Best Life Jackets For Kids
Keeping your kids safe on the water is not always the easiest challenge, especially when your kids don’t want to wear their PFDs. But as we all know, a life jacket can save your life and for kids, it’s often necessary to wear one.
We know it can be difficult to find a life vest that is both comfortable and safe, so we have put together our selection of the best life jackets for kids and youths. We have also included some information on how to choose a kids’ PFD.
Our Top 3 Picks:
(The links below will take you over to the products on Amazon)
11 Best Kids’ Life Jackets
1: TRC Recreation Kids Super Soft USCG Vest (best for kids)
This TRC Recreation Super Soft life vest is made out of padded vinyl and is designed for comfort and durability. The vinyl coating also means it can be easy to wipe clean and quick to dry.
It comes in a range of sizes, including two child sizes and one youth size.
The two child sizes (XS and S) are both designed for kids weighing between 30 and 50 pounds. However, they offer two chest sizes, which can make it easier to find a suitable size for you child.
The XS is rated for chest sizes between 21 and 23 inches. The S is rated for chest sizes between 23 and 24 inches. However, the medium size is designed for youths with chest sizes between 26 and 29 inches, so this could be a big jump for kids growing out of the small size.
The youth/medium size is designed for children weighing between 50 and 90 pounds. Unfortunately, this size doesn’t come in a choice of chest sizes for improved fit.
This TRC recreation life vest is a US Coast Guard approved Type III PFD. It’s designed as a swimming vest, which means it can be a great choice for kids playing at the beach, swimming pool or at a water park.
It features adjustable straps both at the chest and the waist, with buckle closures at the front. There is also an adjustable crotch strap on the two smaller size PFDs but this is not a feature on the medium/youth size.
While this life jacket can be a little bulky, it is designed to be comfortable enough for kids to swim and play in. The vinyl material has the same thickness all over, which can help to add buoyancy and protection.
The life vest also has closed sides, which can help to provide padding for the straps as well as improve flotation in the water. These life jackets are often used in water parks, theme parks and resorts around the United States, so you may have seen them in use before.
2: O’Neill Youth SuperLite USCG Life Vest (best for youths)
The O’Neill Youth SuperLite life vest is a US Coast Guard approved Type III life jacket. It features lightweight closed cell marine buoyancy foam which is wrapped in a durable and lightweight polyester fabric.
As well as being lightweight, it’s designed to be less bulky, which could make it a little more comfortable to wear, especially for long periods. This may also improve mobility for activities such as paddling, as it can let you move your arms more easily, with minimal restrictions.
This is a durable life vest that is ideal for youths. It is rated for weights between 50 and 90 pounds. For improved durability, the PFD features overlock stitching, which is designed to reinforce the seams for added strength under pressure.
A great feature of this life jacket is the adjustability. It features dual adjustable waist straps and an additional adjustable chest strap. This means you can get a more secure fit all-over, to prevent the life vest from moving up above your child’s shoulders or face.
All of the straps benefit from having quick-release buckles for added safety if required in an emergency.
The life jacket features closed sides, which can help to add buoyancy and give your child extra cushioning for where the straps are positioned. The closed sides can also help your child to feel more secure while wearing the life jacket.
Being a youth life jacket, there is no crotch strap, but the added chest strap across the front of the PFD should serve a similar purpose and help to keep the life vest in place.
You’ll find there is also no grab handle on this life jacket, but this is often found on younger children’s life vests rather than on youth sizes.
3: Stearns Heads-Up Child Vest (best value kids PFD)
This Stearns Heads-Up Child life vest is designed for kids who weigh between 30 and 50 pounds. It offers great value, with plenty of features to keep your child safe on the water, including a handy grab strap so that you can quickly grab your kids out of the water or move them out of danger.
This life jacket is a Type II US Coast Guard approved PFD, so it’s designed to offer a higher level of buoyancy than a typical Type III life vest. This means it could also be more likely to turn your child face up in the water compared to a Type III PFD.
One of the great features of this life jacket is that it has added buoyancy at the top that sits behind the head like a pillow. This is designed to help keep your child’s head above the water. This head support pillow is also crafted to assist face-up flotation, which can be essential in an emergency situation.
Another great feature of this life vest is the brightly colored green fabric exterior. This can be a good benefit because it can make the PFD easier to see in the water. There is also a reflective trim on the fabric to improve visibility.
The life jacket is designed to offer a secure fit, with dual adjustable waist straps and an adjustable crotch strap, all with buckle closures at the front. The crotch strap features a soft Hydroprene material which helps to improve comfort levels and can be particularly beneficial if your kids are in swimwear.
For an improved fit, there is also a zip closure at the front, which can help to keep the PFD in place while you adjust it using the straps.
4: Stohlquist Fit Youth Life Jacket (best value youth PFD)
The Stohlquist Fit Youth life jacket is designed to fit youths and bigger kids weighing between 50 and 90 pounds. It is a Type III US Coast approved PFD with great features that are designed to improve comfort and provide a comfortable, snug fit.
One of the main features of this life jacket is that it has thinner foam at the lower back. This can make it much more suitable to wear for activities such as kayaking, as it means you can sit comfortably even in a seat with a higher back.
It also features larger arm holes which can help with mobility and can be useful for paddle sports where you need more freedom of movement in your arms.
This life vest features a good level of adjustment so that you can find a secure fit. The dual waist straps can be easily adjusted and benefit from buckle closures. There is also the addition of an adjustable chest strap which helps to cinch down the life vest at the chest to prevent it from riding up in the water.
The life vest is made from lightweight buoyancy foam and benefits from a durable but lightweight 200 denier nylon exterior. As well as keeping the life vest lightweight, this can also make it more comfortable for wearing for all-day activities.
This Fit life jacket is part of a range that also offers adult sizing, which can make it more appealing for older kids to wear, as it can be the same style as their grown-up family members.
Another useful feature of this PFD is the small loop at the top. This is so that you can hang up the life jacket more conveniently for both storage and drying purposes.
5: Stohlquist Kids’ Escape PFD
This Stohlquist Kids’ Escape PFD can be a great choice for older or bigger kids.
The youth size is designed for kids weighing between 50 and 90 pounds but there is also the option of sizing up to a youth large, which is also the adult XS. This larger size can be useful for heavier kids who may find they’ve slightly outgrown the 90 pound limit.
This life jacket is approved by the US Coast Guard as a Type III PFD. It comes in bright colors with added reflective material for high visibility in the water.
It features a zippered front which can make it easy to put on. You can then secure the waist buckle and tighten the low profile straps at the side, to allow for a snug and secure fit. For an even more secure fit, you can even adjust the straps at the shoulders, letting you customize it for different heights and torso lengths.
A handy feature on this Escape life jacket is the zippered pocket on the front, which can be ideal for holding a safety whistle or even a little snack.
This is a lightweight, low profile life jacket, made from durable nylon and lightweight flotation foam. It has padded shoulders for added comfort and the foam is crafted to be super soft in order to hug your child and wrap around their body.
The closed sides also help to improve buoyancy. This durable PFD is also designed to allow for a range of movement, meaning it can be a great choice for paddling sports, as well as other activities that require increased mobility.
This Escape model is also available in adult styles, which can make older kids more likely to want to wear it if they think it’s the same as the adult versions.
6: Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket
The Onyx Youth Paddle Sports life jacket is a Type III US Coast Guard approved life jacket designed for kids weighing from 50 to 90 pounds. This can make it an ideal PFD for older kids, such as pre-teens and young teenagers, as long as they are within the weight recommendations.
This is a lightweight but durable life jacket that can be a good choice for warmer climates, as it benefits from having mesh panels at the sides to allow for breathability. This can make it a little cooler to wear.
There are six points of adjustment on this life vest, which can make it much easier to get a snug fit all over. The adjustable shoulder straps means you can tighten or loosen to fit different torso lengths. This can also help to keep the vest lower on the body to stop it from lifting above the chin when in water.
The two adjustable straps at either side help you to secure the life vest around your child’s body so that it fits comfortably without moving around.
It also features a zipper closure at the front as well as a secure buckle closure on the waist strap.
This Onyx life jacket is made for paddle sports, so it has some extra comfort features that can be useful when you’re sitting in a kayak.
One of these features is the high foam back. This means you can sit more comfortably in kayaks with high back seats, with the foam padding resting above the seat, rather than forcing you to lean forwards.
Another useful feature for paddle sports is the larger arm holes on this PFD, which can let you move your arms more freely while you’re paddling.
This can be a comfortable life jacket for all-day wear, with neoprene padded shoulders for a softer feel.
Young kayakers are also likely to appreciate the convenient front zippered pocket that has a mesh drainage system so that it doesn’t fill up with water.
7: Stohlquist Kids Life Jacket
This Stohlquist Kids Life Jacket can be a great choice of PFD for younger kids who weigh between 30 to 50 pounds. It comes in a selection of bright colors for increased visibility in the water and also to appeal to kids.
One of the main features of this life vest is the dual buoyancy pillows at the top. The aim of this feature is to help support your child’s head in the water. The smaller of the two pillows is designed to cradle your child’s neck, which can help to keep their heads above water.
However, unlike the infant life jacket of the same style, this child size one is not designed to turn your child face-up in the water. The buoyancy pillows are there to help support your child’s head while they keep their heads and faces above water.
This is a Type III US Coast Guard approved life vest, which means it can be an ideal choice for kids who already have some skills at keeping their heads above water.
This durable life vest is made out of 200 denier nylon and features buoyancy foam padding. It benefits from an open back design for added comfort and breathability. The padded sides wrap around your child from the front and can be secured using the adjustable waist straps.
The crotch strap helps to prevent the life vest from moving while worn. This strap can also be adjusted and features a buckle closure that is attached to the waist strap at the back of the vest. Having the buckle at the back can help to stop kids from unbuckling it.
There is an additional strap across the chest which helps you to tighten the vest so that it’s snug.
Another great safety feature found on this Stohlquist PFD is the grab handle. This is on the top of the head support pillow and is designed to stay open so that it’s easier for you to grab in an emergency.
The life jacket also benefits from having a zippered front closure that can make it easier to put on.
8: Stohlquist Youth Fit Life Jacket
The Stohlquist Youth Fit Life Jacket can be a safe PFD for older kids and young teens who might prefer a more adult style of life jacket. This one comes in a choice of sizes, with the standard youth size being for kids weighing from 50 to 90 pounds.
However, this life jacket also has a second size option for kids weighing between 75 and 125 pounds. This is a large youth, extra small adult size, which could be ideal for teenagers who are in between sizes.
Another trait that can be useful for getting teens and older kids to wear their life jackets is that this model is also available in adult sizes, so it may feel a little more grown-up than some other kid-specific life vests.
This is a low profile life jacket that is designed for kayaking and other paddle sports. It is crafted so that it’s easy to move in, with larger arm holes to allow for ease of movement while actively paddling.
Another feature that can improve your comfort levels while paddling is that the buoyancy foam is positioned higher on the back. This is to allow for high back kayak seats, meaning the foam padding should rest above it rather than between you and the seat.
It is made from lightweight 200 denier nylon with sculpted foam panels that are specially designed for increased range of movement during paddle sports.
This Stohlquist life jacket features three adjustable straps: two around the waist and one that cinches across the chest. All three straps feature safety buckles for added security.
9: O’Neill Child Reactor USCG Life Vest
The O’Neill Child Reactor USCG life vest is made for kids weighing from 30 to 50 pounds. It features a soft nylon shell with lightweight closed cell marine foam for buoyancy.
It has a zippered front closure to make it easier to put on like a jacket. There are two adjustable waist straps, each with a quick-release safety buckle at the front for added security.
Another great feature of this O’Neill life vest is the adjustable crotch strap. It has a buckle closure at the front and can allow you to secure the life jacket in place, helping to prevent it from riding up on your child when they’re in the water.
For added safety, there is also the benefit of the grab handle on the top of the life vest, giving you an easy way of lifting your child out of the water and out of harm’s way.
The soft nylon material is flexible, similar to a neoprene wetsuit, and is designed to be comfortable for kids to wear. This can let them get involved with all their favorite water activities without feeling restricted.
The life jacket is also crafted to be less bulky, which can be useful for kids taking part in paddle sports.
The seams on the material feature overlock stitching for added strength and the flotation foam is segmented to create a more comfortable and softer feel. For added buoyancy and a more secure fit, this Type III US Coast Guard approved life jacket has closed sides.
10: CWB Connelly Youth Nylon Vest
This CWB Connelly Youth Nylon vest is a lightweight Type III US Coast Guard approved life jacket. It is designed for kids weighing between 50 and 90 pounds but it also has a chest size restriction of between 26 and 29 inches. This means it could be a good option for pre-teens.
It features a durable, lightweight nylon shell and has a lightweight foam interior for flotation. The foam is soft and designed to mold around your child’s body for improved comfort.
For a snug fit, there are three adjustable straps, including two straps that secure around the waist and both buckle at the front. The third strap is designed to cinch across the chest, helping to keep the PFD from sliding up towards the face.
All three straps feature quick-release safety buckles so that you can get the life vest off quickly in an emergency. These buckles are designed to be easy to secure when putting on as well.
This life jacket is built to offer comfort and mobility, with larger arm holes to help prevent the vest from rubbing against skin. This can also be useful for kids who want to paddle board or kayak, as it can give them more freedom to move their arms, which could also come in handy for swimming.
Being a Type III PFD, it can be a good choice for kids who already know how to swim, as this type of life jacket is not designed to turn you face up in the water. It also may not be suitable for younger children who might need the added security of the crotch strap and grab handle, which this life jacket does not have.
11: Stearns Child Watersport Classic Series Vest (best budget kids PFD)
This Stearns Child Watersport Classic Series life vest is a Type III US Coast Guard approved life jacket. It is designed for kids weighing between 30 and 50 pounds, so could be an ideal fit for younger kids.
It is made from 200 denier nylon for increased durability and it features lightweight flotation foam padding for buoyancy.
This life jacket features closed sides for increased comfort, protection and buoyancy. The closed sides can also help to provide a more secure fit around your child’s torso.
There is a high level of adjustability on this life vest, which can make it easier to get a correct fit on different sizes of children.
There are two adjustable waist straps that have buckle closures on the front and a third strap that cinches across the chest, allowing for a customized fitting. This chest strap also has a buckle closure at the front.
Additionally, there is a crotch strap that can be adjusted to suit the height of your child. This can be secured with a fourth buckle at the front of the vest.
This lightweight life jacket is designed for a range of watersports, including water-skiing but can be ideal for wearing on a range of vessels, including boats and kayaks.
It comes in a choice of bright colors so that you can easily see your child when they’re on deck or in the water.
Although this life jacket is suitable for younger children, it’s recommended that they have some swimming ability before relying on this PFD, as it may not be ideal for non-swimmers in emergency situations. This is because it is not designed to force face-up flotation.
Buyer’s Guide: How To Choose A PFD For Kids And Youths
30-50 lbs And 50-90 lbs
Sizes of life jackets for kids and youths are based on the weight of your child. This is unlike adult sizes which are based on chest size.
There are generally two sizes for children’s PFDs. This is not including infant life jackets, which are rated for babies and toddlers up to 30 pounds.
Child sizes are either 30 to 50 pounds or 50 to 90 pounds. However, as you probably know yourself, this can be a huge jump in size for a 50 pound child moving from the smaller size to the larger size.
But remember, the life jackets are rated for buoyancy and are designed to keep a child between those weights afloat. So it can be a good idea to stick to a PFD that’s rated for the weight of your child, rather than to go up or down a size, as this could affect the performance of the PFD.
Types (USCG Rating)
PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices) are categorized by type. This is based on the intended use of the life jacket and whether or not it meets the standards set by the US Coast Guard. The USCG is the government department that rates life jackets and determines whether or not they are fit for their specific purpose.
There are four wearable types and one throwable type, rated from I through V. But generally, only Types I, II and III will be suitable for children.
A Type I life jacket is the bulkiest of all the types but has the highest level of buoyancy. PFDs of this type are designed to keep you afloat in rough waters and open seas where you may have to wait a while for rescue. A Type I is also designed to turn most people face-up.
Type II life jackets are designed for calmer waters where rescue is close by. They are less bulky than Type I PFDs but can be more suitable for day sailing or fishing. This type should turn some people face-up, but not everyone.
Type III PFDs offer less buoyancy but can be ideal for supervised activities, such as kayaking, canoeing and fishing. These can often come in both inherently buoyant styles and inflatable styles. However, inflatable PFDs are not designed for children.
Most life jackets that are designed for kids will usually be either Type II or Type III.
Materials And Style Types
Children’s life jackets should be inherently buoyant. This means that they should be designed to provide instant flotation because of the materials that are used.
Inflatable PFDs are only approved for use by adults, so these are not suitable for children and won’t meet the requirements laid out by the US Coast Guard.
Inherently buoyant life jackets are usually made out of closed cell foam which holds air within the material, making it lightweight and buoyant. The foam usually makes up the interior of the life vest, with various other fabrics making up the exterior shell.
Often, life jackets are made with nylon, neoprene or a combination of fabrics. Soft, lightweight fabrics can be ideal for adding comfort, especially at the neck or shoulders.
Brightly colored fabrics can also be a good thing to look for, as these can help improve the visibility of the life jacket in rescue situations.
When Should Kids Be Wearing A PFD?
Kids should wear a PFD anytime they are on a moving vessel. This includes kayaks, canoes, rafts and larger boats.
It’s Federal Law for children under the age of 13 to wear a US Coast Guard approved life jacket at all times while on the water, unless they are in an enclosed cabin. The PFD should fit well and be in good condition in order to meet requirements.
However, in some states, the age at which children must wear a PFD can vary.
The law does not apply to inflatable beach toys or paddle boards in a swimming area of a beach, for example. However, it’s recommended that younger children wear a PFD while playing in the water in these settings.
A life jacket should fit snugly. This goes for both adults and children.
A good life jacket will generally have several points of adjustment to allow you to get a more customized fit. For kids, this can include waist or chest straps, as well as shoulder or crotch straps. However, crotch straps tend to be found more on infant life jackets.
Once you’ve determined the weight of your child and have chosen the correct size of PFD for their weight, you should make sure the life jacket fits securely. This can mean tightening up the straps for a comfortable fit and then pulling up on the shoulders to make sure that the vest does not rise above your child’s chin or ears.
Video: How To Fit A Life Jacket (for children)
If the jacket rises up, then you should tighten it further. If it still rises up, then it could be that the life vest is too big and you need to go down a size.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Type Of PFD Is Acceptable For A Child Under 10 Years Of Age?
A Type II or III PFD can be acceptable for a child under 10 years old. Choose one that is made specifically for a child and make sure it’s designed for the specific weight of your child.
Should A Child PFD Fit Loosely?
No, a PFD should fit snugly. It should be tight enough that it doesn’t move around or ride up when worn.
Can Kids Wear Inflatable Life Jackets?
No, it is not recommended for children to wear inflatable PFDs. The USCG does not approve any child size inflatable life jackets.
Are Puddle Jumpers Considered Life Jackets?
No, not usually. But there are some puddle jumpers with built-in life vests that are USCG approved.
How Do I Know The Life Jacket Is Safe?
A US Coast Guard approved life jacket meets the Federal safety regulations for its intended use. A USCG approved PFD is designed to be safe if it fits snugly, doesn’t move while worn and is designed for the weight and/or size of the wearer.
If you’re after a great all-round life jacket for kids, we think the best one is the Onyx Youth Paddle Sports life jacket because of its higher level of adjustability compared to the rest.
This can make for a more comfortable and secure fit, which can lead to improved safety in an emergency.
While the Onyx PFD might be better suited to older kids, we think a great PFD for younger kids is the Stohlquist Kids Life Jacket.
This is because it has the added benefit of the buoyancy pillows which can offer excellent head support for your child when they’re in the water. It also has a grab handle and crotch strap which can be safer for younger kids.
Both of these life jackets are US Coast Guard approved, so they can be perfect for meeting requirements while boating. They are both also designed to be comfortable for kids to wear while they’re enjoying their favorite water sports.
Remember, that any time your kids are on an open deck vessel they should be wearing a USCG approved life jacket. Not only can it help to prevent them from drowning but in most cases it’s the law.