Best Life Jacket for Baby or Toddler

How to Pick the Best Life Jacket for Baby or Toddler

One of the most awaited moments in a parent’s life is when your baby first dips in the pool or ocean. However, it’s also a very stressful moment as naturally, your little bub must be safe in the water.

Life jackets for a baby, toddler, or even adults must have the US Coast Guard certification. Not only they’re put through rigorous testing to meet their requirements, but you might get a ticket if you’re using an unapproved one on the lake or ocean in the US.

Should You Bring Your Own Life Vest for a Baby on Your Travels?

Based on our experiences in various countries the answer is yes – you should bring your life jacket for a baby.

Every time we rented a boat somewhere around the world, or we had to get somewhere by a ferry or smaller boat we were told that the smallest life jacket for a baby was for those over 30 lbs. Our son didn’t reach the minimum weight until at least 2.5 years, but even closer to 3.

We were always assured by boat rentals and transfers that baby life jackets were available, but it was always unsuitable for an infant so small upon arrival. We started bringing our own and never regretted it.

Best Overall Baby Life Jackets

  1. Most comfortable for an infant: Salus Biijoux
  2. Best for toddlers: Stearns Infant Classic Series Vest
  3. Economical option: Kids Swim Classic Vest Life Jacket

What About Puddle Jumpers?

Puddle jumpers are pretty controversial (puddle jumpers are described as a wrap-around belt with attached wings, because “puddle jumper” is technically a brand that also sells standard lifejackets).

You can read numerous claims online from parents claiming that their children have drowned or almost drowned, because of the puddle jumpers… Just to find out that it was because the children removed the puddle jumpers and went back to the pool without them.

The real issue isn’t puddle jumpers per see, but it’s the same issue I have with ISR lessons – both create a false sense of security.

Small kids might forget that they might suddenly not be wearing a floatation device, and ISR instructors all agree that unless done regularly the skills learned in these classes will fade relatively quickly – even after 3 months.

Basically, life jacket or not you need to be watching a small child in the pool and that is non-negotiable. That seems insane to me to have a non-swimming child in a pool without an adult directly by them, even with flotation devices.

However, realistically speaking, even though my sons learned to swim at 3 and 4 truly I still won’t leave them unattended at the pool just yet.

All Puddle Jumper branded flotation devices are certified by the US Coast Guard. If your child wears a puddle jumper they will float in the water.

Will puddle jumper help your child swimming? No, absolutely not. But it’s a safe device for boats and shallow pools – always under adult supervision.

why are puddle jumper controversial

Detailed Buying Guide: Baby Life Vest

Let’s first take a look at baby life jackets. It may seem hard to decide on the best life jacket for your baby, but the following points will help you understand what your baby needs.

  • Your small baby might not control its head well. If that’s the case, the life vest must ensure the baby’s head is always up. 
  • Life jackets on babies tend to slip upwards so make sure that there is a crotch strap that buckles the baby into place. You don’t want the baby to disengage midway in the water.
  • Check the weight requirements and ensure it suits your baby’s weight (many aren’t!).
  • Remember that babies can get apprehensive or scared in the water. You want the life jacket to fit comfortably and yet be easy to remove.

1. Salus Bijous Baby Vest: Most Comfortable Life Vest for Baby

Baby weight: 9 – 25 lbs

The Salus Bijoux baby vest is our favorite baby life jacket. You will find that it comes highly recommended among the parenting circles despite a high price tag. There is a reason for this and it’s because of the comfort.

The life jacket follows a three-piece design. This makes all parts of it easily detachable for the parent. I find this highly useful when my child panics in the pool. Additional flotation on the sides cradles the head of the baby which ensures that the baby is comfortable.

The baby life vest uses a dry-aerospace liner which improves the breathability of the device and makes the baby comfortable as it’s not too bulky. It also aids in temperature control and drainage. The whole system is adjustable to fit the baby snuggly.

You can see why everyone loves this particular life jacket. On a side note, the life vest comes in three different colors. Both of my kids used it from birth up until about 16 months.

baby on a boat wearing salus infant baby vest

2. Stearns Infant Classic Series Vest

The Stearns Infant Classic series vest is a great buy if you are searching for a budget life jacket. Approved by the US Coast Guard, this particular brand is meant for babies under 30 lbs.

We used it in the US and France and never had an issue. It has attached neck support, so we knew that our baby was always safe.

The leg strap secures the baby in place with a clip-on buckle. The front of the life jacket is secured with a zip and a buckle for added security and the waist strap can be adjusted according to the child’s size, which gives the life jacket a nice snug fit.

Small toddler and his mom lounging on a boat with a cat. Toddler is wearing a baby life jacket

Detailed Buying Guide: Toddler Life Jackets

Toddlers need less out of their life jackets than babies because toddlers can hold their heads up and have more control over their bodies.

Some will even swim or begin learning how to swim. You will find that there are broadly three types of life jackets available in the market:

1. Inherently buoyant: These use foam or neoprene for buoyancy. The inherently buoyant life jackets are the most reliable and are the ones we recommend for toddlers.

2. Inflatable: Inflatable life jackets sound cool (many of us used water wings as kids in the 90s, right?), because they do not take much place and are easy to store, but they are not always entirely safe, as they can deflate. They require frequent checks for leaks, are high maintenance, and honestly are not always worth the stress.

3. Hybrid: This is a combination of both of the above. It however still requires frequent checks for leaks.

US coast guard approved life jackets for toddlers

1. Kids Swim Classic Vest Life JacketMost Economical

Made of neoprene, this kids swim vest life jacket wraps around the child’s torso and is secured first with a zip and then with three buckles.

It’s not the most popular choice, but we got it as it’s US Coast Guard approved. The GoGo one, while popular, is not approved so you might get in trouble for using it.

It’s designed so that the child’s arms are free to perform its range of motion unobstructed, making it perfect for children learning to swim.

Best Life Jacket for Baby or Toddler

2. Original Puddle JumperBest for Pool Play

The fastening in the puddle jumper is at the back, which means that the child needs adult assistance to put on and remove the jacket. They can’t get out of it by themselves.

As stated before, puddle jumper is US Coast Guard approved and is good for children playing in shallow ends but always supervised. It shouldn’t replace swim lessons.

A puddle jumper has been working perfectly for pools (especially when you have 1 adult supervising two children) while my little guy was getting more comfortable with water.

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