Infant Lifejackets
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Best Infant Life Jackets for Camping or Boating

Our family loves the water, from camping near rivers, swimming in lakes to boating and beyond. When our son was a baby, it was important to us to find an infant life jacket that fit well and stayed secure throughout water activities.

Finding the best infant life jackets can feel a bit overwhelming. There are so many variables to consider, including safety features, and whether it is US Coast Guard approved. 

STEARNS Infant Classic Life Vest
  • US Coast Guard-approved
  • Great for introducing little swimmers to the water
  • Durable nylon shell with PE flotation foam
  • Leg strap and grab handle for extra safety and security


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Here, I’ll discuss the use of a baby life jacket, what features to look for, and include a few of the best infant life jackets to try. 

Why Use a Life Jacket?

Life jackets are a safety device used to keep you afloat in the water. They’re especially crucial for campers planning to swim or boat. As a parent, finding the best baby life jacket is important to protect your young camper/swimmer. 

Natural bodies of water are unpredictable. According to the National Park Service, the top cause of death in national parks is drowning—something preventable with a life vest or personal flotation devices (PFDs). 

Even the calmest lake might:

  • Be shockingly cold
  • Include deep drop offs
  • Host underwater hazards not visible from the surface

PFDs are also legally required for certain activities, and helpful for others. 

Boating

In the United States, children’s and infant life jacket laws for boating vary by state. Here in Minnesota for example, children under the age of 10 are required to wear a US Coast Guard approved life vest on any boat. The only exception to this rule is if the children are:

  • Below deck
  • Aboard a passenger vessel (with a licensed captain)
  • Swimming from a boat that is anchored

You can check the life jacket requirements for your state, here

Child in a lifejacket on a boat

When no rule for children’s life jackets is implemented by a state, the U.S. Coast Guard has an interim rule. This rule requires all children under 13 who are on a moving boat to wear a lifejacket/PFD. 

I think everyone on a boat should wear life jackets, as you’re not going to be much help to your child if you’re struggling to keep your own head above water.

Learning to Like the Water

Life jackets serve multiple purposes. One is making young swimmers feel safe in the water. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children begin learning to swim at age one. 

Finding the best infant life jacket removes some of the stress involved in early swimming experiences. We tried to have our son in the water without a life jacket on as often as possible but if your baby is super squirmy then having them wear an infant life jacket makes the most sense.

The same way you’d use small camping toys to get your child more used to camping, start using the lifejacket before you go camping.

What to look for:

There are many things to factor in when shopping for a baby life jackets. Everything from size to activity type matters in how well the life jacket will fit and function. 

Some of the things I look for when shopping for the best infant life jacket includes:

  • US Coast Guard Approved
  • Weight limit
  • Type

US Coast Guard Approved

The U.S. Coast Guard set the standards for life jacket safety in America. You can tell that your life jacket has been approved by the coast guard seal on its label.

There’s plenty of information on a life jacket label, be sure to read it all carefully. 

Weight limit

The best infant life jackets are designed with tiny swimmers, or non-swimmers, in mind. Life jacket weight limits ensure the life jacket will support your child in the water when they’re unable to support themselves. 

Standard life jacket weight guides follow the structure of:

  • Infant: Under 33lbs
  • Child: 34lbs to 55lbs
  • Youth 56lbs to 88lbs
  • Adult: Over 88lbs

Fit is also important to factor into your decision. When trying a life jacket on your child, follow these steps:

  1. Loosen all straps
  2. Place life jacket on the child
  3. Tighten straps at rib cage
  4. Tighten additional straps with shoulder straps going last
  5. Tug shoulder straps up gently to see if life jacket rides up over child’s face
  6. Readjust as needed so life jacket doesn’t slide up 

The life vest should not touch your baby’s chin. If it does, readjust or possibly get a different brand.

I recommend always going by weight and fit, rather than a general age range when choosing a life jacket. You want a snug fit, but without restricting movement as much as possible.

Correct Type for Activity

Life jackets are organized by weight and type. Type indicates the kind of activity the life jacket is best suited for in terms of buoyancy. Buoyancy is the amount of force needed to pull a child’s head above water. It’s measured by pounds.

Lucky for us, humans are made primarily of water. Our density is so close to that of water, we only need about 12lbs of extra buoyancy to float. Unless, of course, we’re in rough water where it’s more difficult to stay afloat or swim. This is where life jacket type gets important. 

Here is a run down of the types to watch for:

  • Type I: Type I has the highest inherent buoyancy required. This jacket will turn an unconscious face-down swimmer onto their back.
  • Type II: A Type II life jacket has enough buoyancy to lift an unconscious face-down swimmer’s head from the water, so they can breathe.
  • Type III: Type III life jackets aren’t designed to support an unconscious swimmer. This makes them less effective in an emergency situation because they will allow you to float in a face down position.
  • Type IV: This device isn’t a life jacket at all, but a throwable floatation device. It can be tossed to a conscious person in the water who needs assistance. 
  • Type V: A type V life jacket is designed for special activities. It might be used for kayaking, canoeing, or white water rafting. Sometimes type V vests are inflatable. 

The best infant life jackets usually fall into the type II category. It offers enough buoyancy to lift a child’s head above water, but won’t accidentally flip them back onto their face like a level III might.

Safety Features

Modern life jackets come with plenty of bells and whistles. But instead of cute patterns and the smallest amount of padding you’ll want to pay attention to actual safety features. Life vests are life saving devices, not fashion choices.

Young swimmers do often require additional life jacket features so parents can easily reach out and help as needed. 

Some of the features our family looks for in infant life jackets include:

Grab Handle

This is a durable nylon strap attached to the top of the infant life vest or neck support of the life jacket. It lets adult supervisors or lifeguards easily reach a young swimmer in trouble and pull them to safety on their backs. 

I’ve used the convenient grab handle on both my son and my nephew when they accidentally fell into a pool or lake when they weren’t intending to.

Crotch Strap

Crotch straps are designed with two functions in mind. The first is to keep the life jacket from riding up. The second is to keep a small child from sliding out the bottom. If a life jacket fits properly, neither of these things should happen, but that strap helps reinforce it.

When you fit your child for a life jacket, make sure all the straps tighten properly. It should fit snugly enough to keep your baby in the jacket, but not so snug that it hurts or feels uncomfortable. 

Head Support

The head support on an infant life jacket adds an extra layer of buoyancy at the neck and head. This ensures a young swimmer’s face remains above the water. It also supports the child’s neck if the grab handle is used.

Be aware that more head and neck support is not always better. Having too much padding or buoyancy behind a swimmer’s head will push their had forward in the water and may keep their face in the water.

Best Infant Life Jackets

An infant life jacket can save lives and keep parents sane. It took our family plenty of tries to find the right fit and style for our son.

No two kids are exactly alike, and what works for some might not work for others. The best life jackets are the ones you remember to pack and your kids will actually wear.

Are you looking for the best infant life jacket for an upcoming boat trip, or trying to get your little one used to the water? Here are some of my top recommendations for best infant life jackets.

Every infant life jacket we suggest is US Coast Guard Approved. 

Stearns Classic Series Infant Life Jacket

STEARNS Infant Classic Life Vest
  • US Coast Guard-approved
  • Great for introducing little swimmers to the water
  • Durable nylon shell with PE flotation foam
  • Leg strap and grab handle for extra safety and security


Amazon Walmart

This awesome baby life jacket is designed for children under 30lbs. It’s simple and affordable, and includes all the additional features I look for in an infant life jacket.

This life vest will encourage face up flotation.

Coleman is one of the top brands for camping and outdoor equipment, and I have plenty of their products amongst our gear. Stearns has always been a top-rated life vest company and in 2008 they joined the Coleman family.

Pros: The red color keeps your child easily visible in the water. Grab strap, crotch strap, and head support. 

Cons: Some reviewers suggest the material isn’t as durable as other fabrics. 

Weight Limit: Under 30lbs

Color: Red

Material: Nylon, webbing, and flotation foam

Bass Pro Shops Traditional Recreational Life Jacket for Babies

Bass Pro Shops Life Jacket for Babies
  • 200-denier nylon Oxford shell
  • Large armholes
  • Leg strap
  • Grab strap
  • Zip front


Cabela's

This Bass Pro Shops infant life jacket comes in aqua and blue colors. It has a weight limit of under 30lbs, and is designed with extra-large armholes to keep the baby comfortable.

I like the simplicity of this life vest. It’s not made for novelty or character branding, just safety. The front zip is combined with a quick release buckle to get your child in and out quickly. It’s also available in adult sizes, so you can match your little swimmer. 

Pros: Durable shell. Large armholes. Quick release buckles. Grab strap, between the legs strap, and head support. 

Cons: The blue color might not be as easily recognizable in the water as red or yellow.

Weight Limit: Under 30lbs

Color: Aqua, Blue

Material: 200-denier durable nylon shell and flotation foam

Oceans 7 Infant Life Jacket

Oceans 7 Infant Life Jacket
$36.99 $34.35
  • Open-side design: PFD has 3 adjustable straps and an open-sided design for a comfortable fit; new chest straps lengthened for maximum size and fit range
  • Universal use: Durable Nylon construction and thick EPE floatation foam makes this PFD great as a swimming life jacket, or for general boating activities


Amazon
01/20/2023 06:30 am GMT

This sweet little jacket is cute and functional. It’s available in pink berry and blue white colors, as well as larger child sizes. The infant jacket has a weight limit of 8lbs to 30 lbs and is a type II, U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD. 

I really love the additional closures on this jacket to keep small swimmers safe and contained. It includes two quick release front closures and a crotch strap. 

Pros: Crotch strap, grab strap, and neck support. Three adjustable straps. Reviewers appreciate the deep V-neck at the front for comfort.

Cons: Some reviewers found these infant life jackets are best suited to infants 25lbs to 30lbs, as it fits too loose on smaller babies. 

Weight Limit: 8lbs to 30lbs

Color: Pink/Berry and Blue/White

Material: Nylon and EPE flotation foam

Full Throttle Infant Baby-Safe Vest

Full Throttle Infant Life Jacket
$39.99 $26.82
  • Oversized collar for improved head support
  • Convenient buckle opening at collar makes it easy to put on
  • Elasticized fabric leg strap for added comfort
  • Convenient grab strap for easy recovery
  • Fits infants less than 30 lbs.
Amazon
01/20/2023 06:40 am GMT

The unique design of this vest is ergonomic to baby’s shape. I’m a big fan of the fabric leg strap rather than the nylon crotch strap on most infant life jackets. A front and shoulder buckle make the jacket easy to get on and off, while keeping the baby secure in the water. 

This is a fun looking life vest, but it’s also functional. It includes the U.S. Coast Guard approval and is available in pink or orange colors. 

Pros: Oversized head support to maintain upright position in water. Grab handle and comfort fabric leg strap. Ergonomic shape. 

Cons: Some reviewers found this jacket to be especially bulky. Can’t change a poopy diaper without taking the jacket all the way off.

Weight Limit: Under 30lbs

Color: Pink and Orange

Material: Nylon outer shell, elasticized leg strap, poly-twill liner, and flotation foam

O’Neill Infant Superlite USCG Life Vest

O'Neill Infant Superlite Life Vest
$40.60
  • Minimal bulk design allows full mobility and easy on and off.
  • Anatomically cut lightweight polyethylene foam flotation with durable coated polyester outer shell makes the vest strong yet soft and comfortable.
  • Heavy-duty 1 inch wide webbing belts with quick release buckles allow for an adjustable fit and easy fastening


Amazon
01/20/2023 07:00 am GMT

O’Neill is a well-known American surf wear brand. This infant life vest is a type II for activity. It comes in blue, yellow, and black or pink, aqua, and lime colors. 

I love the sturdiness and high quality of O’Neill life jackets. This one is designed for minimum bulkiness on your child, making it a comfortable fit. It includes three 1” webbing belts and a front zip to keep your baby safely inside. 

Pros: Includes grab handle, crotch strap, and head support. Minimal design with V-neck for less bulk on the baby. 

Cons: It’s described as fitting children 0lbs to 30lbs, but fits small. Max chest size is 24″

Weight Limit: Under 30lbs

Color: Blue, yellow, and black or pink, aqua, and lime

Material: Coated polyester outer shell, polyethylene foam, and webbed belts.

When to NOT use a Life Jacket

While life vests are required for many water activities, there are a few where you should leave the jacket at home. 

Swimming Lessons

Life jackets are designed to pull children into an upright position with their head above water. This is good if they fall into the water unexpectedly and need to right themselves.

It’s not helpful for a child learning to swim, because it teaches them to go vertical in the water. Swimming lessons are all about learning to move yourself around in the water and if you have a life vest on, that’s going to be doing most of the work.

Introduction to the Water

Babies and young kids need to get used to the feeling of the water and learning to float. If a child has always has a life vest on whenever they’re in the water, they won’t understand that they don’t naturally float and may be over confident around water and get into trouble.

Mother holding infant in a pool without a lifejacket

If you’re just playing around in a pool then your child should be in your arms and not strapped into a baby life jacket. Most life jackets restrict movement to some degree and you want your baby to feel free and at ease in the water.

Safety Precautions

A life jacket is a safety device, which includes its own set of safety guidelines. A few things to remember even with the best infant life jackets in use include:

Keep it On

The life jacket won’t work if it’s not on. It feels natural to take it off once they come out of the water. It’s best to keep the life jacket on if a child is near accessible water, even if swimming isn’t planned.

Young kids can quickly go from sitting next to you eating a snack to toddling over to 6 feet of water and stepping in. It happens in seconds, keep the jacket on.

It might look uncomfortable at first, but my little guy had no trouble building sand castles with his life jacket on. The more they wear it, the more comfortable they get with the concept. It gives you peace of mind and lets everyone enjoy the water activity. 

It’s tempting to skip the jacket if you’re just going for a quick night swim before heading to bed, but get your child used to wearing it every time unless they’re going to be in your arms the entire time.

Keep it Strapped Up

If your child is around water their life vest needs to be strapped up. They can easily come off if your child decides to suddenly jump into deep water.

I get it, if you’re near the water, it’s likely a hot day and you’ll be trying to keep everyone cool. I suggest going for a quick swim to cool off instead of unbuckling the life jacket.

The straps are often long and you don’t want one to get wrapped around your baby’s neck while they’re playing on the beach, so always buckle it up.

Constant Adult Supervision

NEVER us a life vest in place of direct adult supervision. If your baby is going to be in the water, an adult needs to be within arm’s reach of them at all times.

Momma Critter’s first job was lifeguarding, so she has a zero tolerance policy about unsupervised kids around pools and water. You should too, because drowning is fast and silent.

According to the CDC, drowning is the number one cause of death in children under the age of four. Constant adult supervision keeps your little one safe.

No Inflatables

Inflatable flotation devices aren’t safe for infants. There’s always a possibility that the inflatable device will pop, or leak. Inflatable water wings, and other swimming devices, also might slip off, leaving an infant vulnerable.

Inflatables are made with non-breathable materials which could cause suffocation. They’re not recommended for weak swimmers, or non-swimmers.

Generally, they’re meant for adults, or older kids, who already know how to swim but want a boost in the water. 

No Puddle Jumpers

Puddle Jumpers are a brand that has become a description of a Type II jacket that is not safe for infants. It’s the style with a belt and arm floaties and they are way too big and not configured correctly for small children who can’t right themselves in the water.

Toddler wearing a puddlejumper PFD
Good for Toddlers, not Infants

This type of PFD has no support for your baby’s head and there are other life jackets much better suited for infants.

We had one for my son when he was a toddler and he LOVED it, but they just aren’t safe for an infant.

How to Get your Child to Wear Their Life Jacket

I hear it all the time “Yeah, they should have a life vest on, but they just HATE it!” Babies often hate things that are unfamiliar but when we’re talking safety, we don’t take no for an answer, especially from an infant.

There are ways to get over the instinct of hating the lifejacket, here are things we tried:

Wear Your Life Jacket

We all know kids love doing things that their parents are doing, so strap on your life vest. If you’re on a boat it’s a great idea for everyone anyway. Make wearing life jackets a family thing.

2 adults and one child wearing lifejackets in a kayak

Make it a Game

Have a lifejacket dance party! Everyone puts on their jacket and dances around the house! Get used to having it on and moving with it on.

Put your baby’s life jacket on their favorite teddy bear. Your infant might be more inclined to wear the life jacket if they see their favorite stuffed animal wearing it and loving it.

Try It On Before Swimming

Don’t wait until your whole family is on the boat waiting to go on a ride before you put the lifejacket on your child. Everyone will crack under the pressure and it will be a miserable time or someone will have to stay back with the wailing infant.

Baby wearing a lifejacket over clothing

Once you buy the infant life vest, have them try it on immediately, making it as fun as possible. Keep practicing around the house until they get used to it and it becomes no big deal.

We used the same method to get our child used to the Osprey Poco Backpack and it worked very well.

Try It In The Bath

Let your baby get used to the life vest first, then try it out with the jacket and water at the same time. Let them splash around in the bathtub to get used to what it feels like while the jacket is wet and what it feels like to start floating.

Life Jacket we do NOT endorse:

I wasn’t going to mention this product by name, but I feel I have to.

I see a lot of people on camping groups and mom groups who LOVE the Salus Bijoux Baby Vest. They feel this is an amazing choice because it’s a minimal design with an oversized head support collar.

This jacket is NOT a USCG approved life jacket and therefore is not legal to wear in any situation where a life vest is required by law.

I’ve also read reviews where parents felt the vest forced their baby’s head forward dipping their mouth into the water. Due to the minimalist design, there isn’t going to be enough buoyancy in the vest to keep a child in a face up floatation position.

If you’re going to spend money on safety gear, please do the research and get the right safety gear.

Hopefully this blog has shed some light on the best infant life jackets and how to distinguish them. Remember to check for a proper fit on your child before wearing it in the water.

The best infant life jacket is the one they will wear!

Whether you’re spending the day on the lake or on the pool deck with friends, enjoy the water and stay safe!

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