What You Need To Know About Buying a Life Vest For Your Baby

9 month baby girl with life jacket and mother
A 9-month-old girl wearing a life jacket. Jerome Tisne/Getty Images

Everyone enjoys being around the water in the warm summer months and if you have a little one coming aboard with you this year, there's no reason to not include them in on the fun -- you just need to make sure they are safe and sound around the water.

If you are planning to take your child on a boat ride or spend a great deal of time in the water, you will need an appropriate-sized child or baby life jacket for safety.

Before you run out to the sporting goods store and pick up any personal floatation device (PFD), be sure you've considered what makes a good life vest for children and babies.

Know the Laws of the Waters

If you are going to take your child out on the water, make sure you are familiar with the laws for the water. You will want to be in compliance with federal, state and Coast Guard boating requirements. Most states have their own laws for what ages and what kind of life vest children need to wear and in states that don't have their own rulings, the federal law is that all children under the age of 13 need to wear a life jacket on moving boats. 

Additionally, you'll need to be well-versed in boating safety. Depending on what type of boat you will be on, the required type of personal floatation device might vary.

The Appropriate Size for a Child or Baby Life Jacket

It is absolutely imperative that you purchase the right size life jacket for your baby or child.

For babies, personal floatation devices are generally sized by their weight. Though your baby will grow quickly, do not be tempted to "size-up." Purchase the size that fits your baby's current weight. For older children, keep this same principle in mind.

To make sure you have the right size, pick your child up by the shoulders of the PFD.

If chin or ears slip below the neck opening, it's too large.

Safety Features of Personal Floatation Devices

PFDs are designed with different safety features. When buying one for a baby or child, you might feel comfortable using one with added safety elements.

Design features worth considering include:

  • A Handle: Some life vests and jackets have a built in handle that make lifting the child out of the water, or holding on to them while in the water, much easier.
  • Head Support: Look for life jackets that are designed to keep the wearer face up in the water.
  • Crotch Strap: A crotch strap can be helpful at keeping the jacket in place and worn properly.

Consider Comfort

While safety features should be your primary focus, you should also consider your child or baby's comfort. It certainly wouldn't make for an enjoyable family outing to listen to your child fuss over an uncomfortable life vest.

New designs and technology have made life vests and jackets more comfortable to wear. They aren't nearly as bulky as they once were, and PFDs made of Neoprene (versus nylon) are much more comfortable against to the skin.

With all of this in mind, you'll be sure to find the perfect life vest for your baby or child that is both safe and comfortable.

See also: Before You Take Your Baby Biking

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