All About Life Jackets

People go out of their way to find the safest car seat money can buy and have them professionally installed. They make sure their child does not get on a bike without a properly-fitting helmet. And yet they let their children go into the water without a lifejacket(also known as a Personal Floatation Device or PFD) for all kinds of reasons: Oh, the water isn’t very deep; they’ve got this inflatable raft, that’s the same thing; my child can stand with their head above water.

Let me tell you, being able to keep their head above water is not a foolproof way to prevent drowning. I’ve seen children running through the water and trip, suddenly go under and then start to panic. And even experienced swimmers know that if you get too fatigued, sometimes even keeping your head above the water is going to be incredibly difficult. Inflatables aren’t safe—if the valve pops or it springs a leak, it will deflate and your child could potentially drown.

Let’s face it, things happen, and that can be dangerous when around water. If you’re going to be at an unfamiliar pool or body of water with a strong current, a life jacket just makes sense. If the water level is higher than your child is tall, then a life jacket is a must.And even adults should wear life jackets when boating or participating in water sports, regardless of how strong of a swimmer they might be.Large parties are also a good time to wear one—it can be hard to watch everyone in the pool at once so a life jacket is an extra layer of security. if there are others in the water, they can be a danger as well. Kids roughhouse and sometimes push each other underwater. Or another child who cannot swim may start to panic and grab onto someone else, forcing them under. Most kids can’t support their own weight plus that of someone else who is thrashing around.

I hope by now that I have convinced you that your child should have a life jacket on when they’re in the water, at least in certain circumstances–especially if they are not proficient swimmers. If they cannot swim at all, they absolutely need one. But if you don’t have a life jacket that fits properly, it might not do the wearer any good at all. So, let’s go over what to look for when choosing the right life jacket.First, make sure it is has been approved by the United States Coast Guard for the activities you will be wearing it for. Many have height or weight measurements on them, and that is a good start. Next, try it on and buckle all the straps. The goal is to make sure that it feels snug but not uncomfortably tight. If there’s too much room no matter how tight the straps, go down a size. If it’s too hard to fasten at the largest strap size, go up one. Unless you are moving into a different category (say, from child to youth), a size up or down doesn’t affect the size of the floatation panels, just the length of the straps. If it doesn’t feel right, try a different brand or style until you get that perfect fit. And remember to check it every time you wear it to make sure that the material hasn’t faded and weakened, and that there is no wear and tear on the straps or damage to the clasps.

And there you have it!