The best infant life jackets
If you plan to take your baby out on a boat, you need to buy them an infant life jacket. Also known as personal floatation devices (PFDs), life jackets help keep your baby safe with their head out of the water, which could save their life if they end up in the water. Some parents also choose to use infant life jackets for trips to the pool or days at the beach.
Although infant life jackets aren't alternatives to adult supervision, accidents can happen in a split second, so they give parents some peace of mind when their little ones are close to water. Our top pick is from Stohlquist, a trusted brand that's been making water safety gear since 1977.
Considerations when choosing infant life jackets
Type II vs. type III
Life jackets can have one of a range of classifications. The majority of infant life jackets are type II PFDs. These are suitable for inland and near-shore use and usually turn infants face up in the water so no treading water is required, though manufacturers can't 100% guarantee this. They can be bulky. Type III life jackets are more lightweight but generally don't turn wearers face up in the water. As such, we don't recommend them for infants, though they're fine for older children during supervised activities.
Think about how comfortable your chosen infant life vest is for your little one. Does it have any straps or zippers that could chafe? If it's too uncomfortable, your child may object to wearing it.
A quality infant life jacket shouldn't be so bulky that it greatly restricts your baby's mobility. You should expect some reduction in range of motion while your child is wearing their PFD, but if it's too extreme, return it and buy a slimmer model.
Infant life jackets often have a cushion or pillow-like area that sits behind your baby's head. This keeps their head up in the water if the jacket floats them onto their back.
Should an accident happen and your infant ends up in the water, a grab handle makes it easier to quickly lift them out or tow them to safety if you have to swim to shore.
Infant life jacket prices
Infant life jackets range in price from around $15 to $80. Basic infant life vests in the $15 to $30 range are fine for occasional use but tend to be bulky, so it's worth paying more if you use it regularly. Mid-range options between $30 and $50 are great for the majority of buyers. However, you may want to spend between $50 and $80 on a high-end infant life jacket if you're serious about boating or sailing.
Q. How can I tell if an infant life jacket is fastened too loosely?
A. To check the fit, fasten it on your child as you usually would (while on dry land), then attempt to pull it over their head. If you can get it anywhere past the chin or ears, it isn't done up tightly enough.
Q. Are there minimum and maximum weights for infant life jackets?
A. Yes, all infant life jackets have minimum and maximum weight limits. It's unlikely that you want to take your baby out on the water immediately after birth, but some infant life jackets are suitable for infants as small as seven to 10 pounds. The majority of infant life jackets are suitable for larger babies and toddlers, too, often up to around 30 to 35 pounds.
Infant life jackets we recommend
Best of the best: Stohlquist Infant/Toddler Life Jacket
Our take: A high quality PFD that's suitable for infants from eight pounds, with a maximum weight limit of 30 pounds.
What we like: Double cushioning behind the head supports babies who can't yet hold their heads up. Grab handle to easily recover infants from the water. Crotch straps stops it from slipping over head.
What we dislike: A little long for young babies.
Best bang for your buck: Stearns Infant Classic Series Vest
Our take: This affordable option might not have all the features of high-end vests, but it's a great choice for occasional use.
What we like: USCG approved. Fits babies as they grow into toddlers (up to 30 pounds). Easy to fasten securely.
What we dislike: Bulky enough that it can restrict range of motion in infants.
Choice 3: O'Neill Wake Waterski Infant USCG Vest
Our take: Some buyers may balk at the price tag, but this is an exceptional infant life jacket from a trusted brand.
What we like: Easy to get on and off. Two waist straps and a crotch strap to secure it safely. Large pillow to support babies' heads. Short length is great for infants.
What we dislike: Somewhat bulky.
Lauren Corona is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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