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Life Jacket vs Puddle Jumper vs Swim Vest: Kids Paddling Safety

Mark Armstrong
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Trying to keep your kids safe around water can be difficult when there are so many water accessories around.

We thought we’d put some information together to give you a better idea of what the difference is between a life jacket, a puddle jumper and a swim vest, so you can decide what the best option might be for your kids.

The difference between a life jacket, a puddle jumper and a swim vest is that a swim vest is a swimming aid and not a life saving device. The life jacket and puddle jumper are designed to provide buoyancy and can often be approved by the US Coast Guard to meet boating regulations.

Life Jacket vs Puddle Jumper vs Swim Vest - Kids Paddling Safety - PinterestPin

​Definition Of A Puddle Jumper

A puddle jumper is a type of flotation device for kids that in some cases can be considered a Type III PFD, as long as that specific puddle jumper has been approved by the US Coast Guard (USCG).

It is generally an upgrade from water wings or floaties because it has the additional benefit of the vest that secures around your child’s chest for additional flotation.

This means that your child can’t take it off or even pull the water water wings off, as it’s all attached. They are designed to allow children to swim while wearing them, but they are not designed to turn your child face up in the water.

​When Kids Should Use Puddle Jumpers

Puddle jumpers can be ideal for your kids to wear at the pool where they are likely to be supervised. They can be great for kids playing in the water and can allow them to get comfortable with basic swimming techniques.

They are usually designed for kids weighing between 30 and 50 pound who may already have some basic swimming skills or know how to keep their heads afloat.

If you choose a USCG approved puddle jumper this can meet boating regulations for your child to wear on deck but it may not offer as many safety features as a standard life jacket.

​Definition Of A Life Jacket

Tandem Kayaking Canoeing With Life JacketsPin

A life jacket is a personal flotation device (PFD) that is designed to provide buoyancy in the water. For kids, these are usually Type II or Type III PFDs if they are approved by the US Coast Guard.

They come in infant, child and youth sizes to fit all ages of children and they are usually sized by weight.

Infant life jackets and some child life jackets will often have crotch straps so that the life jacket can stay in place and not ride up above your child’s face. They will also often have head support pillows that can provide additional buoyancy for your child’s head and help them to face upwards in the water.

However, not all life jackets for kids are designed to force a face-up flotation but a Type II PFD is built to turn some wearers face up.

> What about Type IV?

​When Kids Should Use Life Jackets

Kids should wear life jackets when they are enjoying water activities, such as kayaking or boating. It’s the law in the United States that all children must wear a US Coast Guard approved life jacket when on the open deck of a moving vessel.

Life jackets can also be worn by kids for extra safety when they’re at the beach, the pool or a water park.

​Definition Of A Swim Vest

A swim vest is generally designed for kids learning to swim. It provides less buoyancy than both a life jacket and a puddle jumper, as it is a swimming aid and not a life saving device.

Swim vests are designed to work with your child and help to encourage a suitable swimming position. They are not designed to keep your child afloat. Your child will still be able to swim underwater while wearing a swim vest.

Swim vests can be a step up from puddle jumpers, as they can give your child more freedom to move their arms, so that they can improve their swimming techniques in a more natural way.

​Video: How To​ ​Guide: Swim Jacket

​When Kids Should Use Swim Vests

Swim vests can be great for kids who are learning to swim. However, because they don’t provide adequate buoyancy to keep your child afloat, they can be more suitable for kids who already have a basic understanding of swimming techniques and know how to tread water, for example.

A swim vest can be ideal for use at a swimming pool or the beach, if your child already knows how to swim. Some swim vests may also offer UV protection, which can be useful for a day at the beach or outdoor pool.

Swim vests should be used as a swimming aid only. They are not approved by the US Coast Guard for boating and they are not PFDs.

​In Conclusion: Which Is Best To Use?

Whether your child wears a life jacket, puddle jumper or a swim vest will usually be down to your child’s swimming skills and the type of activity they will be doing.

In our opinion, if your child will be boating, a life jacket can be the best option. Puddle jumpers can be great for kids splashing around at the pool, and a swim vest can be ideal for kids who are learning to swim without floaties.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so leave us a comment. And remember to share this to help other parents find the most suitable water safety accessories for their kids.

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