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In the United States, all children under the age of 13 are required by law to wear a life vest on a moving vessel. Even if that weren’t the case, buying a life vest for toddlers who can’t yet swim is a safety no-brainer. Most toddler life jackets are rated either Type II or Type III, with the main difference between the two being that the former should turn your child face-up in the water automatically. Good features to look out for include a flotation collar to support little heads; grab handles to make in-water rescues easier and a crotch strap for an extra-secure fit. Below, we rounded up the best inflatable life vests for infants and toddlers aged up to three years old.
Best Overall: Stohlquist Infant Personal Flotation Device
The Stohlquist Infant Personal Flotation Device receives excellent reviews for its comfortable, safe design. A USCG-approved Type II PFD, it provides seven pounds, six ounces of buoyancy in salt water, and is rated for infants and toddlers weighing eight to 30 pounds. Wrap-around flotation turns your child face-up in the water, while the flotation foam itself is PVC-free and ultra-flexible for added comfort. A dual support collar cradles the head in the water and doubles as a pillow for sleeping on board.
A front entry zipper makes the vest easy to slip on (handy for kids that don’t like wearing a PFD). Additionally, a quick release buckle fastens over the top of the zipper so that they can’t unfasten themselves. Adjust the crotch strap to keep the jacket securely in place. There’s a sewn-in grab handle for easy retrieval from the water, or to help you stabilize your child while on the boat. The 200-denier nylon outer shell is easy to clean and comes in red, blue or high-visibility yellow.
Best Type II: Stearns Infant Classic Series Vest
Another popular choice, the USCG-approved Type II Stearns Infant Classic Series Vest combines safety with a wallet-friendly price-tag. Reviewers love it for its snug fit, and for the fact that most children seem comfortable and happy while wearing it. It’s designed for infants and toddlers weighing up to 30 pounds and should turn your child face-up in the water. A large float sewn into the collar supports your little one’s head on land and keeps it above water if they fall in.
The jacket is made to last, with a durable nylon outer shell and sturdy one-inch webbing. Its open-sided design allows good freedom of movement (a plus for kids that don’t like to be confined), while the crotch strap, front zipper and adjustable quick release buckle ensure that it stays securely in place. The rescue handle on the flotation collar is a must in case of emergencies. Choose yours in red or blue.
Best Type III: Body Glove Vision Type III Life Jacket
Less bulky than most Type II PFDs, the Body Glove Vision Type III Life Jacket is a good USCG-approved option for toddlers that find traditional vests too restrictive. According to one Amazon reviewer, the jacket is still effective in flipping kids onto their backs in the water - although you should test that for yourself before heading out to sea. It features a strong nylon outer shell, 100 percent PE foam flotation and is intended for kids weighing up to 30 pounds.
Two adjustable webbing straps fasten around the torso to ensure a good fit, while dual leg straps provide maximum security. All straps feature safety-conscious quick-release buckles. The jacket has a large flotation collar (good for keeping your baby’s face out of the water), and clever drainage holes that allow it to dry quickly in case of immersion. Available colors include yellow/blue, orange/black and pink/white.
Best for Babies: Full Throttle Infant Baby-Safe Vest
The Full Throttle Infant Baby-Safe Vest is a USCG-approved Type II PFD intended for infants and toddlers weighing up to 30 pounds. It’s especially suited to smaller babies, and Amazon reviewers report having successfully used it for newborns of a few weeks old, including preemies. While the swaddle-style design can look uncomfortable, most babies seem content while wearing the vest.
It features an oversized head pillow for added support (especially essential for newborns in the earliest stages of development). The crotch strap is made of integrated, elasticated fabric, making it less likely to chafe than standard webbing straps; while quick release straps around the torso and at the collar make the jacket easy to put on. A grab strap adds another element of safety. Order your life vest in eye-catching shades of pink or orange.
Best for Bigger Toddlers: Stohlquist Child Personal Flotation Device
The Stohlquist Child Personal Flotation Device is the perfect solution for larger toddlers weighing 30 to 50 pounds. It’s important to note that while the infant version is a Type II PFD, the child’s version is USCG-approved as a Type III PFD (except in Canada, where both are Type II). It provides eight pounds, six ounces of sea level buoyancy.
Available in red, yellow or blue, the jacket has a 200-denier nylon outer shell and wrap-around flotation. Dual support collars keep your toddler’s head above water. Use the grab handle to rescue them quickly if they’re in distress. The adjustable crotch strap and front buckle ensure a good fit, while the zipper allows the vest to be put on jacket-style.
Most Comfortable: Mustang Survival Lil’ Legends 100 Flotation Vest
The Mustang Survival Lil’ Legends 100 Flotation Vest comes in three sizes including Infant (up to 30 pounds) and Child (30 to 50 pounds). It’s especially designed to keep kids comfy through long days on the water, with a shaped and segmented head flotation pillow and mobility-shaped panels that allow for greater freedom of movement.
It’s a particularly good pick for warmer climates, thanks to clever design elements that actively prevent overheating. The ventilated mesh back features an interior back panel complete with cooling channels, so that your toddler can be as active as they like without working up a sweat. The vest is USCG Type II-approved and features adjustable torso and crotch straps. The front zipper does up jacket-style, while the heavy-duty grab strap is a safety essential.
Most Fun: Full Throttle Child Water Buddies Life Vest
It’s a fact of life that very few toddlers enjoy wearing a PFD; but the Full Throttle Child Water Buddies Life Vest makes the prospect more appealing with a range of six child-friendly character designs including dinosaurs, astronauts, princesses or turtles. Webbing and liner colors alternate to match. In terms of safety, the jacket is a USCG-approved Type III PFD suitable for children weighing between 30 to 50 pounds. It features a zippered front with two adjustable torso straps, a crotch strap and a grab handle. It won’t flip your child face-up, however, making this a better choice for older toddlers with the ability to keep their head above water by themselves.
Best Budget: Speedo Infant Personal Life Jacket
The Speedo Infant Personal Life Jacket is a USCG-approved Type II vest ideal for those on a budget. Although some Amazon reviewers report that the design is bulky and perhaps less comfortable than some of the other vests on this list, it provides the essential safety elements. It has an integrated neck pillow to support the head in the water; and an adjustable torso strap. Dual leg straps make for a snug fit for infants and toddlers weighing up to 30 pounds. The outer shell is made of durable nylon, while the inner lining is soft polyester. Colors include berry and sapphire blue.