Keep Little One Safe With The Best Infant Life Jackets (2020 Guide)

Keep Little One Safe With The Best Infant Life Jackets (2020 Guide)

I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t wait to get my little guy in the water.

But before I let him splash away, I had to make sure he was able to swim safely. Did you know that drownings are the leading cause of accidental death in kids ages 1-4?

There are a number of life jackets for kids and toddlers to wear, but actually choosing the right one is a pretty stressful task that I wasn't really ready for.

I didn’t know what to look for in a great infant life jacket, so I spent some time reading up on them, as well as checking out reviews from other parents who have already tested some out.

So before you put your little one in the water, be sure you have something super to slip on them so they stay safe in the surf!

Why Your Child Needs A Life Jacket

Here's the truth: every child needs a life jacket if they're going to be on or around the water.

Even if your child is an excellent swimmer, it’s smart to have a life jacket on as a precaution, especially if you’re boating or near deep, rough water. 

Also, while you provide your child with supervision, we all look away from time to time, or need to tend to something else, and in case they fall in the water or have difficulty swimming, a jacket is a must. 

How A Life Jacket Helps Protect Your Toddler

A life jacket works by keeping your kiddo afloat and flipping them face up: when they remain on their back, they’ll be able to breathe and keep their head above water until help arrives.

Because the jacket is buoyant, your child will be held up thanks to its foam design.

This is also why it’s so essential you select a life vest that accurately accommodates your child’s height and weight! 

A life jacket is usually very bright in color and design, so it’s easy to spot in the water.

Finally, the crotch strap on a lifejacket works to make sure that the jacket never slips off a child, which is especially important if they fall into the ocean or fast moving body of water.

All children who are 13 or younger must wear a life jacket if they're boating. 

This law may vary somewhat state by state, so be sure you follow the proper guidelines when having fun on the water, and choosing the right type of life jacket for your child’s needs, activity, and one that fits them properly based on their dimensions.

3 Types Of Infant Life Jackets

I was surprised to learn that there are actually three main types of life jackets that your infant and toddler can wear. Here's a quick rundown of each of them.

#1. Offshore Life Jackets (Type 1)

Offshore life jackets are best used when riding on boats over rough seas. Or, if you are taking your toddler into the ocean, they are also your go-to device.

They can be worn pretty much in any kind of water where a quick rescue is unlikely. This is because they are designed to turn someone unconscious face up, reducing the risk of drowning.

They are extremely buoyant, but also not comfortable to wear for a long time because they are so bulky. But, they are highly effective.

#2. Near Shore Life Jackets (Type 2 and 3)

Near shore life jackets are best used when going in calm water or on boating activities where there is a good chance of a quick rescue.

They too will usually turn someone who is unconscious face up. But, the jacket is much less bulky than an offshore one.

#3. Flotation Aids (Type 4)

Flotation devices are best for calm waters only. So, think pools and lakes.

They are very comfortable to wear and are also lightweight. Your child can also wear them for a long period of time.

The only downfall is that they will not turn an unconscious person face up, nor are they to be worn on a boat or in the rough ocean.

Children should always be closely supervised when wearing a floatation aid.

8 Important Features to Consider

Once you decide which kind of life jacket you need, here are a few things to make sure of.

#1. It has a U.S. Coast Guard logo. Any kind of appropriate life jacket will be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and will bear the USCG logo on it somewhere. If you can’t find a logo or any USCG information on the jacket, then skip it: it doesn’t meet the proper safety requirements to keep your child safe.

#2. It provides a snug fit. Pick out a jacket that complements your child’s weight. Your child should also try it on prior to going in or near the water to ensure that it fits correctly around their arms.

#3. It's new. Many parents try to save money and purchase a used life jacket or accept a hand me down. This is very unsafe because you have no idea how it was taken care of. Its inner foam can break down over time, making it less effective. So be sure to buy new!

#4. It has a grab loop. I always felt more secure knowing that I could get my child out of the water quicker by accessing a grab loop in case they ever fell in. So this is definitely a nice feature to have.

#5. It has a crotch strap. Crotch straps are a must because they keep the life vest in place, closely on child's body.

#6. It has a flotation collar. Another great safety feature, a flotation collar will keep your child’s head above the water.

#7. It keeps your child face up. This is necessary in order to make sure the device functions properly and protects your child.

#8. It's comfortable. Your child is obviously not going to love wearing a life jacket, but some can be very comfortable. Go for one that has soft and smooth material. Avoid anything that feels scratchy or that irritates their skin. A V-neck design is one of the most comfortable cuts to look for since it will stay out of your child’s face.

Best Practices When Using An Infant Life Jacket

There are a few basic practices you need to stick to when using a life vest with your child.

1. Make sure the fit is right

The first thing you need to do is ensure that your child actually fits into their vest.

It should fit snugly and you should never get something that is a little bit roomy (like clothing) that they will “grow into.” If it doesn’t fit, it won’t protect your child.

You can do a fit test to make sure the vest is the perfect size and choice for your little one.

First, check the armholes. Are they too big?

Next, check out the neck opening. Is it too small?

You should fasten your child’s vest and grab the top of the arm openings and pull up. As your child is holding his arms up over his head, the life jacket should not be able to creep up and over your child’s chin or face.

Also, if there’s extra room above the armholes, it is too big.

Make sure the life vest is zipped and cinched properly as well when you are doing this fit test (which is what the U.S. Coast Guard recommends to do).

You should also check the vest’s label to double check that your child has the right size on based on their weight and measurements.

2. Involve your child when picking it out

You should also try to involve your child in the purchase of the life vest.

Your child will get excited about helping you pick out a vest, trying it on, and ultimately wearing it in the water. This will get them feeling accustomed to wearing it when it's time for the real thing.

Plus, they will be able to tell you which one feels most comfortable to them since they will be the ones wearing it.

3. Practice using it, before the real thing

The final thing you should do is practice wearing the life jacket in calm water, like a swimming pool or lake.

You'll be able to see how your child acts in the water while wearing it, and you can also practice how they should remain calm so they learn not to splash water onto their face and keep their body relaxed if they ever fall in.

You can also view how the jacket works and fits while you are supervising your child in the water.

Finally, you can use this time to observe how your child breathes in the vest and if their face is lifted upward, above the waterline rather than below it.

Best Infant Life Jackets

#1. Stohlquist Waterware Infant PFD 8-30 lbs

The Stohlquist Infant Life Jacket (click here to check the price on Amazon)  is my top recommendation and one that I use for both my son and daughter.

I love it for a number of reasons.

First, my son has never complained when wearing it! (That's always a big plus).

Obviously any life jacket is not going to feel amazing to wear, but he never tried to pull it off when wearing it or had anything negative to say.

It is designed to turn a child face up, which is important. It also has dual support collars to cradle and support the head.

I especially liked that it had front zippers and the crotch straps were adjustable, so the device always stayed in place. It also had a grab loop for extra safety purposes.

It is USCG certified and its V-neck shape stayed out of his face.

All in all, it’s a great life jacket that is highly recommended.

#2. Stearns Infant Boat Jacket

The Stearns Infant Boat Jacket (click here to check the price on Amazon) is another option that comes highly-recommended from a lot of moms.

As the name indicates, this is a great vest for your child to wear if you are taking them out on a boat.

It flips children over onto their back, so it’s safe and effective. 

I was impressed that it was able to fit a baby as small as eight pounds!

This Stearns life jacket comes in a variety of colors and also has a zip front feature, so slipping it on is a breeze.

According to reviews, this isn’t the most comfortable vest around, but it did receive a lot of praise about its safety and effectiveness.

It’s made out of nylon and it has a grab strap to rescue your little one in case of an emergency.

It also has a float above the neck design for head support, so your child’s head will remain above the water in case they fall in.

#3. O'Neill Infant Waterski Vest

I also like the O’Neil’s Infant Waterski Vest (click here to check the price on Amazon) because it’s known to fit well on younger children.

It has all the bells and whistles when it comes to picking out a great life jacket. It is USCD approved, and there is a crotch strap and a rescue grab.

Plus, it can be worn when riding on a boat because it will flip your child over onto their back if they happen to fall into the water.

The jacket is said to be somewhat comfortable because it is less bulky than the standard vest. It has an inflated neck support feature, so your child’s head will remain above the water.

The vest is best suited for children who are 30 pounds or less, and it has received numerous positive ratings from moms who have used it.

The only criticism it received is that it can be difficult to sit upright in when riding on a boat, but overall, it’s a good vest for a great price.

Wrapping Up

Yes, life jackets can be bulky and somewhat uncomfortable for kids to wear (not to mention unfashionable).

But, it is so important to remember that they save lives over anything else.

Remember, drowning is the second leading cause of death for kiddos aged one to four.

The life jackets I’ve recommended are sure to keep your loves safe while they develop a love for the water.

Sources: CPSC; U.S. Coast Guard


Hi there, I'm Kate! I started Maternity Glow to be a place for new and expecting moms to come to for practical pregnancy advice, parenting tips, and baby care tricks.

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