read the fine print, you will see that it is equivalent to a Type III jacket (see above) and intended for recreational use by strong swimmers. For that reason, we DO NOT recommend this type of PFD for infants or toddlers.
What to Look For
Life jackets are generally sized by weight. You may find some PFDs with larger weight ranges defined, but we recommend jackets with narrower ranges:
• Infant – Up to 30 lbs
• Child – 30 to 50 lbs
• Youth – 50 to 70 lbs
If your child is on the border between ranges, go with the bigger size for more neck room and longevity of use. Additionally, if your child is long in the body, you should go with the larger size because you want the jacket to cover most of their torso to help them roll more easily.
Fitting a Life Jacket
Every life jacket should have at least three closures. The jacket needs at least two closures (two buckles, or a zipper and a buckle) around the torso; tighten these snug against the body, so that there is not a lot of air between your child and the jacket. A Type II PFD must also have a strap between the legs; pull this snug to keep the jacket from pushing against the child’s chin. This will ensure the child does not slip down inside the jacket or slip out of the jacket and pull the jacket down around their torso, which helps the jacket roll the child to their back.
We recommend the Mustang brand of life jackets, for their solid foam panels and top-notch construction – they are also recommended by Children’s Hospital. Other high-quality brands include Stearns and Finis. Regardless of the manufacturer, be sure it is a Coast Guard-approved Type II PFD. You can often find Type II jackets at boating and outdoor supply shops like West Marine and R.E.I., general retailers like Fred Meyer and Costco (especially during the summer months), sporting goods stores, or online.
Waterbabies offers Life Jacket rentals for $10/week (plus tax). Please call our office at (425) 643-3533 for availability.
Mustang “Buy Back” Program
Waterbabies will buy back your gently used Mustang brand Infant, Child and Youth life jackets. Call us for more info!