Life Jackets for Children

As more and more young families share in the outdoor experience, the more the need arises to outfit the young ones in life jackets. Whether you are a serious boating family or the casual canoer/kayaker, wearing a PFD is a basic requirement all adults need to think about for the youngsters in their care.

Such an important and life safety piece of gear should not be purchased casually as picking up a loaf of bread from a grocery list. Like most other critical camping items, a well-fitting life jacket should be an essential part of a kid’s personal gear.

Even the most advanced, USCG authorized life jacket does the wearer little good if it doesn’t fit right.  Because kids grow like weeds, keeping them outfitted year to year, or perhaps even month to month, can cause an initially well-fitted PFD to become less and less efficient at being able to be properly adjusted. Straps that adjust and panels that spread are two critical components of a well-designed, form-fitting life jacket that “grows” with the child.

It’s important to select from a range of PFDs based on weight, not age. Design functions are based on standard shapes and sizes associated within certain weight ranges. Imagine two 12-year olds standing side by side. One is six inches taller, but lanky, while the other is heavier by 15 pounds, and six inches shorter? Same life jacket for both, based on age? I don’t think so!

The Stearns® Youth Watersport Classic Series Life Jacket is perfect for children who weigh 50-90 lbs.


The most critically important factor in life jackets is to actually use them! Kids are impressionable. If the parent walks around bad-mouthing the look and feel of a life jacket as too ugly or uncomfortable, why would a kid want to wear one, either? The mindset to wear a PFD is built upon an association of positive attitudes.

And unlike that loaf of bread purchase, buying a life jacket should be a big deal. Involve the child, not only to make sure you have the proper fit, but more importantly to instill the seriousness of wearing one.  Making such a purchase a Rite of Passage moment might be a good step in creating a positive sensibility towards always wearing it.

Imagine a child finally being able to paddle the family canoe, or reach some other upward plateau in responsible outdoor adventuring. Make the PFD a symbol of accomplishment the child can be proud of attaining. “Congratulations, you passed the canoe safety course, you are now a canoeist, let’s go get you your very own life jacket!

Even infants can be outfitted in life-saving PFDs. An interesting field test in the development of life jackets for very young children is the live subject test conducted in a testing pool. The infant is fitted into the test jacket and placed face down in the pool (parent and safety techs within immediate contact) to test the self-righting characteristics of these jackets on a live human infant.

Besides the head-upright-turning head panels, an infant’s PFD should have a significant grab loop at the top of the back panel so the child can be quickly and securely snatched up out of the water.

Currently, efforts are underway between the United States and Canada to standardize North American PFD specifications and type designations. Called “harmonization”, these new rules will upgrade and standardized the classification process within the two countries.

The USCG regulations require each boat to have an approved life jacket on board; getting everyone to wear them is the real challenge.  Easing that task begins with a positive approach to outfitting our kids with a safe and functional Personal Flotation Device! If your camping adventure is going to include water, make sure life jackets are an integral part of your camping equipment inventory.

Safety is important! Shop Sportsman’s Guide for a huge selection of life jackets >

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