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Safer Swimming: Flotation Devices and More

Parents of growing children spend time each Spring seeing what swimsuits still fit, looking for the goggles, and ensuring the sunscreen hasn't expired. If you have newer swimmers, this is also a great time to check that you have the correct flotation devices for activities around the water ranging from the pool to being out on a boat.

We have a few tips on selecting personal flotation devices, securing areas with access to water, and designating a Water Watcher. It's all part of our effort to recognize May as National Water Safety Month.

Let's dive into some tips!

When Should a Child Wear a Flotation Device?

Depending on the situation, you may choose to use a personal flotation device (PFD) when your child is near any water, like a pool or beach. Factors like your child's swim skill and comfort level around water, what the activities are, and supervision available may help you decide. Remember, a flotation device is never a substitute for adult supervision.

Regardless of age or swim skill, your child must always wear a life jacket on a boat. State laws will vary, but in general, any child younger than 13 who is above deck should be wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. In fact, you will want to be sure you have a life jacket for each person on a boat, out of the packaging and ready for use.

What is a life jacket?

Life jackets are personal flotation devices specifically designed to keep someone afloat. A life jacket will turn its wearer face-up with their mouth and nostrils above the water.

A U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket used for family boating outings is usually a Type II personal flotation device. (A Type I is for rougher conditions further from shore).

A Type II jacket includes neck and head support which can help a younger child with poor body control stay safer. However, all that support can be bulky and restrict a child's ability to swim for pleasure since they're meant to keep a child afloat before a rescue.

What is a puddle jumper?

While many parents remember the blow-up arm swimmies or water wings of our childhoods, most of these are not U.S. Coast Guard approved. They can be pulled off and lack body and head support. But, don't worry! Puddle jumpers are U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation devices that are less bulky than a life jacket but safer than swimmies.

These Type III devices are considered a flotation aid. Flotation aids are more appropriate for preschoolers with better body control but do not turn a wearer face-up in the water like a life jacket will.

If you have a preschooler between 30-50 pounds, you may be interested in trying puddle jumpers. These Type III flotation aids combine elements of a swim aid and a safety vest. Look for a buckle that snaps in the back, which can help keep a child from removing the vest on their own. And, be sure to check the product packaging to ensure the puddle jumper of your choice is approved!

Why Right Size and Proper Fit Matter

Whether you opt for a Type II PFD life jacket or invest in your first puddle jumper, you'll want to be sure it works for your child.

Check the weight limits—both minimums and maximums—for the device since kids keep growing or a younger sibling may way more or less than their siblings at the same age.

Ensuring a proper fit is essential–a life jacket should stay under your child's chin when they lift their hands above their head.

Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children ages 1-4 and the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicle crashes for children ages 1-14. We want every experience around water to be safer and more enjoyable for families.

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