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The Best Life Jackets For Kids

When it comes to your child’s safety in the water, whether it be sailing, cruising, or chartering, you want the best gear on the market to keep them safe.

As a professional yacht officer of 10 years, the boats I have worked on have had their fair share of child life jackets. These recommendations are the ones that vessel owners and charterers’ kids preferred the most.

The best life jacket for your child will always be the one that they wear. So by default, it needs to be a comfortable life jacket for them.

You’ll also need to select one by weight rating. Life jackets are designed to keep the wearer afloat based on their weight and not by their age.

So in this article, you are going to find the best life jackets for kids categorized as follows:

👶 Infant life jackets | 0-30 lbs (0-13 kg)
👼 Child life jackets | 30-50 lbs (13-23 kg)
🧒Youth life jackets | 50-90 lbs (23-40 kg)

👶 Best Life Jacket For Infants
  • Pros:
    • Minimum 7lbs of buoyancy
    • Coast guard approved
    • 3-piece collar cradle for head support
    • Self-righting to the face-up position every time.
👼 Best Child Life Jacket
  • Pros:
    • Minimum buoyancy of 7.5 lbs,
    • Double support collar
    • Coast Guard Approved
    • Designed for maximum mobility
    • Lightweight and durable nylon construction
🧒 Best Youth Life Jacket
👶 Best Life Jacket For Infants
5.0
Pros:
  • Minimum 7lbs of buoyancy
  • Coast guard approved
  • 3-piece collar cradle for head support
  • Self-righting to the face-up position every time.
👼 Best Child Life Jacket
5.0
Pros:
  • Minimum buoyancy of 7.5 lbs,
  • Double support collar
  • Coast Guard Approved
  • Designed for maximum mobility
  • Lightweight and durable nylon construction
🧒 Best Youth Life Jacket
5.0
Pros:
  • Minimum buoyancy of 12 lbs
  • Coast Guard Approved
  • Fantastic comfort
  • Great build quality

And lastly, before we get into it, remember the life jacket types and their use cases. You’ll see a type iii life jacket for each weight range in this list. Except for infants, so keep reading to find out why.

👶 The Best Life Jacket For An Infant | 0-30 lbs (0-13 kg)

An infant life jacket needs to meet some vital checks. It needs to be suitably rated to support your child’s head, have a crotch strap and return them to the face-up position if they fall overboard. It’s imperative that you buy a type ii life jacket for your infant.

Mustang Survival Lil’ Legends Infant Life Jacket (Type ii)

Key Specs:
Minimum 7lbs of buoyancy
Up to 30lbs weight
Coast guard approved (USCG)

Pros 👍

  • 3-piece collar cradle for ample head support.
  • Self-righting to the face-up position every time.

Cons 👎

  • The zipper isn’t childproof and can be undone by curious fingers.

Mustang Survival is one of the most trusted names for making marine life-saving appliances such as life jackets. Their Lil Legends line is designed specifically for children, starting with their fantastic infant life jacket.

This life jacket is the go-to choice on board several boats I have worked on when the situation calls for a type ii infant life jacket. It’s best suited for nearshore coastal days and freshwater lakes.

There is ample support for the head, which covers a wide arc of 180(o) and provides plenty of buoyancy in that area. In addition, the grab harness at the top of the jacket means retrieval from the water is easy. The crotch strap and waist buckle will ensure your child remains firmly inside the jacket upon water retrieval.

With excellent buoyancy of a minimum of 7 lbs, you can rest assured your toddler will float like a cork and always be returned to the face-up position. It comes in two colors (blue and red), although I’d recommend going for red as it’s the most visible in all weather conditions.

👶 Best Life Jacket For Infants
5.0
Pros:
  • Minimum 7lbs of buoyancy - Coast guard approved
  • 3-piece collar cradle for ample head support.
  • Self-righting to the face-up position every time.
Cons:
  • The zipper isn't childproof and can be undone by curious fingers.
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👼 The Best Life Jackets For A Child | 30-50 lbs (13-23 kg)

Here is where your child’s swimming skills will play a factor in your buying decision. Stronger swimmers can wear a type iii vest that doesn’t have head support. However, if you are sailing, I’d strongly recommend going for a type ii life jacket for your child and any adults on board.

Stohlquist Child PFD Life Jacket (Type iii)

Key specs:
Minimum buoyancy of 7.5 lbs
Double support collar
Coast Guard Approved

Pros 👍

  • The design allows for maximum mobility
  • Lightweight and durable nylon construction

Cons 👎

  • Not self-righting for the wearer

A fantastic all-around child’s life jacket that is suitable for a wide range of water-based activities. If you are sailing, then I’d recommend looking at other options as type iii life jackets aren’t rated to right the wearer to face up from the water.

The design of the cutaway back also means your child has good arm mobility while in the water. With adjustable side straps, the Stohlquist can be fitted perfectly as your young one begins to paddle and kick around. The crotch strap helps keep the life jacket on at all times and works in tandem with the grab strap placed behind the neck.

It has a double collar design which will provide sufficient flotation for the head and also be comfortable to wear. Available in six different colors, including red and yellow, which I’d recommend over the others.

The jacket is made of Nylon, weighs in at only 0.8 lbs, and has a plastic front zipper that will hold up against saltwater environments.

👼 Best Child Life Jacket
5.0
Pros:
  • Minimum buoyancy of 7.5 lbs,
  • Double support collar
  • Coast Guard Approved
  • Designed for maximum mobility
  • Lightweight and durable nylon construction
Cons:
  • Not self-righting for the wearer
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Mustang Survival Child Rev Foam Vest (Type iii)

Key specs:
Minimum buoyancy of 6.8 lbs
Grab strap
Coast guard approved (USCG)

Pros 👍

  • An affordable option without compromising on safety
  • Lightweight and durable nylon material

Cons 👎

  • No neck roll for head support

There will always be cases when kids stubbornly refuse to wear a collared life jacket. This child’s foam vest from Mustang Survival will be a great option when your negotiation tactics fail.

It’s rated as a type iii life jacket (level 70 PFD), so while it isn’t rated to turn your child’s head to face up, it does provide them with more than enough buoyancy. Its best use case is on lakes and rivers where assistance is close by.

This life jacket is a front entry and is secured by a waist buckle and crotch strap when you need to haul your little one out using the grab handle.

Although it doesn’t provide as much mobility as the Stohlquist, it has segmented foam panels that should be adequate in most cases.

There are many practical considerations too, such as quick-drying nylon material, ventilated mesh back for breathability, and stain resistance because sunscreen gets everywhere! Weighing less than 1 lb, it is rated for children weighing 30-50lbs (13-23kg).

If you are venturing out to sea, then I’d recommend looking at the Child Lil Legend Foam Vest, also by Mustang Survival. It isn’t a type ii, but it features the neck roll.

4.5
Pros:
  • Minimum buoyancy of 6.8 lbs
  • Grab strap
  • Coast guard approved (USCG)
  • Affordable without compromising on safety
  • Lightweight and durable nylon material
Cons:
  • No neck roll for head support
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🧒 The Best Life Jackets For A Youth | 50-90 lbs (23-40 kg)

The final class of children’s life jackets is the youth category which is made for kids weighing 50-90 lbs (23-40 kg for our friends across the pond). Both of these are type iii life jackets for kids.

Stolhquist Drifter Youth Life Jacket (Type iii)

Key specs:
Minimum buoyancy of 12 lbs
WRAPTURETM technology
Coast Guard Approved

Pros:

  • Fantastic comfort levels even on long days
  • Great build quality that’ll stand up to the most demanding wearer

Cons:

  • No crotch strap, so smaller kids could slip out

Stohlquist makes life jackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs) that are designed for maximum mobility across a wide range of water sports. And the Drifter Youth is no different, as it provides best in class range of motion.

This jacket features over-the-shoulder straps that attach to the foam-padded front on the chest area. The result is a PFD that won’t ride up the torso and will provide all-day comfort. If you and your child are doing water-based activities such as kayaking or paddleboarding, then it’s a brilliant product for you.

In addition, there are six different adjustment buckles on the jacket so finding the perfect snug fit is easy. The straps and the shoulder straps all have reinforced attachment points to make this a durable and well-made product.

What truly makes this a premium life jacket are the zipped front pockets to store loose items, radio attachment points, and hand pockets for long days on the water.

🧒 Best Youth Life Jacket
5.0
Pros:
  • Minimum buoyancy of 12 lbs
  • WRAPTURE technology
  • Coast Guard Approved
  • Fantastic comfort
  • Great build quality
Cons:
  • No crotch strap
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Mustang Survival Rev Youth Life Jacket (Type iii)

Key specs:
Minimum buoyancy of 11 lbs
Grab handle
Coast Guard Approved (USCG)

Pros 👍

  • Affordable option if your child is on the brink of graduating to young adult life jackets
  • Quality product from a reputable name

Cons 👎

  • Not as much mobility is allowed as other models in the same class.

Another Mustang Survival life vest is on this list. Their youth series offers good safety at an affordable price. So for most parents out there, choosing Mustang is a great choice.

This particular model features everything in the child model, but the weight rating is increased for children between 50 and 90 lbs with the added buoyancy.

It’s intended for general boating and most other activities on the water. However, it’s not made for activities such as water skiing, wakeboarding, or towables. If that is your intention, then I’d recommend the Stolhquist above.

The Mustang comes in two colors, and by this stage, I’m sure you’ll know I recommend the red. There is a grab handle at the back and a front entry zipper closure with a front buckle. There is no crotch strap on this model and no neck support.

If you need to buy more than one, then the price point makes this an attractive option, as you can get two for roughly the same as one Stolhquist Drifter Youth Life Jacket.

4.0
Pros:
  • Minimum buoyancy of 11 lbs
  • Grab handle
  • Coast Guard Approved
  • Affordable option if your child is on the brink of graduating to young adult life jackets
  • Quality product from a reputable name
Cons:
  • Not as much mobility is allowed as other models in the same class.
  • No crotch strap
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🧑‍⚖️ Our Recommendation Process

Between myself and Craig, we have nearly 20 years’ worth of experience within the yachting industry. We have maintained and inspected thousands of SOLAS-approved life jackets.

Our commercial marine background ensured we checked and tested all types of life-saving appliances to the highest of standards. The recommendations we share are 100% impartial and bias-free. We only offer genuine advice on what we have come to know as the best life jackets for sailing from countless hours of testing and inspections.

🦮 Buyers Guide For Kids Life Jackets

You should always test a child’s life jacket in a controlled environment before going out on the water. So, for example, have them put it on in the swimming pool and if you purchased a type ii life jacket, then be doubly sure that it does actually right them face up!

There are more life jacket variations than I could possibly cover in the scope of this article. The important things to consider when looking to buy life jackets for kids:

1️⃣ How comfortable is the jacket you are buying?
2️⃣ Foam-padded life jackets are better for kids.
3️⃣ Are you sailing, lake boating, or doing other activities like kayaking?

1. Life Jacket comfortability

In the beginning, we talked about the most critical component being comfortability. Now there may be some that argue there are other more pressing concerns. But if your child isn’t comfortable wearing their life-saving appliance, then they are more likely to fight you on it.

Look for a life jacket with adjustable straps that can also factor in clothing changes throughout the day. If the weather turns sour, you may wish you opted for a life vest with better accommodation for wet weather gear.

2. Rigid Life Jackets Over Inflatable Life jackets

Inflatable life jackets typically have more buoyancy than rigid models. But they are impractical for general water days when your child is constantly in and out of the water. It’s no good when they inflate and stay that way. So you’ll need a rigid model.

You can still get rigid life jackets with the required level of buoyancy, so be sure to check what that is and purchase accordingly.

You’ll find the coast guard approved documentation on any reputable online retailer or manufacturer. If they can’t provide this information, then you should strongly consider buying something that does.

In addition, you must consider the possibility of head injuries in water-based sports. Unseen sailing booms or stray kayak paddles could leave someone face down unconscious in the water. A type ii life jacket will right the child to face up to allow breathing until you can get there to help.

Type ii life jackets for kids are not all that common due to the fact that kids naturally kick and thrash in the water. This makes designing a self-righting rigid life jacket hard because the center of buoyancy is constantly changing.

If you insist on a type ii, then you may have to look at a self-inflating model, which will be impractical for most use cases.

3. Buy according to the activity

Ultimately the scenario should determine what life jackets you buy for your kids. Not every life jacket on the market will cover every activity perfectly.

If you are paddleboarding or kayaking, then you need something with a good range of motion. If you are sailing, then you need one with less mobility but better buoyancy.

Most life jackets are built with an activity in mind, and it’s up to you to match it accordingly to the use case.

🗣️ Editors Verdict

After many years of hands-on experience with kids’ life jackets, I can honestly recommend the Mustang Survival Child series to parents. They are a trusted name and supply life jackets to the United States Coast Guard.

And if your child is involved in paddle disciplines like kayaking and Stand Up Paddle, then the Stolhquist Drifter is another great option for them. Next, I’d recommend familiarizing yourself with our life-saving appliances knowledge hub to further your water safety expertise.

👶 Best Life Jacket For Infants
  • Pros:
    • Minimum 7lbs of buoyancy
    • Coast guard approved
    • 3-piece collar cradle for head support
    • Self-righting to the face-up position every time.
👼 Best Child Life Jacket
  • Pros:
    • Minimum buoyancy of 7.5 lbs,
    • Double support collar
    • Coast Guard Approved
    • Designed for maximum mobility
    • Lightweight and durable nylon construction
🧒 Best Youth Life Jacket
👶 Best Life Jacket For Infants
5.0
Pros:
  • Minimum 7lbs of buoyancy
  • Coast guard approved
  • 3-piece collar cradle for head support
  • Self-righting to the face-up position every time.
👼 Best Child Life Jacket
5.0
Pros:
  • Minimum buoyancy of 7.5 lbs,
  • Double support collar
  • Coast Guard Approved
  • Designed for maximum mobility
  • Lightweight and durable nylon construction
🧒 Best Youth Life Jacket
5.0
Pros:
  • Minimum buoyancy of 12 lbs
  • Coast Guard Approved
  • Fantastic comfort
  • Great build quality

I’m the founder and chief editor here at Sailing Savvy. I’m a lover of being out on the water and sampling Caribbean rum! Currently, I run an SEO consultancy in addition to this little corner of the interwebs. Welcome, and I hope that we can provide the portal you need to dive into your next aquatic adventure.