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Life Jackets for Children

Drowning is often silent, takes as little as five minutes and usually happens when an adult is nearby. No one can watch a child every second. 

Which Children Should Wear a Life Jacket and When? 

  • Life jackets ARE REQUIRED for children under 10 on boats under 16 feet.
  • Life jackets ARE REQUIRED for anyone being towed on skis, tube, or similar device.
  • Life jackets ARE REQUIRED for any person onboard a PWC (e.g., Jet-ski, Seadoo, etc.)

Life jackets ARE THE ONLY FLOTATION DEVICE PERMITTED at a state park beach or swimming pool.

Where ELSE should a child wear a life jacket?

  • Children between birth and five years: on beaches, docks, at waters edge, on boats
  • Children between the ages of 6-11: on docks, at water's edge, on boats
  • Anyone who cannot swim: on beaches, docks, riverbanks, on boats

Buying a Life Jacket 

Buy your child a life jacket -- there may not be one that fits to rent or borrow. 

  • There are different types of life jackets, Type I, Type II, Type III, Type IV and Type V. The types most helpful for near-shore recreational boating are Type II and Type III. 
  • Type II is good for calm, inland water where there is a good chance of fast rescue. Smaller-sized Type II life jackets often have high collars to help keep a child's face out of the water. 
  • Type III life jackets provide similar flotation to Type II and offer the most comfort and freedom of movement. They come in a variety of styles and sizes, from small child through adult. They also are best used in calm water where there's a good chance of fast rescue. 
  • Type I is for boating in severe conditions where rescue may be delayed and Type IV is a boat cushion or rescue ring. It does not replace a wearable life jacket and should not be used by children. Type V life jackets are designed to be worn for specific uses. Make sure that the uses listed on Type V life jackets fit the activity in which your child will be involved. 
  • Always check for proper fit 
  • Remember: Life jackets only work when they are worn -- they do not take the place of supervision! 

When buying a life jacket, check for: 

  • Coast Guard-approved label. Some children's swimsuits have flotation sewn into them and may or may not be approved as life jackets. New products are being developed all the time, and life jackets that are worn like a swimsuit are available for children. Just be sure that they are labeled as U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets. 
  • A snug fit. Check weight and size on the label and try the life jacket on your child. Pick up your child by the shoulders of the life jacket; the child's chin and ears won't slip through a proper fit. 
  • Head support for younger children. A well-designed life jacket will support the child's head when the child is in the water. 
  • A strap between the legs on vest-style life jackets. This is a good feature because it helps prevent the vest from coming off. 
  • Comfort and appearance. This is especially important for teens, who are less likely to wear a life jacket. 

How Do You Use a Life Jacket? 

  • Every time you prepare for an outing, check the life jacket for fit as well as wear and tear. Throw it away if you find air leakage, mildew, rot or rust. 
  • If a child panics in the water and thrashes about, he may turn onto his face, even though a life jacket with a collar is designed to keep him on his back with face out of the water. Have your child practice wearing a life jacket in the water -- this will help prevent panic and rolling over. 
  • Never alter a life jacket. It could lose its effectiveness. 
  • Wear your own life jacket to set an example, and to help your child if an emergency occurs. 
  • Never use toys like plastic rings or water wings in place of a life jacket.