Choose the best Coast Guard approved toddler life jackets to keep young kids safe near the water or on a boat

Toddler life jackets should be worn
while boating or on the water.

Hands down, the best way to keep toddlers and young kids safe on the water is to always use a life jacket. Hopefully parents have already started reinforcing water safety at an early age by using an infant life jacket for their baby, but its even more important as a toddler gains independence.

All too often I see toddlers walking down a boat dock with no life jacket. It is scary to see because a busy toddler could easily wander off the edge of a dock, or lean over the edge of a boat unexpectedly. Although some toddlers may already be learning basic swimming moves, they are unlikely to be able to keep their head above the water if they fall into deep water. Its an even scarier thought with murky river or bay water.

Toddler life jackets should be worn as a precaution anytime a toddler is near water or on a boat to ensure safety and piece of mind.

Choosing Coast Guard Approved Life Jackets for Toddlers

Whether you are a boater with a toddler, a parent of a toddler visiting a boat or going somewhere on the water, be sure to choose a life jacket that is Coast Guard approved and appropriate for your child’s age and weight.

The U.S. Coast Guard has established guidelines for children’s life jackets that apply to infant life jackets and toddler life jackets.

Children’s life jackets should be purchased based on weight. They should fit snug and have a strap that goes between the legs and buckles to the vest to keep the life jacket from riding up.

Depending on the weight of your toddler, you may need an infant/child life jacket for less than 30 lbs, or you may be able to use a child life jacket for 30-50 lbs.

Coast Guard approved life jackets should also read:

“Approved for use on recreational boats and uninspected commercial vessels not carrying passengers for hire, by persons weighing __ lbs”.

Children’s life jackets are typically marked “less than 30lbs” (for infants or toddlers), “30 to 50 lbs” (for toddlers or children), “less than 50” (for younger children), or “50 to 90” (for older kids).

Life Jacket Age Requirments and Laws

Age requirements for children to wear life jackets varies by state. Check your local state department of natural resources for specific life jacket requirements. For example, Maryland boating laws and regulations require all children under the age of 13 in a boat less than 21 feet in length to wear a life jacket.

Also, any child under the age of 4 must wear a infant, toddler or child life jacket with the following features:

  • hold the child securely within the PFD, including a strap that is secured between the child’s legs to fasten together the front and back of the PFD;
  • maintain the buoyancy of the child, including an inflatable headrest or high collar; or
  • ensure the ready accessibility of the child from the vessel, including a web handle.

Personally, I think a toddler should wear a life jacket while a boat is cruising regardless of the size of the boat. Young kids should also wear a life jacket while cruising – whether on a sailboat, bow rider, water taxi or 40 foot cabin cruiser. Because kids are so lightweight they can pop out of a moving boat too easily when you hit a wake.

I also like that the style with a heads-up cushion includes a strap on it (for pulling a toddler out of the water). The strap is handy to hold onto as your wandering toddler walks down the dock. Almost seems like a dog leash – but it works!
Toddler Puddle Jumper Life Jackets – Better Choice for Swimming

Stearns Kids Puddle Jumper Basic Life Jacket, GreenI am the biggest fan of toddler puddle jumper jackets for helping kids gain independence when learning how to swim. You can read my review of Stearns puddle jumper jackets and how great they are for toddlers or young kids learning how to swim. Even though puddle jumpers are Coast Guard approved life jackets, I think a regular life jacket should be worn when boating. With only one strap around the chest the puddle jumper can slip down a toddler too easily when out of the water. A life jacket with buckles and a strap between the legs seems more secure while a boat is underway.

You can never underestimate the importance of safety with infants, toddlers and kids on a boat or on the water!

Check out my Boater Life Boat Shop for more toddler life jacket options.

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Diane Seltzer

Founder & Editor at My Boat Life
Diane is the founder of MyBoatLife.com as well as the boating lifestyle site for kids BoaterKids.com. She is also active in the boating industry, serving as the marketing director for a marine sunshade product, SureShade, and founder of Marine Marketing Tools, a collaborative site for sharing marine marketing best practices. Diane is also the author of the children's book The Amazing Adventures of Boat Girl.

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