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How To Choose The Best Life Jackets For Kids

With summer vacation just around the corner, many people will be enjoying their days around water. Whether it be a pool, beach or lake, water safety must be top of mind for all parents. According to the Center for Disease Control, drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States and one of five drowning victims are under the age of 14. Life jackets not only help prevent drowning in people of all ages but they provide parents peace of mind when their children are around water.

If you're planning a vacation this summer around water you'll want to ensure your children are fully protected by making sure you have the best life jacket for your child. Life jackets can be bulky and cumbersome if you don't have the right size for your child, and they may not want to wear them if they're uncomfortable. Here are some tips on what to look for to ensure you get the proper fit for your children so everyone can enjoy a fun and safe summer.

The Right Fit Is Crucial

Despite what some may think, not just any life jacket will do. The proper fit of a life jacket ensures that it can do its job and keep your child safe. If you have a life jacket that is too big for your child it can ride up around their face, but if it's too small it may not be able to keep your child afloat in the case of an accident. Adult life jackets should never be used for children either.

How To Find The Right Fit

Every life jacket has a manufacturers label that indicates the weight it's designed for so that should be where you start when looking for a life jacket. The United States Coast Guard suggests having your child put the life jacket on, fully fasten it then have them put their arms over their head. Then gently pull up on the jacket from the top of the arm and check to see if the jacket rides up over the chin or face and ensure there are no excess openings. "Proper fit is imperative," Bernice McArdle, Executive Director of the Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association told Parents. "Improper fit is the most common mistake parents make when buying a life jacket," she added. "Parents will often purchase for their child a life jacket that's too big (and could easily slide off) on the assumption that the child 'will grow into it.' A life jacket won't provide adequate protection if it doesn't fit your child properly."

Types of Life Jackets

There are five different types of life jackets classified by the U.S. Coast Guard but only three of them are approved for children. While adult life jackets are measured by chest size, children's life jackets are classified by weight. Infant life jackets are for infants or children up to 30 pounds, child size life jackets are for those between 30 and 50 pounds and youth life jackets range from 50 to 90 pounds. Type I jackets are considered offshore life jackets, Type II are considered near-shore buoyant vests, and Type III are considered flotation aids. As Life Jacket Advisor suggests, Type III jackets are appropriate for most water activities, but if you are planning on boating or doing more offshore activities you may want to look into the other options for maximum safety.

What To Look For

There are a lot of life jackets and personal flotation devices on the market, so it's important that whatever you buy has the features necessary to save lives. Check to ensure that any life jacket you purchase is approved by the USCG before buying. The Canadian Red Cross also recommends that you purchase a life jacket that has a large collar that will act as head support, a 'grab strap' or handle behind the head to make it easy to grab the jacket if necessary, and properly fitted and functioning safety buckles, zippers, and reflector tape. They also recommend a safety strap that fastens between the legs to prevent the life jacket from slipping over the child’s head.

life jackets
Credit: Canadian Red Cross

Practice Makes Perfect

Children may often not want to wear their life jacket because it may be uncomfortable or cumbersome, which is why a proper fit is so important. It's also important to get your child used to wearing the life jacket so they understand that if they want to be around open water they must be wearing their life jacket. Almost 800 children die from drowning in the United States every year, and while the majority of 1 to 4-year-olds are most likely to drown in a pool, children between the ages of 5 and 17 are more likely to drown in open water. Getting your children used to their life jacket and impressing upon them the importance of wearing it at all times is crucial for their safety.

water safety
Credit: Safe Kids

Parents magazine suggests testing how the life jacket fits and works in a controlled environment which will also help the child get used to wearing the jacket. Teaching children how to be comfortable in their life jacket could save their lives. "From a survival standpoint, it's mainly about balance," Jim Reiser, aka "The Swim Professor," and the founder of Swim Lessons University told Parents. "If the body can be balanced so that the mouth is above the water and the child can breathe comfortably, the most important objective has been accomplished."

While life jackets provide an extra added safety measure they should never be used as a substitute for parental supervision. If you're going to have your children around water make sure that there is always someone watching them and have them wear their life jacket at all times.

Read Next: How To Rescue A Drowning Person

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