As soon as the temperature warms, I try to be on the water as much as possible, from boating to kayaking to just sitting by the pool. So, I was still pregnant when I started researching life jackets for babies and my daughter was just two weeks old when I brought her for her first day of boating on the lake.
What I discovered was that finding life jackets for babies—especially those under 20 pounds—can be challenging. You want to be sure baby is safe, but also comfortable, and stay in place. So whether you need a baby lifejacket for the pool or for boating, here’s what you should consider.
How to Choose a Baby Life Jacket
The most important thing you can do to ensure your baby is safe on the water is to make sure that they have a life jacket that fits correctly. Infant life jackets are meant to support kids who weigh less than 33 pounds. After that, you’ll want to opt for a child-sized life jacket, which supports up to 55 pounds.
If you’re looking for a baby life jacket for boating, you’ll want one that’s approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. A type II PFD (personal flotation device) is meant to keep children floating in relatively calm waters. And while the Coast Guard approves life jackets for babies, it notes that infant life jackets may not work for the tiniest babies under 18 pounds. So, if you’re going to be taking to the water with a tiny infant be sure to check the fit of the life jacket in a pool ahead of time.
Now that you have the right size, you’ll want to focus on features:
- Head support. Many life jackets for babies have support that can hold the baby’s head out of the water if they’re unable to do so themselves.
- Leg straps. Another important safety feature is a strap that goes beneath the legs, making sure baby can’t slip out of the life jacket.
- Stay-in-place comfort. A life jacket only works when it’s being worn, so you want one that your child won’t mind wearing. For many kids, that means choosing a thinner jacket.
Truly Mama’s Top Picks for Baby Life Jacket
Best for Small Babies: The Salus Bijoux Baby Vest
The Salus Bijoux Baby Vest is meant for the smallest babies on the water—those who weigh between 9 and 25 pounds. This vest is super lightweight with a mesh back, which means that you can cradle your infant in your arms or move them around without a bulky life jacket getting in the way. Because the vest is more comfortable than most, you’re more likely to keep it on baby, even when they’re napping or fussy, which increases their safety on the water.
There are two drawbacks to the Salus Bijoux Baby Vest. First, it’s expensive. However, if you’re a family that boats frequently or spends lots of time near the pool, the extra expense is worth it to avoid frustrations with less comfortable life jackets. The other downside is that this jacket isn’t U.S. Coast Guard approved, since the Coast Guard doesn’t test jackets for babies weighing less than 20 pounds. However, the jacket was recognized by the Canadian Safe Boating Council as a top new product.
Best for Easy Adjustment: Mustang Survival Lil’ Legends 100 Flotation Vest
The Mustang Survival Lil’ Legends 100 Flotation Vest is a Coast Guard approved type II PFD, which means that it’s great for kids who are boating on lakes and other relatively calm waters. The unique three-panel design of the headrest is meant to keep babies comfortable in or out of the water, and the easily-adjustable waist strap ensures a snug fit, even for slim babies.
One downside: your baby might get a bit hot. Although Mustang designed the jacket for increased air flow, with two mesh panels on the back, the jacket covers baby’s entire back.
Best for the Extra Safety-Conscious: Stearns Heads-Up Infant Vest
We all want our babies to be safe on the water, but some of us like every extra bit of precaution. If that’s you, you’ll love the Stearns Heads-Up Infant Vest, designed for babies up to 30 pounds.
The large head rest is meant to make sure that baby turns face-up in the water, so that they’ll be able to breath even if they’re not able to turn themselves. That’s the biggest reassurance, but there are also smaller safety features: the prominent handle makes it easy to scoop baby up quickly and the bright green colors makes them easy to spot in the water.
While the Stearns Heads-Up Infant Vest is great from a safety perspective, it’s fairly bulky, so smaller infants in particular might find it bothersome or hot. However, if your baby will tolerate it, this jacket is a great, affordable safety option.
Best for a Snug Fit: Overton’s Infant Vest
I chose Overton’s Infant Vest for my own daughters because its streamlined design looked safe but comfortable, with light and soft material. I particularly loved the fabric crotch strap, which my daughters seemed to tolerate more than rope-textured straps. The shoulder clip made the jacket easy to put on and secure, while keeping the front panel slim, which was a better fit for my lean baby.
Unfortunately, the jacket’s advantage was also its drawback: while the snug fit set my mind at ease knowing it wouldn’t come off in an emergency, my daughter became frustrated with the life jacket after an hour or so.
Best Grow-with-Your-Child Jacket: West Marine Runabout Life Jacket
While most infant jackets fit up to 30 pounds, the West Marine Runabout Life Jacket fits anyone under 50 pounds, significantly increasing the time you’ll be able to use it for. If you’re only an occasional boater looking for a life jacket that can last a few seasons, this is a great, affordable option. The jacket has a looser fit, although chest and crotch straps ensure it will stay on your baby in an emergency.
While the West Marine Runabout Life Jacket will last a long time, it will be a bit bulky for smaller babies. If you opt for this jacket, make sure it’s tight enough to support your baby in the water.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does my baby need a lifejacket if I’m holding them in the pool?
Babies should wear a lifejacket for the pool in case you suddenly lose hold of them. In addition, getting used to a lifejacket in the pool can help a baby stay calm in case of a boating emergency.
At what age does my baby need to wear a life jacket?
Any baby on the water should wear a lifejacket, and it is required that any children under 13 wear a life jacket while boating. However, the U.S. Coast Guard doesn’t test life jackets for babies that weight less than 20 pounds
What’s the difference between a life jacket and a life vest for babies?
The terms life jacket and life vest are used interchangeably. If you’re boating, your child should have a coast-guard approved personal floatation device (PFD) that is approved for a specific use. For calm water boating, a type II PFD is recommended.