Best Life Vests For Kids: Top 5 Floaties Most Recommended By Experts

We’re deep into summer and want to help caregivers who have been holding back on taking their little ones near water. Maybe your child isn’t a strong swimmer. Perhaps you aren’t up to snuff on swim safety. Maybe you don’t know a safe floaty option for your child. We want to help give you the fun summer you and your family deserve, so we looked into the best life vests for kids. All of our finds are U.S. Coast Guard-approved, and there is an option for all levels.

You’ve taken a great first step if you’ve purchased a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vest for your child, but that doesn’t mean you can trust them to swim alone. Adult supervision is still strongly encouraged. You might be surprised to find that 37 percent of parents would allow their kids to swim unsupervised in a pool at their home, a hotel, or in their neighborhood, a new study finds. The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan released its most recent National Poll on Children’s Health on Monday, which surveyed 1,543 parents of kids aged six to 18. Interestingly, only 16 and 13 percent of parents surveyed would allow their children to swim unsupervised in a lake or the ocean, respectively, suggesting that parents don’t fully respect the perils inherent in a manufactured body of water. “Familiar places such as a backyard pool may provide a false sense of security, but we know that drowning can occur anywhere, often instantly and silently,” warns Dr. Gary L. Freed, who co-commissioned the poll, in a university press release. “We strongly advise parents to closely supervise kids at all times, even if they think their child is a good swimmer.”

While supervising your child, consider taking a swim with them. A survey of 2,000 British adults found that three in 10 haven’t been swimming in a public pool in the last decade. Perhaps more surprisingly, three out of 100 haven’t ever taken a dip in a public pool, despite the wealth of health benefits from swimming. When asked why they avoid pools, researchers found that the top two reasons were that people felt they didn’t have the time and only went swimming while on vacation. Many participants also admitted they were self-conscious about their appearance in their swimming suits. Other reasons included not wanting to use public changing rooms, not feeling confident enough in the water, and not being able to swim. Additionally, one in seven respondents said that swimming is too expensive. Ninety percent of those surveyed said it’s important for children to learn how to swim because it’s a handy and healthy form of exercise.

So remember to have close adult supervision at all times, take the opportunity to exercise yourself, and have a blast! So, let’s take a look at the list of the top five best life vests for kids most recommended by experts. Don’t see your go-to floaty below? Tell us about them in the comments!

A child wearing a life vest in a pool
A child wearing a life vest in a pool (Photo by Rendy Novantino on Unsplash)

The List: Best Life Vests for Kids, According to Experts

1. O’Neill Superlite Life Jacket

Reviewers love how supportive the O’Neill Superlite is, thanks to the dual straps across the chest that can be adjusted for a comfortably snug fit. “The crotch strap also adjusts so you can prevent it from riding up uncomfortably. The bright colors make it easy to spot your toddler in the water (or on the shore.) The headrest padding has a channel down the center where the head nestles, which kids find especially comfortable when it’s time for a shore-side siesta. In the water, the headrest works to flip and keep heads afloat,” informs Scary Mommy

O’Neill Infant Superlite USCG Life Vest

A more affordable Type II life jacket, the sizing of the O’Neill Life Jacket runs a bit small, so it’s best for smaller kiddos. “It’s one of the more comfortable life jackets you’ll find for toddlers since the headrest doesn’t push up against their head. However, it’s a bit bulky and limits mobility,” shares Mom Goes Camping.

O’Neill is a trusted name in the surfing industry, so you can expect this one to hold up longer than others. “Type II life vest is U.S. Coast Guard approved for kids up to 30 lbs. It contains closed-cell PVC marine foam for a slimmer, lightweight design, and also helps them float face-up. In addition, this vest offers protection against harsh ultraviolet rays. This would be my pick for frequent swimmers and boaters,” says Lucie’s List.

2. Stearns Infant Classic Series Vest

When it comes to life jackets, sometimes simple is best. This model by Stearns has a classic vest design and includes many features. “If your little swimmer is just starting, this is an affordable and sure choice. With a durable nylon shell and PE flotation foam inside, this US Coast Guard-approved jacket helps kids under 30 pounds stay afloat. There’s even a leg strap and grab handle for extra security. If your little one has a scary moment in the water, you can grab them right out without worrying about anything breaking or slipping,” says Mom Loves Best.

Stearns Infant Classic Series Life Vest, USCG Approved Type III Life Jacket for Kids Under 30lbs

Fit for infants and toddlers, the Stearns is great if you’re looking to start swim lessons with your little ones and will last for years to come. “The U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket features a nylon shell over PE flotation foam, a leg strap, and one adjustable chest belt, plus a zipper closure and a grab handle for extra safety,” shares Popular Mechanics.

“This is one of the most affordable infant life jackets you’ll find while still being of very good quality. It has a large handle for quickly grabbing your kid and low-cut arm holes that improves comfort. The downside is that it’s really bulky and definitely not the most comfortable for your toddler to wear,” offers Mom Goes Camping.

3. Stohlquist Child Life Jacket

One review chose the Stohlquist Child Jacket as the best toddler life jacket strictly due to its double-collar construction, design, comfort, and adjustability. “Originally known as the Nemo Life Jacket, Stohlquist renamed their designs to the Infant Life Jacket and the Toddler Life Jacket. They’re still the same design (they were simply two different designs under one name before), but now they’ve been renamed and separated into two differently designed life jackets,” says Treeline Review.

Stohlquist Kids Life Jacket Coast Guard-Approved Life Vest for Children

The Stohlquist Child Jacket is a great pick for little ones who will be active while wearing the jacket or who run hot. “The open sides, V-neck design, and streamlined back of this jacket offer a full range of motion, prevent chafing, and make sitting more comfortable. Many parents said the double-collared padding made a great ‘pillow‘ for naps at sea. The handle at the top allows you to easily grab a child in an emergency (or the jacket on your way out the door.) Adjustable straps at the front, side, and crotch let you get the perfect fit,” says Scary Mommy.

The Stohlquist Child Jacket is even recommended by an emergency room nurse who takes comfort in using it for her daughter. “It’s a vest suitable for canoeing, kayaking, and sailing for 30-50 lbs children. It has a soft nylon cover, float front, and triangle nylon back with a floating headrest to help encourage face-up floatation. This vest has a double headrest design with a zipper and a buckle front closure. The crotch strap is nylon, and the buckles work well,” informs Baby Gear Lab

4. Body Glove Paddle Pals Life Jacket

Another life jacket approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Body Glove has attached armbands to help teach your children to swim safely. “The integrated shoulder harness prevents young children from removing the vest on their own, keeping them out of any potential danger, and the soft, durable polyester material and multi-panel design are comfortable against delicate skin,” offers Upgraded Points.

Body Glove Paddle Pals Life Jacket

Paddle pals and puddle jumpers are said to be among the best flotation devices for toddlers ages two and up. Our Wanders discusses how paddle pals are an upgraded version of puddle jumper vests, “If the puddle jumpers are upgraded armbands, then these paddle pals are upgraded puddle jumpers. The point is: this toddler floaty is like a puddle jumper, but with a vest design that makes it harder for toddlers to wiggle out of the arm straps.”

“Do you have a child who loves colors, characters, fashion, or just needs some bribing to put the thing on? Well, then the Paddle Pals life jacket might be a good option for your child. There are tons of (20+) characters, colors, designs, and even 3-D options. The shoulder straps help keep the floaties nice and secure,” explains Run Wild With My Child.

5. Stearns Child Classic Series Life Vest

The Stearns Child Classic only comes in two colors, but that may not be a biggie since it is more budget-friendly than most. “This U.S. Coast Guard-approved vest another from Stearns’ Classic Series, is made from durable nylon, with PE flotation foam. There are three adjustable bucks and a leg strap for extra security. It is designed for kids 30 to 50 pounds. The safety vest was made to keep kids secure during water sports activities, boating, and tubing. Reviewers hail its durability and wide usability. While the number of straps ensures a safe and snug fit, it also means you spend a lot of time putting it on and taking it off,” says Popular Mechanics.

Stearns Child Classic Series Life Vest
Stearns Child Classic Series Life Vest

If the Stearns Child Classic Series Vest is your choice, keep in mind that it runs small. “Tied for second place, both the Stearns Child’s Classic Series Vest and Overton’s Children’s Nylon Vest are decently priced and Coast Guard approved Type III PFDs, which means they’re fine for boating, but don’t support the neck in the back like a Type II device. These are less constrictive for older kiddos who can right themselves in the water,” informs Scary Mommy.

“The Stearns Child’s Vest has three buckles, 2 of which circle the entire vest, and a basic design for smaller children that includes a crotch strap to prevent the vest from floating up and over the wearer’s head when in the water. This vest has slightly thicker flotation material in the front than the back, which should encourage or help a wearer bob face up in the water while wearing it. Overall, we like this straightforward design and how it is highly adjustable for lots of body types within the manufacturer’s recommended range, making it an excellent option to have on hand for smaller water sprites,” explains Baby Gear Lab.

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.