Infant Life Jacket Reviews and Comparisons

Infant Life Jacket: Accessory or Necessity?

Life jackets for kids might be seen as the comfort objects of the paranoid and aquaphobic, something worn more for style, since they fit the boating scene. Many life jackets are so nicely made, they could become a style of their own. However, they are not simply accessories. These life jackets can and do save lives, which is why they should be chosen carefully.

According to the 2014 research and statistics gathered by the United States Coast Guard (USCG), of the boating fatalities, 78% deaths were by drowning. Of those who died by drowning, 84% had no life jackets on. Of the children under 13 who died in boating accidents, 58% of them drowned. Of those, 43% had no life jackets on. From 2005 to 2009, 20% of the children’s deaths were caused by drowning.

The scariest thing about boating accidents is that they do not usually happen at the height of a storm, like in the movies. No sane parents would bring their infant children boating in such conditions. The most boating accidents occur when a boat is drifting, rowing, or simply cruising.  They happen on ideal boating days: calm waves than 6 inches high, in full daylight, good visibility, with water temperature between 70 to 79 degrees.

 Stohlquist Unisex Infant/Toddler Nemo Infant Life JacketStearns Infant Classic Boating VestO'Neill Wake Waterski Infant USCG Vest
 Stohlquist Unisex Infant/Toddler Nemo Infant Life JacketStearns Infant Classic Boating VestO’Neill Wake Waterski Infant USCG Vest
Amazon Rating
MSRP$49.95$21.99$30.95
Lowest Price$49.95Amazon See it$21.99Amazon See it$30.95Amazon See it
BrandsStohlquistStearnsO'Neill Wetsuits
TypesInfantInfantInfant
ModelNemo InfantSICBV2053
Weight2.31 pounds0.6 pounds1 pounds
Product Dimensions20 x 16 x 5 inches14.5 x 2 x 20 inches0.11 x 1 x 1 inches
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This idyllic setting can be terribly misleading. Boaters prefer to leave their kids’ life jackets off, to feel the wind and the sun properly. The waves are calm, the sun is out–what could go wrong? What, indeed. Boats do not only capsize dramatically in full-force storms, they collide with rocks, with each other, with docks and swimming people.

An engine that fails at the wrong time might cause loss of control and an collision. It takes a split second for a child near the railing to fall over it when the boat stops suddenly. No matter how near a baby’s life jacket is, it is better to assume that there is no time at all for parents to dress him or her for an accident.

Life jackets do not only safeguard the child against drowning, they also serve as extra padding, protecting the child’s torso and neck. They keep the child upright even in shallow water, if the clothes become too waterlogged for him or her to move properly. They even lessen the initial shock of the water temperature on the vitals, which may slightly lessen the risk of hypothermia. The multi-purpose function of toddler life jackets in times of accidents makes them so much more than just accessories.

When Does An Infant Life Jacket Work Best?

First, an infant life jacket works best when it is on the baby. Any time the infant is above deck or outside an enclosed cabin, he or she should be strapped into the life jacket. In that way, whatever happens, even if the parents and children become separated, the toddler has a higher chance of safety and survival in case of an accident.

Second, an infant life jacket is not an automatic guarantee of safety. Even if the child is wearing the life jacket at all times, it is the responsibility of the parents to supervise the child as if he was wearing none. Even with the best gear, accidents and problems occur that might only be caught with the parents’ close supervision.

Federal And State Regulations On Infant Life Jackets

Thankfully, the USCG committed to developing a distinct set of guidelines and standards for different types of life jackets, even kids’ life jackets. Any infant life vest should be marked “approved by the USCG.”

In addition, the requirement to wear life jackets differs per state. However, the basic Federal guideline states that all children under 13 should wear life jackets for kids while the boat is on the move. It only applies in cases where there is no state law that covers toddler life jacket regulations. Some states lower the required age to 8; others raise it to 16, and still others require life jackets to be worn by passengers of all ages.

The requirements per state can easily be checked with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, under the drop-down Life Jackets menu. The Federal regulations only allow children to take off their life vests below deck or in an enclosed cabin, in case of no provision by state law.

Types of Infant Life Jackets

There are several Types of life jackets designated by the Coast Guard, each Type designed for a different purpose. The first, Type I, is also called an Offshore Lifejacket. These life jackets are designed for circumstances when the person is not near enough to shore to swim to it, and anticipates that help will take some time in coming. The Type I life jacket has 22 lbs of buoyancy, almost double the 7-12 extra lbs needed to keep a person afloat. This is because most Type I jackets will flip a person over on his back, or keep his head high and clear of the water. The assumption is that the person may be unconscious.

The second kind, the Type II life jacket, is what the USCG calls a “near shore buoyant vest.” Basically, it’s a life vest designed for calm waters, possibly near enough to shore that the person can swim to it, with chance of a quick rescue. These are the life jackets most in use, especially for boating. They have less buoyancy but still more than enough, at 15.5 lbs. They are not always designed to flip a person over, but at that buoyancy they keep a person’s head out of water.

The last kind, the Type III life jacket, is called a “flotation aid.” It should ideally only be used for toddlers and children who already know how to swim, or at least the rudiments of keeping themselves above water. They are often full vests, but some are simply arm-and-chest floats. Because Type III jackets are designed for beginning swimmers and circumstances where there is constant supervision and less chance of accidents (the village pool, for example), they are not designed to flip unconscious swimmers over, and do not have head supports.

The life jacket should be chosen for the situation, but most buy and use the Type II, since it is the best infant and toddler life jacket for general use. Type I and III life jackets are usually used for older children.

What Style of Life Jackets Is Best For Infants?

There are three styles of life jackets: inherently buoyant, inflatable, and hybrid. Infant life jackets should only be made of inherently buoyant material, and not of inflatable or hybrid material. The inherently buoyant life jacket is made of polyvinyl chloride and polyethylene foams, made so that trapped air bubbles in the foam provide the needed buoyancy. These are best for infant life jackets because they do not need to be inflated, manually or otherwise, to work. They also provide the best support for infants.

Inflatable and hybrid jackets can inflate upon submersion, or be manually inflated. Infants would not be able to manually inflate their own jackets in case the instant inflation fails, and they are less sturdy. Only stronger swimmers should be allowed to wear inflatable and hybrid jackets, but never toddlers and infants.

Checklist For Infant Life Jackets

Now, how to choose the right kind of infant life jacket? The Types have been laid out, only the inherently buoyant vest can be used for toddlers and very small children. What else is required for the best infant life jacket?

First and foremost, make sure there is a seal of USCG approval on the jacket. It usually starts, “U.S. Coast Guard Approval No.” and the first six numbers name the regulation code. If the life jacket has that, the life jacket has been USCG-approved.

Second, look for a flotation collar, sometimes called a head pillow. Since infants cannot hold their heads up very well for long periods of time, the flotation collar does that for them. It is like a long, standing up collar that supports the head and neck. A life jacket without this is dangerous for the baby. A grab loop on the collar is also a must, so you can quickly and easily lift the baby out of the water.

Third, look for a crotch strap, that goes vertically between the baby’s legs to clip to the vest. It secures the life jacket to the baby, making it less likely to loosen even if he falls into the water. If the jacket happens to be too loose or for some reason unbuckled around the chest, the crotch strap prevents the vest from being pulled off the child.

Fourth, look for an infant life jacket that is brightly colored, either red, yellow, or neon anything else. Life jackets for kids come in more stylish blues, but they blend in more with the water and make the child harder to find. Every second counts when it comes to survival, so pass up style for visibility.

Last, and the most important thing, make sure that the life jacket fits the baby snugly. A buoyant second skin is no good if the baby is rattling around inside of it. It is suggested to not bring a baby anywhere he might need a life vest until he is at least 6 months old, and 16 lbs heavy. This is also so that the life jackets have a better chance of fitting the baby.

An infant life jacket is designed for babies 30 pounds and below. It should fit well enough to the shoulders and body that the vest does not touch the baby’s chin or ears when they raise their arms vertically above their heads. If you lift the vest by the shoulders, the baby should come up with it. Anything else is unsafe, and will be uncomfortable if the baby hits the water.

Infant Life Jacket Care And Safety

To make sure that the baby is always safe, the life jacket should be checked regularly, at least once a year. Inherently buoyant life jackets wear out as constant use and age weaken the foam, causing it to become brittle. Broken foam means that some of the trapped air is released, and the jacket will lose buoyancy. The signs of wearing are: waterlogging, when the foam becomes heavier from water in the air cells; fading, a sign of age and use; and mildew, pointing to constant damp from possibly broken air cells.

To prolong the life jacket’s health, proper care should be taken of it. Before and after every use, go over the life jacket to check for signs of wearing. Yanking on the straps and testing the seams should not harm the product, since it should be able to withstand impact with water. (Don’t hook it up to two cars and drive in opposite directions–that’s just overkill).

The life jacket should not be used as anything but a life jacket. Using it as a pillow, foot rest, armrest, and so forth will only put more stress on the trapped air bubbles, and shorten the jacket’s life. The life jacket should also not be left in direct sunlight when it is not in use. The heat will make the foam more brittle. Drying it with a dryer, and using heavy detergents, will also weaken the foam.

Drip-dry the life jacket, to make sure the damp and wet escapes without damaging the foam. It should be stored in a cool, dry place, with enough air circulation so that it does not dry out. The storage place should be dark, away from direct sunlight. This makes sure that the life jacket is always in prime condition to be used.

Best Infant Life Jacket Reviews

Stearns Infant Classic Life Vest – 4.3 / 5 stars

This infant life jacket meets the checklist. They are marked USCG approved for infants below 30 lbs, have a large flotation collar that extends past the baby’s head (really like a pillow), and has a grab loop for extra safety. It has a crotch strap, and comes in red and orange.

The life jacket’s sides are open, so the baby can move his arms comfortably, but the zip-up jacket ensures that it will be snug. The only challenges are the stiff foam pieces in the vest, which some babies may find uncomfortable, and the fact that babies can only lie face-up when they are in water. It is more a safety vest than a flotation aid, so even if the baby wants to, he cannot go upright to play.

Stohlquist Unisex Infant Life Vest – 4.5 / 5 stars

Like the Stearns life jacket, the Stohlquist Unisex Infant Life Vest meets all the criteria of our checklist for infant life vests. It is USCG-approved for infants under 30 lbs, and has a flotation collar to lift the baby’s head of the water. The flotation collar has one large pillow extending past the baby’s head, and another, smaller layer that gives added support to the head.

The Stolhquist’s sides are wide open and curved, so the baby has even more room to wave its arms in, and can be snugly zipped up. Its grab loop is kept open and easy to hold by flotation beads, which helps rescuers quickly pull the baby out of harm’s way. It comes in red with yellow straps and yellow with blue straps, the contrast making it easier to see. The design does not allow the infant to do anything but float, which some parents might protest as well.

O’Neill Wake Waterski Infant USCG Vest – 4.3 / 5 stars

The O’Neill Wake Waterski life jacket is much bulkier and chunkier in design than either the Stearns or the Stohlquist. This may cause discomfort for the baby–and for the parent holding the baby–as long as he or she is out of water. However, it is tried and tested to flip babies on their backs if they land face-down in the water.

However, it does fulfill the checklist: it is USCG approved, has a high flotation collar, a grab loop, a crotch strap, and can be zipped up tightly. Its brightest colors are yellow and pink, although the pink might still be too dull if the idea is visibility.

Full Throttle Infant Baby-Safe Vest – 4.1 / 5 stars

The Full Throttle life jacket is completely backless, so that the large flotation device on the baby’s chest will keep him flat on his back. because the design only has straps attaching the life jacket to the baby, it fits practically any size, especially newborn babies.

The Full Throttle is USCG approved, has a flotation collar adjustable by a side buckle, has a grab loop, a wide elastic crotch strap, and fits snugly. It comes in orange and pink, although neither are particularly bright. Many reviews complain that the bulkiness makes it hard for them to hold their infants, which is also dangerous in boating excursions.