Children and Infant Life Jackets

Children should be taught how to properly wear a PFD anytime they are near water.

It is important to teach children how these devices work before going into the water. Children often panic when they fall into water, making it more difficult to float face up. Practicing wearing PFDs before going out onto open water is an excellent way to help children become more comfortable.

A child’s life jacket must fit properly. After purchasing one, it should be tested in a controlled setting. Once you put the PFD on the child in safe, shallow water, allow them to move around and ensure it fits them properly.

How Should a Life Jacket Fit a Child?

Children’s life jackets must fit snugly so the child can’t slip out of it. Life jackets designed for infants and children under 50 pounds should also have a crotch strap and float collar for head support. A good way to test snugness is to lift the child by the shoulders of the PFD. The PFD should not slip above the child’s chin and ears. The label inside all children’s PFDs will indicate the weight range for which each one is approved.

This table indicates life jacket sizes and weights.

 InfantChild SmallChild MediumYouth
SizeLess than 30 lbs.30–50 lbs.30–50 lbs.50–90 lbs.
AgeNewborn to 2 years2 to 5 years4 to 8 years6 to 12 years
Chest Size16–20”20–23” to 23–25”21–25”26–29”

Federal law requires that all children under 13 years of age wear a PFD while on a moving boat unless they are below deck in an enclosed cabin. Specific requirements vary from state to state.

Be sure to check regulations in your state before going boating with a child on board.

When selecting the appropriate PFD, be sure to:

  • Consider the child’s swimming ability. If a child is not a good swimmer, they should wear a Type II vest due to its greater buoyancy.
  • Check to make sure the PFD is the appropriate one for the child’s weight.
  • Teach the child how to float wearing a PFD in a controlled setting.
  • Know the planned activity in order to select the appropriate PFD type.

ALWAYS MONITOR CHILDREN IN THE WATER. A PFD or lifejacket is never a substitute for proper adult supervision.

You should also read:

Life Jacket Fit

Life Vests