How do you fit a life jackets for your children?

Let’s get the legal out of the way first. U.S. federal law requires that every boat has one life jacket per person on board. Additionally, the Coast Guard requires children under 13 to wear a personal flotation device or PFD.  This is something we can all get behind as well.

There is nothing quite as relaxing than a day on the water with family and friends, but when you have young children, the dangers of boating can be a significant source of anxiety. You can have peace of mind as there are plenty of choices for kids’ life jackets available to give you and your children peace of mind and freedom while enjoying the water.

But there are a number of different types of life jackets available so many that this can become a source of stress figuring out which kind you need to be in compliance and which one will fit the best so your child will want to wear it.  There are different types of life jacket for different kinds of boating you are doing.

Here’s the lowdown on lifejackets for recreational boating from the U.S. Coast Guard.  There are four classes of PFDs and each has its own purpose:

Type I – Off-Shore Life Jackets:

type 1 lifevestThe intended use of these are for cruising, racing and fishing offshore , or when boating alone, or in stormy conditions.
They are best for open, rough or remote water where rescue may be slow to arrive. The big benefit is that they will turn most unconscious wearers face-up in water. They offer the best protection, but is somewhat bulky and uncomfortable. .

Type II PFD: Near-Shore Buoyant Vests

These are used for inland day cruising, fishing and sailing where rescue is more accessible.  Good for boating in lighter, smaller boats.

Type II – Inflatable Vests

These are for serious inland and near shore cruising.  The advantage is that they are very comfortable, more buoyant than Type II neat shore vests but the price is high and deployment is either manual or automatic so this is something to consider. These are not sized for children only adults.

Type III PFD: Flotation Aids

These are best for supervised activities, such as sailing races, dinghy races, water skiing, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and during personal watercraft operation.  These are for general boating or for specific activities, and is indicated on the vest itself. They may be specially made for skiing, fishing, or kayaking, among other activities.

Type V PFD: Special Use Devices

These include vests made for very specific activities or conditions, and are often for commercial use. The label on the vest will indicate which activities these are appropriate for– it may be anything from boardsailing vests to man-overboard assistance.

You’ll determine the type of life jacket that will be appropriate for your child, by the type of activity you are doing and where you will be boating.  So now, how do you properly fit a child’s life jacket? A properly fitted life jacket is one that fits snugly on your child’s body while remaining comfortable. If at its tightest the life jacket is loose or gaps anywhere on your child, it is too big. On the opposite end, if the jacket is difficult to get into, the jacket is too small. It’s important that you find the right fit for your child for two key reasons. First, a snug fit means that the life jacket won’t be able to slip off in an emergency. Second, a comfortable fit means that your child will will wear it.


Sizing is generally based on chest and waist measurements. As your child grows you will have to check this every seasons and upgrade It’s a good. idea to do a trial run on the jacket to make sure you got the correct size and introduce wearing it to your child. If possible, do this at a swimming pool or even the bathtub so that your child can get used to wearing it in the water.

It’s a good idea to show your child how to put on their lifejacket by themselves. Explain why they are wearing it and importance of staying calm in the water in case they do fall in.  The U.S. Coast Guard warns against the dangers of bringing an infant onboard a recreational boat. For infants under 18 pounds their life jackets should be carefully fitted.

Remember, you are the role model here. It’s the old adage – don’t do as I say – do as I do! ! If your child sees you wearing a your life vest and taking safety seriously, they will, too.


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