One of our most commonly asked questions here at Hamptons Swim is “What kind of floatie is safest for my kids?” This is a very important question. Learning to swim with a personal flotation device can keep your child safe and (when used correctly) can be a tool to build confidence and skills. Yes, floaties give peace-of-mind to parents, but they are in no way a substitution for swim lessons and water safety skills. It is essential to your child’s safety that children learn to support themselves in the water. A good floatie is a tool to help build those skills—not a replacement for them.
We only recommend floaties that are US Coast Guard Approved. A good flotation device will have a “neutral position”, which keeps the head up above the surface. Even if they are unable to swim on their own, the device should keep their head out of the water in order to breathe. There are three considerations to take into account before purchasing the correct floatation device.
Comfort: Make sure your child is comfortable wearing the approved floatation device. Features such as padded straps and mesh panels can enhance comfort.
Material: The Jacket is made from durable and sturdy material like foam which is highly buoyant. Do not wear it if it has rips, tears, or holes!
Size: For children, their weight will determine their size. Children grow and change often so make sure you are purchasing the correct size accordingly.
Here are our top 3 choices when picking floatation devices for our students:
Stearns Puddle Jumper creates slight mobility challenges, but for early swimmers, the Puddle Jumper has buoyancy on the front and the shoulders so the “neutral position” is heads-up and face-up.
Speedo Baby Infant Begin to Swim Life Vest is US Coast guard and American Red Cross Licensed. This is great for kids looking for more range of motion and provides a special neck pillow for infant head support in the water
O’Neill Infant Superlite Life Vest has anatomically cut lightweight polyethylene foam flotation with durable coated polyester outer shell making the vest strong, yet soft and comfortable.
Floaties that attach to the back, like Swim Backpacks, can cause children to turn face down. Though these flotation devices are excellent for teaching purposes, they require supervision and aren’t approved life vests. A child using a swim backpack should already be comfortable using their arms to swim and lifting their chin out of the water.
Although there are many floaties we recommend, we want to raise awareness of floaties that can potentially be unsafe for your child. Inflatable floaties can lose air, leaving kids without support. Instead, find a device made with a sturdy, buoyant material like foam. Also, look for chlorine resistant fabric; it will last longer. Kick-boards and tubes can be a lot of fun, but a child should never rely on a flotation device that they can lose a grip of. If the kick-board is the only thing keeping them above water, then disaster can happen if they lose it. Be sure to use a device that attaches to your child’s body and keeps them secure. It is important that the listed size of the floatie corresponds to your child’s weight, not age. An ill-fitting floatie may fail to keep a child’s head above water or their body in the device altogether.
The best water safety to have is knowledge. Children who consistently wear floaties can get a false sense of security. Over the years, we have all heard the same horror story from many parents: their child forgot a floatie and jumped into the deep end, only to sink straight to the bottom. Scary circumstances like these can create fear of water in children and even set their swimming progress back. In order to cultivate a healthy relationship with water, supervise your child in the water without a floatie. Allow your children supervised, safe opportunities to swim without the floatie so they can feel the difference between their buoyancy and the support of the floatie. This can help build and maintain a healthy fear and respect of the water.
Lastly, it is important that any supervising adult knows where your child’s skills and their floatie’s assistance meet. We hope this has helped you choose the right personal flotation devices for your children and the path to learn to swim on their own!