2020 Infant Life Jacket Reviews and Comparisons

According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, quite a few boating areas remain open as long as social distancing is practiced at the ports and in the boats. What that also means is that there are less people around and less personnel at boating areas than general. In that kind of situation, there are potentially less people around in case of an incident. And you want to make sure that your baby is as safe as they can be on your trip.

What Does the U.S. Coast Guard Say?

Let’s start with that, since the USCG will have the most to say if we don’t use infant life jackets. When asked what kind of life jacket is needed for an infant of 7 months, this was their answer.

We recommend a Type II infant PFD for a child of this size.

USCG

Let’s break down the terms.

What is a PFD?

A Personal Flotation Device is basically what the spelled-out acronym suggests. Personal, meaning for an individual; flotation, meaning it helps you float; and device, meaning tool. So it’s a tool to help you float. Or, in this case, a tool to help your baby float.

What is a Type II Personal Flotation Device?

Type II – intended to turn some unconscious persons from a face down position in the water to a position where the wearer’s respiration is not impeded.

USCG Boating

To simplify, a Type II PFD lifts a person’s mouth and nose out of water even if they’re not conscious enough to do it for themselves. The ideal infant life jacket turns the baby over so that you or the infant won’t need to.

Best Infant Life Jackets 2020

 Stearns Infant Classic Series VestAirhead Infant Girl Life JacketStohlquist Toddler Life Jacket Coast Guard Approved Life Vest for InfantsFull Throttle Infant Baby-Safe Vest
 Stearns Infant Classic Series VestAirhead Infant Girl Life JacketStohlquist Toddler Life Jacket Coast Guard Approved Life Vest for InfantsFull Throttle Infant Baby-Safe Vest
Amazon Rating
MSRP$22.98$26.59$48.99$20.24
Lowest Price$22.98Amazon See it$26.59Amazon See it$48.99Amazon See it$20.24Amazon See it
BrandsStearnsAirheadStohlquistFull Throttle
TypesInfantInfantInfantInfant
Model300000446810077-01-C-HP524304104000-105-000-15
Weight0.32 ounces15.5 ounces9.9 ounces
Product Dimensions16.8 x 13 x 3.2 inches17.3 x 11.4 x 2.5 inches20 x 19 x 2 inches0 x 0 x 0 inches
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When should the infant be wearing the life jacket?

We get it, life jackets can be hot or uncomfortable when worn for a long time. This is especially true for infants, who would not understand the discomfort of the device.

According to the USCG, children under 13 years of age (including infants) should be wearing live vests while the boat is moving. The only exceptions are when the child is below deck, or in an enclosed cabin.

However, as in many things, state laws apply. It’s best to check with your own state’s regulations before taking your infant out on a boat ride. You can learn a little more about infant life jackets and boating laws in the U.S. here.

How do I know if I have the right life jacket for my infant?

Even if you have a USCG-approved, Type II PFD infant life jacket, that doesn’t mean it’s the right one for your child. Each brand and style has its own strengths and weaknesses. A more active child might complain at the restriction of a life jacket that suits a less active one. Or, your child might not perfectly fit within the weight or age specifications of the life jacket.

First, test out the life jacket. Give it its first run in a children’s pool. Check three things:

  • The fit of the torso. Can the infant slip out?
  • The fit of the head support. Is it too tight or too loose?
  • The fit of the straps. Do they comfortably lock the infant to the jacket?

Second, test out the Type II feature of the infant life jacket: turning the baby face up. Even if the material is stamped “approved by the USCG,” you don’t want to discover its merits at an actual incident.

A safe way to test the infant life jacket is to hold the baby vertically in the water, feet pointing down and head pointing up. When you let go, the life jacket should immediately tilt the baby face-upwards. If it doesn’t, return it and find one that works for your baby.

The infant life jacket is so bulky. Can I use an inflatable one instead?

Good question. The truth is, you couldn’t use one even if you wanted to. USCG-approved infant life jackets are always inherently buoyant. Let’s break this down.

  • Inherently Buoyant Life Jackets. These life jackets float without the need for manual intervention to make them usable. In other words, if you toss one in the water, it will bob right back up to the surface without help from anyone.
  • Inflatable Life Jackets. These life jackets are best on vessels or carriers that need to preserve space, such as airplanes and boats. They can be folded and stored in small spaces.
  • Hybrid Life Jackets. These life jackets are partly inherently buoyant, partly inflatable. In and of themselves, they should be able to keep a person afloat even if there’s no time to inflate them.

In a boating incident, there is no time for a parent to inflate their infant’s life jacket. The infant is also incapable of inflating their own life jacket. In a worst-case scenario, the parent loses sight of the infant in the incident. Only an inherently buoyant life jacket is dependable in that situation.

Is it possible for my infant’s life jacket to expire?

Yes. This is admittedly one of the challenges of inherently buoyant life jackets. They are made of dense foam packed with innumerable air pockets. Through constant use, age, and alternately soaking and drying, the foam does become brittle.

What are some tests you can run on your infant life jacket?

First, the water-logging test. When you submerge the infant life jacket in water, does it pop out of the water immediately? Does it become heavier, especially around the edges? If it does, it means water is getting into broken air pockets.

Second, the fade test. This one is easy enough. If the material of the infant life vest is fading, that’s a good time to double-check the foam and buoyancy.

Third, the mildew test. If the life jacket discolors, or takes on an odd smell, it might be mildew. Mildew can form when broken air pockets take in water. You’ll see them as whitish, powdery-looking marks on the vest.

Lastly, tug at the straps before and after every use. That way, you test both the foam and the basic straps that keep your baby and the life jacket together.

When should you check your infant life jacket? Once a year should be fine. But while the life jacket is not in use, make sure you keep it somewhere dark and dry.

What are some tips to maintain my infant life jacket?

First, use it as a life jacket and nothing else. Not as a pillow, not as a bathtub toy, not as an armrest or footrest. The air pockets in the foam can take only so much pressure in their lifetime. Adding additional pressure outside of when the baby is using it will only shorted that lifespan.

Second, keep it away from direct sunlight or a dryer. Heat will make the foam brittle, and more likely to break under pressure. Broken foam takes on more water.

Third, if you feel the need to wash the life jacket with detergent, use something mild and soapy with a lot of water. Heavy detergent can also damage the foam. Drip-dry the life jacket somewhere cool, and put it away in a place with little light but some air circulation.

What should my infant life jacket checklist look like?

First, your infant life jacket needs USCG approval. You should see a tag on the life jacket that says U.S.C.G. Approval No. _ _ _ . _ _ _. If it doesn’t, then it has not passed their quality standards. In that case, it shouldn’t pass your standards either.

Second, your infant life jacket needs to have a Type II rating. It should have a neck and head support that automatically turns the baby face-up in the water.

Third, your infant life jacket needs a grab strap. The grab strap allows you to hold your baby close, even in the water. It’s also safer than you holding your baby in your arms, so that the life jacket’s Type II feature can kick in and keep your baby’s face up.

Fourth, your infant life jacket needs a crotch strap. The strap keeps the life vest on your baby, even if they kick or struggle. Make sure it can fit snugly, and won’t be so loose that your baby can slip out.

Fifth, your infant life jacket needs to fit well under the arms and around the torso. When you lift the life jacket (with the baby) by the shoulders, the baby should come up with it easily. If the vest slips up to their chin or slides on their body, it’s not a good fit.

Lastly, your infant life jacket needs to be a bright color, easy to see against water or a natural shoreline. If, in the worst-case scenario, you get separated from your baby, you want to find them at once. Blue might look good against a boating background, but it’s harder to spot after an incident.

Best Infant Life Jacket Reviews 2020

Stearns Infant Classic Series Vest – 4.3 / 5.0 stars

This infant life jacket meets our checklist! It is USCG-approved, Type II, and inherently buoyant. The Stearns life jacket has a grab strap near the head, and an adjustable crotch strap. It zips up in the front, and buckles around the torso, for better fit.

With bright red outer fabric, the life jacket is also easy to see in any incident. It also has a high collar and thick head-pillow to keep the infant’s head out of the water.

Full Throttle Infant Baby-Safe Vest – 4.4 / 5.0 stars

This infant life jacket fits our checklist! It comes in multiple bright patterns and colors, is a USCG-approved, Type II, inherently buoyant life jacket, and fits infants less than 30 lbs. There’s a grab strap, a torso strap, and an adjustable collar strap.

There is no crotch strap, but that’s because it’s a wrap-around and it holds your baby in the life jacket. It’s a good choice, and it survived from our 2018 list until now, so it has credibility.

Stohlquist Coast Guard Approved Life Vest for Infants – 4.5 / 5.0 stars

This infant life jacket meets our checklist, and it’s also on our 2018 checklist. It’s a USCG-approved, Type II, inherently buoyant life jacket. There is a grab strap near the head, and an adjustable crotch strap. The head pillow is a double-layer, propping the infant’s head up even more efficiently.

You can find the life jacket in two bright colors: yellow and red. Make sure you pick the infant size (it comes in “child” and “infant” sizes), which fits children under 30 lbs. It zips up at the front and has an adjustable strap around the torso.

Airhead WICKED Kwik-Dry Neolite Flex Life Vest – 4.9 / 5.0 stars

The Airhead WICKED infant life vest is an outlier, but it fits our life jacket checklist with pretty good reviews. It’s USCG-approved, Type II, inherently buoyant, and extremely bright (pink). It has a grab strap and crotch strap, and a large head-pillow.

It fits children under 30 lbs., zips up in front, and can be tightened around the torso. Make sure you get the “infant” size when picking your item, or you might get one too big for your child.