Safety 101: Kid’s Life Jackets

By Tom Watson.

Of all the safety gear used by those who enjoy on-water sports, none should be scrutinized more than the family of life jackets/PFDs available. And, speaking of family, those devices designed for infants and youth are the most critical. Let’s take a closer look at several aspects of life jackets available for the youngest members of the paddling community.

Life jackets for children are designated by the weight range of the intended wearer: Infants/8-30 pounds; Child/30-50 pounds; and Youth/50-90 pounds. Manufacturers such as ExtrasportNRS, MTI Adventurewear and others all use about 10-11 pounds of flotation in their range of youngster gear. However, weight is not the only factor in developing a PFD that is going to work across a broad range of body types typical for developing youngsters.

“Fit is paramount” says Lili Colby, co-owner of MTI Adventurewearexplaining that different styles have different fit parameters across the weight ranges and body types. In the child range of 30-50 pounds, there are several typical body shapes evolving. “Kids are tough”, she says, “they go through a morphing process as they grow – wide shoulders but potted bellies; some kids are skinny, some get wide, chubby leading to lanky.” Even in the youth range, two kids, each weighing 60 pounds can have two distinctly different body shapes.

Components of life jackets for children are also critical factors in the proper fit process. Lindas Grebe, product director/PFDs for Extrasport says its “better to think of PFDs as a piece of safety equipment, and not as a fashion thing, it’s very functional, it has to work!”

Towards that goal, critical features on children’s life jackets/PFDs include:

  •  Adjustable side, shoulder and waist straps to address body development (youth)
  •  Adjustable leg strap
  •  Grab loop or other quick hand-grab option (child)
  •  Quick “turn-over” capability (infant)
  •  Adequate arm/neck openings (comfort factor)
  •  Closures that reduce risk of child opening or removing jacket
  •  Quality construction in stitching, materials, etc.
  •  Proper sizing so when adjusted properly the PFD doesn’t rise up over chin/mouth and ears.
  •  Bright, easy-to-spot colors