Heading to the beach or a resort with a pool? Keep your family safe on your next trip to Hawaii with one of those best life jackets for toddlers and preschoolers. Scroll down for all my top picks!
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If you’re on the hunt for the best life jackets for toddlers, then you’ve come to the right place. This guide takes you through everything you need to think about when purchasing the best toddler life jackets, to help keep your little one safe in or on the water.
When it comes to the best life jacket for toddlers you need to be absolutely certain you get a top-quality product to keep your little one safe in the water. Always remember, even the best life jackets for kids are never a substitute for adult supervision.
Although safety is the top priority, be sure to take your child’s comfort into consideration. Otherwise, they won’t enjoy wearing their toddler life vests and everything will be much more difficult.
This guide on the best kids life jacket for toddlers and preschoolers takes you through everything you need to know to purchase the perfect life vests for toddlers.
First, I’ll take you through the different types and various features you need to consider when looking for the best life vest for kids. Then, take a closer look at my in-depth preschoolers and toddlers life jackets reviews.
Life Jacket vs Swim Vest – What is the Difference?
There is a significant difference between even the best toddler swim vest and a life jacket. A kids swim vest is essentially a flotation aid that only provides a small amount of buoyancy. These should only be used under adult supervision and never as a substitute for a coast guard approved toddler life jacket.
These aids are best for children who can already swim and are confident in the water. They are supposed to be used in pools and onshore but not when boating.
Life jackets for kids are more buoyant, have bright, easily visible colors, and usually a collar to keep their head above the water if they lose consciousness.
Are Puddle Jumpers Coast Guard Approved?
A lot of people wonder “are puddle jumpers coast guard approved” and, technically, yes they are but ONLY in certain situations and, again, never as a replacement for a life jacket. They are one of the best life jackets for toddlers in pools under adult supervision.
Many parents choose puddle jumpers for the comfort and ease and they are a great option when swimming or the boat is anchored. However, when boating the coast guard always advises an appropriate life jacket and it is the law in many states, especially when the boat is in motion.
Don’t be put off life vests if your little one prefers their puddle jumper. Coast guard approved life jackets for toddlers can be difficult for young ones to get used to at first but they soon adapt.
Our Pick for the Best Toddler Life Jackets:
Don’t have time to read my entire guide on finding a life jacket for toddlers? Well, my pick for the best life vest for toddlers is the Stohlquist Toddler Life Jacket. It’s a USCG approved life jacket that is perfect for toddlers thanks to its high safety level, high-quality materials and added range of movement for splashing around and having fun in the water.
Click here to purchase the Stohlquist Toddler Life Jacket or keep reading below for more information.
Comparison Chart for the Best Life Jackets for Toddlers 2020
Below is a brief overview of all the swim jackets for toddlers reviewed in this guide. With this table, you can quickly compare all the best youth life jackets and their features side by side. For more information about each, keep reading for the full reviews below.
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Regulations – Life Jackets for Children
If you’re just splashing around at the pool or heading for a swim, there are no regulations around life jackets for children.
However, if you plan on doing some boating with your toddler or preschooler, federal law says that “when a vessel is underway, children under 13 years of age must wear their lifejacket”.
Be sure to check your state laws though as they do vary widely and some are much more specific.
Which Type is the Best Life Jacket for Toddlers and preschoolers?
Life jackets, also sometimes called personal floatation devices, PFDs, are rated and approved by the United States Coast Guard, USCG. There are a number of categories but, when thinking in terms of life jackets toddlers and preschoolers need, the first three are the ones that apply here.
This type is designed for rough or open waters or when rescue could be a long time away. These are designed to turn wearers face up in the water if they fall unconscious and are the best-rated life jackets.
They are big and bulky and children’s sizes are for those 11 pounds and up. These are only for very serious boating, far offshore and, chances are, you won’t need this type.
These type of PFDs offer less buoyancy than type 1 but are a lot more comfortable to wear and less restrictive. When wearing a type 2 life jacket, toddlers and infant are light enough that they should turn face up if they fall unconscious in the water.
When boating, these are the safest life jacket for toddlers or preschoolers who can’t yet swim and in some states, they are a legal requirement for children under a certain age.
These are the best toddler life jackets for boating, sailing or fishing offshore but in calmer waters. However, they are not the best kids swim vest for pools or swimming due to being more restrictive.
If your little one knows how to swim, type 3 is the best toddler life jacket for swimming. These are more lightweight and easier to wear, making them comfortable life jackets for toddlers, but they still have great buoyancy.
These are probably the type you imagine and most people opt for this type of toddler swim float vest. They are great for protected waters, staying close to shore or activities that need a bit more movement.
Note: some type 3 vests are inflatable and these are NOT suitable swimming life vests for toddlers as they are designed only to be worn by those over the age of 16.
This fourth category encompasses all other swim and floatation aids such as swim vests and puddle jumper life jackets. These are not USCG approved for use when boating or out on the water and should only be used in swimming pools and on the shore.
Things to Consider When Looking for the Best Life Jackets for Kids
What makes the best child life vest depends on a few things. To ensure you know how to choose the perfect life jacket for your needs, I recommend you consider the factors below.
How will you use it?
As mentioned when we spoke about the types available, different life jackets are suitable for different places and activities.
If you just need something for playing in the pool or splashing at the beach, a full life jacket probably isn’t necessary and you could easily use a swim aid like a puddle jumper or swim vest.
For boating, you need a certified life vest and kids who can’t swim should definitely be in type 2. If you need something for a preschooler who can swim a type 3 is an option but if there’s a chance of rough water a type 2 is safest.
Sizing & fit
Sizing and fit are so important! A life jacket is only safe and fit for purpose if it is the right size and fitted correctly.
Children’s life jackets are sized according to weight and you’ll usually find that 8 to 30-pound jackets are suitable for toddlers and 30 to 50-pound jackets are best for slightly older kids. Here is some further info on sizing.
The fit needs to be comfortable but snug. Movement should not be restricted too much but if the life jacket is too loose, the wearer may have to work hard to stay afloat and work against them. A good test of fit is to lift the jacket by the shoulders when your child is wearing it and if it’s properly fitted it won’t ride up or go past the head.
Here are a few other features you may like to consider:
- Segmentation – some life jackets have the foam within them cut into smaller blocks to allow a greater range of motion.
- Color – Bright colours are a huge safety aspect and allow people in distress to be easily seen in the water.
- Reflective Areas – another great safety feature that allows for better visibility.
- Zippers and Buckles – The more buckles and zippers on the jacket, the easier it will be to adjust the fit.
The Best Toddler Life Jacket Reviews
Now that you know everything there is to know about the types and features to look out for, these detailed reviews will help you choose the best child life vest for your little one.
Best Life Jackets for Toddlers Under 30 Pounds
This USCG approved type 2 option from Stohlquist could be the best life jacket for 2-year-olds and younger, thanks to the extra freedom to splash their arms and legs around and learn to swim.
It’s made with lightweight Gaia foam and has a soft 200 denier Nylon liner that won’t chafe or rub. The large armholes on this jacket allow for full range of arm motion and the open back also makes it much more comfortable to sit in than many options. The open neck also allows for full movement but the double collar cradles little one’s heads in the water.
There is an adjustable crotch strap for safety, a fully zippered front for easy access and an extra safety buckle for security. All the straps are box stitched for extra durability and designed not to twist or tangle.
This life jacket also features a useful grab handle for quick retrieval in the water or to hang the jacket up to dry. It even comes in a choice of 8 different colors and designs.
This Overton’s Infants model is a USCG approved type 2 life jacket that is great for toddlers on the smaller side as it does run a little snug.
The elasticized fabric crotch on this life jacket is much comfier than the standard crotch strap you’ll see on most kids life vests. The oversized collar is designed to provide extra head support in the water and give better comfort.
There is one waist strap and one shoulder strap so the jacket is easy to adjust but still perfectly safe and secure. It also features a grab handle to quickly retrieve your little one if they fall in the water or pull them along as you swim.
This would be a great life jacket for 18-month-olds and up.
It’s a USCG approved type 2 life jacket made from PE floatation foam that’s covered in a durable Nylon shell. The open-sided design allows for a great range of motion and the oversized collar does a great job of keeping toddlers heads above water.
The crotch strap and waist strap are fully adjustable, 1-inch straps that are super secure thanks to their double stitching. The fully zippered front makes it super easy to get on and off even the wriggliest kid.
There is a grab handle on the top for extra safety and it comes in a choice of either red or blue, so it’s easily seen in the water.
If boating safety is your top concern, this USCG approved type 2 vest does a great job of keeping young kids on their back with their heads above water. It’s a serious life jacket that isn’t just designed for splashing around at the pool.
This life preserver for toddlers is made from closed cell PVC marine foam that is specially shaped to float little ones on their back and covered in a durable Nylon panelled shell. The back section is made from a durable PVC.
The fully zippered front makes it easy to get on and off with two waist belts and it has a crotch strap for extra safety. All belts are fully adjustable and the durable quick-release buckles are safe but easy to undo in emergencies.
This life jacket has a grab handle for quick retrieval and comes in 5 different eye-catching designs for added visibility in the water.
This infant and toddler life vest is made from lightweight foam with a neoprene shell that is super soft against your little one’s skin and won’t chafe at all.
It has a full-length zippered front to make it easy to get on and off. The open collar design allows great head movement whilst the large collar provides extra neck support. Armholes are large and give a great range of movement for kids that want to splash around.
The waist belt and crotch belt are both fully adjustable with a durable box stitch. It features a grab handle for quick retrieval and the design is really loud and bright to make it super visible in the water.
Best Life Jackets for Toddlers Over 30 Pounds
If you have an older toddler that weighs a bit more but still want the added safety of type 2, take a look at this Stearns toddler life jacket. Coast guard approved, type 2 jackets aren’t as common in the 30 to 50 lb size but this is a great option.
This toddler and preschooler type 2 life jacket is made from a high-quality PE foam and covered in a durable nylon shell for comfort.
This jacket has a full zip front so it’s easy to get on and the armholes are large enough to encourage splashing and swimming. The collar is extra large and contoured differently to most other brands to provide added comfort and encourage floating on the back.
There are three durable, one inch wide webbed straps – two around the waist and one in the crotch – that are all fully adjustable. The crotch is even covered in a hydroprene material for an extra snug fit. It features a grab handle on the top and the design is really bold with reflective strips along the edges so it’s super visible.
This is the next size up from the Toddler model that we reviewed above and offers the same high quality for older or heavier kids. It would make a great life jacket for 3-year-olds and up.
This USCG approved type 3 life jacket is made with the same lightweight Gaia foam and soft 200 denier Nylon liner that won’t chafe or scratch. The padded collar has an additional foam head support for added security which helps kids naturally float face up. The large armholes and open back design, again, make for a super comfortable jacket that is easy to sit in.
There is an adjustable strap over the full front zipper for extra safety and the waist belt and crotch strap are fully adjustable for a snug fit. All the straps are box stitched and extra durable.
There is a useful grab handle for quick retrieval in the water and this jacket comes in seven different eye-catching colors and designs.
If you want something from a well known, high-quality brand, take a look at this Speedo life jacket. Toddlers will love the bright colors and funky design.
This USCG approved type 3 Speedo toddler life jacket is made with lightweight neoprene encased in a soft and durable nylon shell with a soft polyester inner lining for extra comfort. Large armholes allow for great movement in the water.
The dual front buckles are fully adjustable and durable thanks to their double stitching and there is a crotch strap for extra safety.
It comes in super bright and eye-catching designs, for both boys and girls, that your little one is sure to love and that makes them really visible in the water.
Full throttle proves that boring designs don’t have to be the case with a coast guard approved life vest. Toddlers will be thrilled by the character designs and you’ll have no problem getting them to wear these in the water.
Made from lightweight foam with a Nylon casing, the printed designs on these life jackets really are the biggest draw. Whether you choose dinosaurs, ladybugs, princesses or turtles, your little one is sure to be impressed.
No need to worry about safety either thanks to the secure dual waist straps, crotch strap, and easy grab handle for quick retrieval.
Make beach days, pool swims or close to shore boating adventures even more fun with these cute and colourful life vests.
Best Swimming Aids
Not technically a life jacket, so puddle jumpers are the best toddler life jacket for beach days or splashing around in shallow water. These are very popular swimming aids now but this is the original design from Stearns.
These puddle jumpers have USCG approval and they are a great way to build confidence around the water. They are made from lightweight foam with a durable nylon shell and slip easily over little one’s arms, just like armbands. The chest float is clipped securely around the chest with a buckle and adjustable strap.
Stearns Puddle Jumpers come in a mind-blowing array of bright colours, prints and designs. I’d be amazed if you can’t find one that your little one adores.
Now your little one is safe in the water, check out my guide to the best kids water shoes and keep their feet protected as well.