10 Best Kids’ Life Jackets Reviewed in 2020
Do you take your kids out to enjoy the water and engage in water activities like boating, swimming, going to a public or private pool? Then chances are, you need a life jacket or some kind of PFD or personal flotation device. The terms are interchangeable, depending upon where you live. In Canada, they differentiate the terms. In general, the PFD is inflatable and is designed for a conscious swimmer to stay afloat. The life jacket is designed to flip a person, who is in the water and unconscious, so they are face up.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 33 hrs of research
Type V/III as approved by the US Coast Guard
Comfortable woven polyester material
Great for helping kids learn to swim as it is worn in front and floats the arms
Buckle in the back is adjustable so it fits well.
10 Best Kids Life Jackets Reviewed
1. Stearns Puddle Jumper Deluxe
Type V/III as approved by the US Coast Guard
Comfortable woven polyester material
Great for helping kids learn to swim as it is worn in front and floats the arms
Buckle in the back is adjustable so it fits well.
Does not flip the swimmer over in the event of an emergency.
The back strap is too short for some kids
Though this life preserver may look only like a toy, it is much more. Your child can have loads of fun playing in the water wearing this comfortable life preserver because it wears more like a flotation device. It does carry a Coast Guard classification of V/III.Read more
The arms and chest area float, and there is a strap that can be fastened in the back to help keep it secure on your child. Kids can wear the Puddle Jumper and experience freedom of motion while they have a great time playing.
As a parent, you can feel comfortable knowing that the Puddle Jumper is highly rated by thousands of buyers and that with this great float-type device, there is just no end to the fun when in the pool or lake.
The polyester fabric is woven so that it is comfortable on the skin. And there are lots of fun animal designs to choose from. Composed of polyester, this life jacket will provide a soft feel against your child’s skin and will eliminate chafing. The front float provides your little one more freedom to move and play while the back buckle makes it easy for you to get them in and out.
This is a great choice if your family is playing in calm waters near the shoreline as well. Jumping and playing in the water is great exercise, and kids can each get their favorite animal on the front and let their imaginations soar.
2. Stohlquist Coast Guard
PFD Type II
Will turn some unconscious wearers face up in the water
Crotch strap keeps vest from floating up on the body
Twin head supports to keep baby’s head up above the water
Handy pull strap at the top
May not flip some swimmers face up when in water
Boating can be so much fun for the whole family, and this inventive infant PFD can help you keep your child safe. It has the required easy-to-see colors. One of the best features is that there are two support collars on top to keep the baby’s head above water. It makes a nice pillow for napping, too.Read more
There is a floatation system that wraps around the body. This is designed to flip the baby over so that he can breathe.
The device has an adjustable crotch strap to keep the jacket from creeping up and going over the head. The grab handle at the top is available for pulling a child up out of the water.
With this safety-conscious PFD, your kids are wearing one of the best devices for calm water fun in the sun. They can swim, play, and have a great time in the boat on calmer waters or along a quiet shoreline. It is Coast Guard approved PFD Type II.
This is for infants and young children of 8 to 30 pounds and is a must for families that do a lot of activities in the boat and close to shore where rescue is close by. By using this life jacket, you can take your kids most places you go in a boat, even fishing.
3. Stearns Classic Series
US Coast Guard Approved Type III
Three buckled straps for a snug fit while still allowing free movement
Leg strap for security
Parents get the comfort of knowing their kids are safe
Does not flip an unconscious swimmer
For 30-50 pound children, this version of a Stearns life preserver is packed with great features designed for the safety of your kids. They can run around the pool area and ride in the boat whenever your family has an outing. This Type III floats because it is filled with buoyant foam and covered by a nylon sheath.Read more
It is meant mainly for boating type activities like fishing, tubing, or with a personal type of watercraft, but can be used on shore. The sides are open with three buckle straps to keep the jacket secure, so there is freedom of movement.
And the leg strap holds the device in place so your child won’t slip out the bottom. There’s a whole heap of fun, laughter, and safety built into this versatile life vest.
These vests seem to last several years provided they still fit well, and the parents are loving that. The leg strap is an extra vote of confidence for kids and parents alike. This jacket is wearable and allows freedom of movement.
The obvious benefits are the safety of your child and peace of mind for you, the parent. But there is also playful activity involved and that is serious business. If your kids don’t have fun on the water or in it, they won’t want to go with you. The fun is up to you, but Stearns helps keep your children safe when on a family outing to the lake while you are searching for the big fish or tubing behind the boat.
4. Speedo UPF 50+ Begin to Swim
Provides Level 2 swim associates
Features UV50 plus to block harmful UVA and UVB rays
Constructed from soft and durable neoprene
Full zipper in front
Build self-confidence when learning to swim
Sides of the vest can rub if not a tight fit
Sizes run small
Let your child swim with confidence with this level 2 swim vest. This is a great tool to provide your child with confidence to be able to get familiar with swimming in water. The vest features protection from the sun with UV50plus. The protection is from both UVA and UVB rays. This also provides buoyancy and warmth for the swimmer. In the front, the vest features a zipper that makes it easy to get it on and off.Read more
There is also a safety closure at the top of the zipper that helps keep the zipper secure. On the inside of the vest, it has been lined with polyester to keep it comfortable.
Swimming vest is a great tool to help build your little one's confidence around the water. The soft and more natural feel gives them the ability to move around freely and learn to swim safely without any concerns from parents.
It has been constructed of durable and soft neoprene.
If your little swimmer is ready to hit the water to learn to swim this is the perfect vest to help keep them safe while they get the feel for the water.
5. Full Throttle Water Buddies
Brightly colored & adorned with kid-friendly characters
Equipped with a front zipper and waist belt buckles
Leg strap prevents the vest from riding up
Attached loop makes the vest easy to carry
Colors may fade
The Full Throttle Child Water Buddies life vest makes it possible for the whole family to safely enjoy a day at the lake, beach, or pool. Designed for children who weigh between 30-50 pounds, the foam back of this life vest will keep your little one afloat.Read more
In addition to the front zipper and the waist belt, this vest is also equipped with a leg strap. The leg strap will prevent the vest from riding up and covering your child’s face.
The zipper in the front and the waist belt buckles will provide a snug fit and keep the vest securely on your child. The bright orange color makes it easy for you to spot your child bobbing in the water.
The built-in loop on the back of vest can easily be grasped by tiny hands, thus making it easy for your child to carry their own jacket.
The adorable dinosaurs will have your child excited to wear this vest. If they’re not fans of dinosaurs, you can also choose between an astronaut, ladybug, princess, or turtle design.
6. Hardcore Life Jacket Vests for The Entire Family
Coast Guard approved and UL listed
Perfect size for kids that weight between 30 pounds and 50 pounds
Constructed from high quality polyester and closed cell foam designed for Pes
Features distinct style with open sides for breathability
Great for any liquid surface sport
Body length of life jacket is not long
Strap between the legs on youth rides up
Give the kids the protection that they need in any water activity with this life jacket. It is the perfect size child life jacket that is great for any kid that is between 30 pounds and 50 pounds. It is easy to put on and super comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The cool colors scheme is something that everyone loves about this design.Read more
There are many important things about being on the water with kids, but making sure they are safe at all times it the most important. This life jacket helps with its UL listing and being approved by the Coast Guard as a Type III PDF being safe is easy. It also has been constructed to provide the kids with a stable face up positioning if they were to fall in the water. This keeps their heads tilted back and in a comfortable position to wait for help.
The style of this life jacket offers great protection to the little ones wearing it. The company is well known for the distinct style for protecting all in any liquid surface. Each of the sides is open promoting breathability and also providing a secure fit without any bulky materials rubbing their sides.
Constructed from high quality materials the fabric and all foam are the best of quality. The outside of the life jacket features a polyester Cordura blended material and on the inside, there is a closed cell system that holds all the PE foam in place at all times. This provides a secure fit that aids in any water sport activity.
Each of the life jackets has been designed for the little ones. It provides them with the best fit and most protection when they need it most. It is one of the most versatile life jackets on the market because of its distinct style and comfortability kid’s love wearing it. They feel secure and not over padded allowing them to move freely and enjoy any water activities.
7. Stearns Infant
Grab handle at the top
Front zipper with adjustable belt
Leg strap for safety
Nylon with floatation foam for durability
No double pillow for baby’s head
Protect your little swimmer with the Stearns Infant Classic Series vest. US Coast Guard-approved, this jacket is designed for infants who weigh under 30 pounds.Read more
Along with the adjustable chest strap, the closed sides and the adjustable leg strap helps provide a snug and secure fit. You won’t have to worry about your child slipping out. The grab handle makes the jacket easy to carry but also doubles as a rescue handle if your child falls into the water.
The PE floatation foam inside the vest will keep your child from going underwater, while the durable nylon shell will allow your child to use it until they grow out of it. The front zipper makes it easy for you to put it on and take it off your child.
With the adjustable chest strap, you can be confident that the vest is securely on your child. When purchasing you can decide between a red or blue life vest for your infant.
The built-in headrest will keep your child’s head out of the water and remain floating on their back. This is a must-have life vest if you’re planning on taking your infant boating or even to the pool.
8. Body Glove Paddle Pals
US Coast Guard Type III approved
Float foam is more environmentally friendly than some others
Your child gains confidence as he learns to swim.
Keeps child’s head above water
Not rated for rough water
May run small
The Glove Pals are so cute and they have the over the shoulder harness which makes for a more secure fit. The vest does not ride up on the body and kids can lean forward and learn to swim. The arm floaties keep the child afloat. This is USCG approved Type III. That means that is ok for swimming and boating in calm waters near the shore.Read more
Your child can increase her self-confidence level when she learns to swim, and maybe even do most of it on her own. Learning to swim is a big thing for a kid because she can then participate in water activities with family and friends.
The graphics on the front are very colorful and fun. Kids love that they can use this vest to learn to swim. What an accomplishment!
Your child will feel comfortable and won’t chafe with the polyester material. There are several panels to make movement easier. And the foam is environmentally friendly.
This design makes it easy to kick and paddle. Kids and moms say they feel secure when in the pool area and while swimming. For safety, the strap buckles in back so kids need help to get it off. That’s a good thing.
9. Dark Lightning Swim Vest with Arm Wings
Swim vest designed for children 30 pounds to 50 pounds
Features an adjustable strap and buckle in the back
Constructed from durable materials with additional sewing at each joining piece of fabric
Offers a secure fit for added buoyancy when learning to swim
Additional six months warranty included
Not a life jacket, intended to provide swimming support buoyancy only
Arms holes are not adjustable, one size only
This life jacket has been designed to aid in the swimming for children that weigh between 39 pounds and 66 pounds. It is a CE certified vest that is best suited for providing swimmers with buoyancy while learning to swim. The best is great for ensuring their safety when they are first learning how to swim.Read more
This vest has been designed to provide kids with additional buoyancy when learning to swim. It has not been designed to protect kids from drowning. The design has been created to provide them additional support when they need it most. It does not have a lifesaving function and should not be worn in that fashion.
When kids when this vest they are able to get the best fit. The design provides an adjustable buckle at the back of the vest that gives the perfect secure fit. It is easy to adjust and can accommodate many different sized children from 1 year old to 6 years old.
It has been constructed from durable materials that have been reinforced with additional sewing to make each joining piece strong enough. This allows the vest to be able to last over the years with multiple children each enjoying the security from it. Each life vest has an additional six months warranty to ensure their enjoyment of the product.
Best designed for kids that are between the ages of one year old and five years old this vest fits around the arms and body then fastness in the rear to provide a secure fit. It allows the arms to be free helping them learn how to swim freely with their arms but still keeping them afloat. It gives them the self confidence that they need to learn to swim effectively.
10. Speedo Personal
USCG rated Type III
Soft inner lining for comfort.
Nylon outer for durability
Fun flashy colors
Two chest straps and crotch strap for security
Some kids have problems keeping their heads up while swimming
From the front quick release tabs to the bright, flashy colors, this child life jacket seems to have it all. It’s USCG rated Type III and even has a stamp of approval from the American Red Cross. The cool colors make your kids easy to see in the water, and the chest and leg straps are adjustable. Those are highly recommended safety features and give a parent and child the feeling that they are secure in the water. Of course, this stylish vest is approved for boating, tubing, and more water games, so kids will not be bored while playing on the beach or in the pool.Read more
Life is wonderful when your kids are happy playing by the pool and you are comfortable that they are safe in their floatation life jackets. Kids learning to swim can be calmer when they are safe so they learn better and faster. Learning to swim can be scary for some kids, and with this life jacket, you can teach your child not to be scared.
They will be running to the pool looking forward to a comfortable day of swimming and water games. These are all learning experiences that help them grow and develop. You, as the parent, get the pleasure of seeing the confidence expand in your kid as she blossoms into a mature rose. Swimming with a PFD like this one can help her gain confidence, one of the most important skills to master.
Your toddlers will play in comfort with the polyester soft lining, and the nylon shell proffers durability.
Children love this design and will be running to the door yelling, “Beach day!” whenever they pull this life vest out of the closet. Happy kids are a joy for moms.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
In the US, there are four different levels of safety for life preservers, designated by Roman numerals I, II, III, and IV. These are descriptions and regulations from the US Coast Guard for the Great Lakes and other areas the Coast Guard patrols. Otherwise, the states’ Departments of Natural Resources set the inland lake regulations for their state.
Life Vest Safety Tips
1. Make sure every person on a recreational watercraft has a properly fitted life vest.
2. Check your state regulations to see if your child must wear a life vest. Most states have it set at age 13, but not all of them.
3. Life vests must be approved by the Coast Guard.
4. There are 4 categories for life vests: I, II, III, or IV. Choose the life vest that is suggested for your water activity.
5. Life vests really should be worn, but they are at least required to be within reach.
6. Boats over 16 feet need to have a throwable Type IV device.
Water safety is essential for your family if you want to feel as safe as possible and end your day of fun on a happy note. That’s why you need a life preserver for every person participating in your water adventures. When you have questions, look at the label that is on the life jacket to check it’s rating. Check the DNR regulations for your state so that you will know which PFD to choose and how to use it.
Life jackets are made by many manufacturers, so we tried to choose the best names with the most experience in water safety. The O’Neil story is particularly interesting as Mr. O’Neil actually discovered components of neoprene as he was digging around in the guts of an airplane. He developed the neoprene wetsuit and built a company that sells products that center around water activities. All of the companies on this list are well-respected and make very good life jackets or they would not have made the list. We try to pick from a variety of producers so that you get all of the choices you deserve.
Life jackets are a bit different than toys in that kids don’t actually play with them. They play in them. And it’s water play, so child safety is a top concern. We want you to be able to take them and use them in public pools and in your boats as well as on the beaches, so we chose life jackets approved by the United States Coast Guard. This process takes lots of research for each product, checking hundreds of articles and sources so that we can find you the best of the best of the available products.
The life jackets are functional as well as fun. They have safety and comfort in mind with their buckle straps, between legs straps, and great buoyancy. Most of the life vests are also very colorful. Kids love the pop of color, and the bright colors are easy to spot in the water if there is an accident.
The infant jackets have the handhold at the top of the infant PFDs, which can literally be a lifesaver. Just grab it and pull your baby from the water. We hope that never happens, but this is a matter of being prepared and dealing with an emergency as it happens. We want you to have the best possible chance to save a life.
Other Factors to Consider
We depend heavily on buyer reviews because they can tell us not only if a product is popular, but give us insights into what our customers are thinking. You can learn a lot by listening to parents whose kids are using these life jackets. They may love them or hate them, but kids will tell the truth, and parents report it. Listening directly to customers is the best way to find out if the product is good. If there is a flaw that is repeated over and over, then the item usually doesn’t make the list.
Ease of Use
Our website is about toys and tools that help kids grow and develop properly, so we relate each list to that idea as much as possible. Of course, life jackets help kids grow and meet their milestones by creating a new place to play and create new ideas for creative imitation. They are building on their mental skills as they swim and learn new things. It’s an adventure for them and they can use all of their memories to go on to learn new things. Swimming helps kids’ physical development as well, keeping them fit and healthy and building on muscle strength and maneuverability.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: How do I know which life jacket to buy for my toddler?
Life jackets are divided into weight classes for fitting purposes. In any class, the jacket is said to "fit most," so you may have to go up or down a size. Infants are 0-30 pounds. Child 30-50 pounds. And Youth are for 50-90 pounds. Depending on your kid’s size and shape, you may have to go up or down a size. So you also have to make sure the jacket fits snuggly. Fasten all of the fasteners to make sure the jacket is snug and ask your child if it feels ok.
q: How does a such a small life jacket keep my kid afloat?
The concept is called buoyancy, which is an action that keeps us from sinking by displacing the water around us. The buoyancy in a life jacket comes from either inflation from injecting air or the use of foam, which is buoyant by nature. The amount of either depends a bit on the size of our bodies, but our bodies are also a little buoyant on their own, so we don’t need a boat full of foam. And the life jacket only has to keep our heads above water, so a small amount of foam will keep our heads out of the water until help comes.
q: Can a life jacket really save my child’s life?
Absolutely. While there is no guarantee because circumstances differ, personal flotation devices (PFDs) do preserve lives. That’s why the Coast Guard tells us that we MUST have a life jacket in a boat for each person in the craft. Without a life jacket, people treading water tire quickly. The jacket is a lifeline for people who have been in a water accident and are stuck in the water.
q: Is my child’s safety assured as long as he is wearing a PFD?
In short, no. A PFD is a tool that will help, but she has to be wearing a life jacket that is of the right type and fits her. Otherwise, there is a chance that she will not be turned face up in the water. The Type I life jacket turns most people face up in the water. The Type II turns some wearers face up. The Type III is not designed to automatically turn people face up. People who are face down will not be able to breathe because their nose and mouths will be covered. This is why parents must be continually in attendance while their kids are in the water.
q: My child hates wearing a life vest. He’s a good swimmer. Can I just let him use his noodle?
Of course, the choice is yours in raising your child. But if you want to make sure he’s safe, he needs to wear a PFD. It’s the best defense in case of illness or accidents in the water. He’ll fall off the noodle. The life vest, if fitted properly, has the best chance of saving him. And you must supervise your child continuously. Kids and accidents go together and they happen fast. Give your child the best chance to live in case an accident happens.
q: How do I know my kid’s life jacket fits him?
The best way is to try it on and to make sure the latches are fastened, even the strap that goes between the legs. Pull up on it to make sure your child’s whole head is uncovered. Make sure the straps are tight around him and the leg strap is just snug. You don’t want it to hurt. If the vest slides up while your child is in the water, it doesn’t fit. You may need to readjust or find a style and size that works better.
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