Choosing the Best Life Jackets for Kids

Give It a "Fit" Test

Are the armholes too big? Is the neck opening too small? Use the U.S. Coast Guard's fit test to see if a life jacket is the right size for your child.

  1. Check the manufacturer's label to ensure that the life jacket is intended for your child's size and weight.
  2. Make sure the jacket is properly fastened and cinched to ensure a snug fit.
  3. Have the child hold his arms straight up over his head.
  4. Grasp the top of the arm openings and gently pull up.
  5. 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.

In March 2011, the Boat U.S. Foundation tested 30 different life jackets for comfort, performance, and maneuverability. Although their tests mainly focused on adult life jackets, their study made some key recommendations:

The more adjustments, the better. Multiple straps can be a pain, but they ensure that the jacket has a snug fit against your child's body.

Consider a crotch strap. Although this might seem uncomfortable, life jackets with a crotch strap provide better protection and are less likely to ride up as much.

Comfort does count. If the life jacket isn't comfortable, the child is more likely to resist wearing it. Try on and test out multiple life jackets until you find the right blend of fit, comfort, and buoyancy.

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