Most drownings occur in calm, inland waters. Most drowning victims are within a few feet of safety and have easy access to life jackets, but are not wearing them. Take the time to choose the best life jacket for your child's size and activity and the condition of the water, but don't forget the most important point. Life jackets only work if you are wearing one. Life jackets will keep your child safe and secure in all types of water situations, such as boating and swimming. Water wings and inner tubes look fun, but the blow-up is a toy, not a safety device.
Children should wear life jackets when they are in or around water, in boats or walking on a dock. If your child can swim, his abilities will not protect him in all situations - you need to judge the conditions of the water and the quality of supervision.
Here we've gathered the age-appropriate guidelines you need to choose the best lifejacket based on type, style and fit to keep your child safe this summer.
Step 1: Choose the best lifejacket for your activity by the type of activity encountered and the water conditions of the jacket
Choose the jacket that best suits the type of activity and water conditions your child will encounter.
Type 1: Offshore lifejacket
Best for. Long-term survival in rough seas, open ocean or remote waters where quick rescue is not possible.
Pros. Designed to keep an unconscious person face up; plenty of buoyancy
Disadvantages. Bulky and uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time
Type 2: Inshore buoyancy vest
Best for. Calm inland waters, and most general boating activities where a quick rescue is possible
Pros. Many put the unconscious person face up; less bulky than Type I
Disadvantages. Cannot keep all unconscious people face up; not suitable for prolonged support in rough seas
Type 3: Buoyancy assistance
Best suited. Only for calm inland waters
Advantages. Most comfortable and lightweight; easy to wear for long periods of time
Disadvantages. Most life jackets are not designed to keep an unconscious person face up; not suitable for use in rough waters or on the open sea
Step 2: Choose a lifejacket design style
Modern lifejackets combine style and USCG approved safety, but the most important decision when choosing a lifejacket is the design below. Here are three different styles of lifejacket.
Inherently buoyant. Made from floatable foam or neoprene, inherently buoyant life jackets are durable, require little maintenance and do not require any action from the wearer to function.
Inflatable. Inflatable life jackets can be automatically deployed when submerged in water or manually inflated. They are not approved for use on children under the age of 16 and are not currently recommended for use on non-swimmers. Inflatable life jackets require extra maintenance and are not suitable for activities where you enter the water regularly.
Hybrid: Hybrid life jackets are made from a combination of buoyant material and inflatable chambers and are available in children's sizes, but require frequent maintenance checks. They are not suitable for all water activities, but as they are less bulky they are ideal for long periods of wear and for those who don't want to wear a jacket.
Step 3: Know the important lifejacket features
When buying a children's lifejacket, it is important that the lifejacket fits your child's size and weight. For younger children it should have a loop at the back of the neck and a strap between the legs (if you have to use the neck loop to lift your child out of the water, the leg straps will ensure she doesn't slip out).
Lifejackets that have arm straps and wrap around your child's torso also work well; these will get your child used to wearing a lifejacket and realising the fun she can have with it on.
Step 4: Does the life jacket fit?
A standard-compliant lifejacket is not enough to ensure that you have the best fit for your child. A proper fit is a must.
If parents buy a lifejacket for their child that is too big, it will slip easily and if a lifejacket doesn't fit your child, it won't provide enough protection. make sure the jacket is properly fastened and cinched to ensure a snug fit.
Grasp the top of the arm openings and gently pull up.
Have the child hold his arms straight up over his head.
See if the life jacket rides up over the child's chin or face and if there is excess room above the armholes. If so, the life jacket is too big for the child.
Involving the child in the buying process is also an important factor in making them want to wear the life jacket, rather than having to wear it.
Step 5: Practice in calm water
Let your child practise swimming in a lifejacket and show him how it feels in the water. Make sure the lifejacket fits correctly and supports him adequately. Always test the lifejacket in shallow and controlled environments such as public or private pools, or in calm waters such as lake bays, under close adult supervision.