Best Infant Life Jackets to Keep Babies Safe on the Water
When it comes to enjoying water-based activities with little ones, water safety is essential. Drowning is the single leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1 to 4, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics—but the AAP has developed layers of protection to help parents and caregivers prevent these tragedies. One of the key prevention factors they recommend: wearing a life jacket.
But what does this mean for children under the age of 1? While most infant drowning deaths occur in bathtubs or buckets of water, it’s still critical to protect them when around open water—including pools, ponds, lakes and oceans. Keep reading for everything you need to know about infant life jackets, from when and how to use them to key safety features and our favorite selections.
In this article: Do infants have to wear life jackets?
The short answer is yes, but the longer answer is more complicated. Benjamin Hoffman, MD, the president-elect of the AAP, provided clarification on when an infant life jacket is necessary. “Any child on a boat on water should always be in a life jacket—no questions asked, no exceptions,” says Hoffman.
Outside of boating on open water, the need for infant life jackets becomes more nuanced. “There’s not one thing that can drown-proof a child,” says Hoffman. “When we think about drowning prevention, we think about layers of protection.” The first layer of protection, he explains, is supervision, which means having a competent, close and capable adult present when a child is in or around water. The other “layers” include having barriers to accessing water (such as having four-sided pool fencing, using toilet locks and emptying wading pools, bathtubs and buckets when not in use), arranging swimming lessons for children over the age of 1 and of course, using life jackets. “A life jacket used in a swimming pool can be another layer to help ensure that that child will not be submerged,” says Hoffman.
It’s important to make sure you’re choosing a baby life jacket or flotation device that’s approved by the US Coast Guard—whether you’re boating on the open seas or spending time by a kiddie pool. “Anything that is not a US Coast Guard-approved flotation device is not something we would ever recommend using,” says Hoffman. “We consider those pool toys and they are not reliable.”
It’s important to note, though, that there are four different categories of USCG-approved personal flotation devices. The best infant life jackets for boating should always be a USCG-approved Type II vest, as these help to keep your little one upright and floating face up in the water. On the other hand, a Type III jacket or vest, which includes the popular puddle jumpers, is only designed for use in calm, shallow waters such as pools.
In addition to USCG-approval, the other key factor—particularly when it comes to infants—is fit. “If a parent is going to use a flotation device for an infant, we would urge them to make sure that it fits correctly,” says Hoffman.
Determining a proper fit starts with the life jacket’s weight range. Manufacturers must clearly label a life vest’s weight ranges, and most infant life jackets fit children who fall under the 30 pound threshold. You’ll also want to look for adjustable straps on the shoulders, waist and crotch area to help adjust the vest for a close, proper fit. When an infant life vest is worn correctly, it should be snug enough that your little one can’t slip out of the vest and should never rise above baby’s chin or ears.
Other important safety features for infant life vests include ample head support (to help keep their heads face-up and above water) and grab handles (to aid with rescue). Parents and caregivers should also consider the color of a baby life jacket before purchasing: Brighter, more vibrant colors are easier to spot in the water.
With this information in mind, here are our picks for the best infant life jackets to shop—all of which are USCG-approved Type II vests.
Exclusively designed for children under 30 pounds, this life jacket for infants has everything a parent could want: an oversized collar for head support, a grab strap for easy recovery and adjustable waist and shoulder straps for a close fit. But the standout feature is the elasticized fabric crotch, which gives this baby life jacket a tighter fit that feels more like a onesie rather than a vest.
• Ample amount of support for baby thanks to an oversized head collar
• Vest is 26 inches in length, which might be too long for smaller infants
There’s lots to love about this baby life jacket from Stohlquist. The design features large arm holes, which allow for full arm mobility as your little one learns to explore the water, while also preventing uncomfortable chafing. Another favorite component is the double collar, which provides solid head support for even the youngest babies. Plus, the zipper front makes it easy for parents to get on even the wriggliest of little ones.
• Features four separate adjustable straps for a customizable fit: two across the back, one between the legs and one across the front • Breathable and comfortable thanks to the open back design • Works for infants as small as 8 pounds
• Blue/green option can be difficult to spot in the water, but the vest also comes in other colors • Pricey
The brand behind Puddle Jumpers—the popular floaties for toddlers worn on the arms and across the chest—also has an infant version that’s a USCG-approved Type II vest. It’s made of a soft hydroprene material that’s both breathable and comfortable for all-day wear, and has an oversized support pillow to keep baby’s head afloat. Other safety features, like a grab handle and leg straps, make this an all-around solid selection for one of the best infant life jackets.
• Zips in the back, unlike other models, offering the same convenience for parents but removing the chance for tiny hands to undo the zipper • Features two leg straps for a close and secure fit
• Only one adjustable side strap, which could leave the vest too wide for small babies
This is an infant life vest that parents and babies alike will love. The extra safety measures include an adjustable leg strap for a secure fit, a pop-up pillow to promote staying above water and a grab strap, all of which will appeal to both parents and caregivers. Baby will also last all day on the water thanks to comfort features such as cushion-like foam and larger arm holes.
• Zip front makes it easy to put on baby, while the adjustable waist and leg strap ensure a secure fit • Matching adult life jacket is available for purchase
• Larger arm holes might be too big for some babies
This baby life jacket has all of the elements to keep little ones safe on the water, like a closed-sided design, chest and leg buckles for an ultra-tight fit and a grab strap. We especially love the bright yellow headrest that not only keeps their head above water at all times, but makes baby easier to spot in the water.
• UV-protected and stain-resistant fabric • Three adjustable body belts ensure a secure fit
• Designed for infants that weigh between 15 and 30 pounds, so it won’t work for younger and smaller babies
The baby life jacket from Stearns is a quality choice for parents and caregivers. It has a head rest, grab handle and chest and leg strap for extra security and a proper fit. The larger arm holes also allow greater range of motion for babies, making it an option your little one won’t mind wearing.
• Zipper front makes it easy for parents to put on and off • Secure and safe fit thanks to the adjustable leg strap and waist buckle
• Blue color might be difficult to spot in the water (but is also available in red)
This baby life jacket has all of the safety standards—a leg strap, grab handle and head rest—plus comfort features including a breathable and lightweight fabric that’s also quick drying (which helps prevent your little one from being cold or uncomfortable).
• Zipper front and three adjustable straps make this vest fit properly • Provides specific size parameters: The vest fits infants between 8 and 30 pounds, and with a chest size between 16 and 20 inches.
• Size specifications mean it will not work for all babies
About the experts:
Benjamin Hoffman, MD, FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician and the president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as well as a nationally recognized expert in child injury prevention and education. Additionally, he serves as the director of the Tom Sargent Safety Center at Doernbecher Children’s hospital and as a professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health & Science University. He earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1992.