What kind of floatie is best for my kids?
One of our most commonly asked questions here at Hamptons Swim is, “What kind of floatie is best for my kids?” This is a very important question. For kids learning to swim a personal flotation device can keep them safe, and when used correctly be a tool to build confidence and skills. They are great for swimming with friends and having fun, and it doesn’t hurt that they give watchful parents peace-of-mind. However, a flotation device IS NOT a substitute for swim lessons and water safety skills. Children need to 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 has a “neutral position” which keeps the head up above the surface. These devices are designed to help someone who might have fallen off a boat. Even if they are too injured to swim on their own, the device should turn their head up out of the water so they can breathe. Our favorite floatie is the Stearns Puddle Jumper. For early swimmers, the Puddle Jumper has buoyancy on the front and the shoulders so the “neutral position” is heads-up and face-up. Floats that attach to the back, like Swim Backpacks, can put children face down. Though they are excellent teaching devices, they require supervision and aren’t approved life vests. To use swim backpacks, a child should already be comfortable using their arms to swim and lifting their chin out of the water.
Floaties should NEVER be inflatable. They can lose air, leaving kids without support and sinking fast. Instead, find a device made with a sturdy buoyant material like a foam. And look for chlorine resistant fabric so it will last. Kick-boards and tubes can be a lot of fun, but a child should never be relying 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. Instead, use a device that attaches to them and keeps them secure. Make sure that the listed size of the floatie corresponds to a child’s weight, not age. A badly fitted floatie may not keep them heads-up and a smaller child can even slip out.
The best water safety is knowledge. If children consistently wear floaties, they 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 that can create fear in children and even set their swimming progress back. Make sure your kids know the feeling of being in the water without a floatie. Give kids supervised safe opportunities to swim without the float so they feel the difference between their buoyancy and the floatie’s support. That can help maintain a healthy fear and respect of the water.
Lastly, when a child-care provider is supervising, make sure they know 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 right plan so they can learn to swim without it.