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Safety & Prevention

Life Jackets & Life Preservers for Children

father sister and brother canoe through rapids father sister and brother canoe through rapids

​​If your family enjoys boating, sailing, canoeing and kayaking on lakes, rivers and streams, be sure your kids wear the correct life jackets. If you do, they will be able to take part in these activities more safely.

Many children and adolescents think life jackets and life preservers are hot, bulky and ugly. This is no longer necessarily true. Newer models look better, feel better and provide increased protection.

Life preservers and life jackets are required by many states and must be present on all boats traveling on bodies of water supervised by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Kids' life jackets & life preservers

Choose from the following personal flotation devices (PFDs) approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Child PFD approvals are based on the child's weight. Check the user weight on the label.

Types of life jackets

  • TYPE 1: This type of life jacket floats the best. It is designed to turn most people who are unconscious in the water from the face-down position to an upright and slightly backward position. This jacket helps the person to stay in that position for a long time. It is for use in open water and oceans. It is available in only 2 sizes: 1 size for adults more than 90 pounds and 1 size for children less than 90 pounds.

  • TYPE 2: This jacket can turn a person upright and slightly backward, but not as much as the Type 1 jacket does. It may not always help an unconscious person to float face up. It is comfortable and comes in many sizes for children.

  • TYPE 3: This jacket is designed for conscious users in calm, inland water. It is very comfortable and comes in many styles. This life jacket is often used for water sports and should be used only when it is expected that the rescue can be done quickly. The US Coast Guard has approved a puddle jumper that can be worn in place of a Type 3 life jacket in calm, shallow waters.

Life preservers

  • TYPE 4: A life preserver is a cushion or ring and is not worn. It is designed to be used in 2 ways. It can be grasped and held until the person is rescued, or it can be thrown to someone in the water until they are rescued. It is not a toy and should only be used in a rescue situation. Check the label on the life preserver to be sure it meets U.S. Coast Guard or state regulations.

Use only life jackets and life preservers that are approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. If they are, they will have a label that says so. Life jackets and life preservers are labeled by type (1, 2, 3 or 4) and for whom they are designed (child or adult).

Life jacket safety tips

  • Your children should wear life jackets at all times when on boats or near bodies of water.

  • Teach your child how to put on their own life jacket.

  • Make sure your child is comfortable wearing a life jacket and knows how to use it.

  • Make sure the life jacket is the right size for your child. The jacket should not be loose. It should always be worn as instructed with all straps fastened.

  • Blow-up water wings, toys, rafts and air mattresses should never be used as life jackets or life preservers. They are not safe. Puddle jumpers may be safe to use: look for a label stating that it is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

  • Adults should wear life jackets for their own protection and to set a good example.


Unless your children and teenagers wear or use life jackets and life preservers, they are not protected. Also remember that life jackets and life preservers should never be substitutes for adult supervision.

More information

Last Updated
Adapted from TIPP: The Injury Prevention Program (Copyright © 2020 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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