The wrong PFD can drown your child

Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths. Globally, the highest drowning rates are among children 1-4 years, followed by children 5-9 years. (

It is not enough to just purchase the first or the cutest PFD (personal flotation device) you see in the store. Do not grab one only because it comes in your child’s favorite color or cartoon character. Wearing the wrong flotation device can be a matter of life and death, especially for children.

There are correct and appropriate PFDs for kids

Look for the Seal

Probably the easiest way to reduce your options about which PFD to purchase for your child is looking for the seal of approval from the United States Coast Guard (yes, they approve certain PFDs according to standards). Different organizations/agencies in different countries also approve flotation devices.

For example, in Canada, Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard or Fisheries and Oceans Canada give their seals as the products deserve.

There are laws and regulations about the lifejacket children can and must wear. Click here for PFD state laws before purchasing a PFD for your child:

Choose the Right Type

It is also important to know the types of PFDs that children must wear. The USCG categorizes PFDs into five types. Types I to III are the only ones that children must wear.

Type I – Offshore Lifejacket

  • Designed for extended survival in rough, open water
  • will usually turn an unconscious person face up
  • 22 pounds of buoyancy
  • Best to use where rescue may be slow in coming

Type II – Near Shore Buoyant Vest (Type II)

  • The classic lifejacket
  • Comes in several sizes for adults and children
  • For calm inland water where rescue may come fast
  • less bulky and less expensive than a Type I
  • Many will turn an unconscious person face-up in the water

Type III – Flotation Aid

  • Most comfortable
  • Comes in many sizes and styles
  • For use in calm water where rescue may come fast
  • Will not turn an unconscious person face-up

Type IV – Throwable Device (Type IV)

  • To be thrown to a person in the water; not designed to be worn and must be supplemented by wearable lifejacket
  • Boat cushions, ring buoys, and horseshoe buoys
  • NOT for small children, non-swimmers, or unconscious people

Type V – Special Use Device

  • Work vests, deck suits, and hybrids for restricted use

Shopping for a Personal Floatation Device

We made life easier by reviewing seven flotation devices for your children. You may want to choose from among these, here in a table for easy comparison. All are available at Amazon.


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Fit and Wear

Keep in mind that your child’s PFD size depends on his/her weight. Infant PFDs are for babies who weigh 8 to 30 pounds, Child PFs are for those weighing 30 to 50 pounds, and Youth PFDs may be work by 50- to 90-pound older children.

Make sure your child’s flotation device has a padded head support so that the child’s head is always above water, a grab handle so you can easily get the child out of the water, and a crotch strap to keep it in place.

Ensure the fit of the PFD on your child. A quick test: grab the shoulders of the PFD while your child is wearing it. Check that his/her chin and ears do not slip through. There must not be excess room above the armholes; if there is, the PFD is too big for your child. Your child must also be able to hold his/her arms straight up over his/her head, otherwise, the PFD may be too tight and may restrict movement.

Practice wearing the PFD before use. Tell your child the importance of the device. Talk about rules in water.

In the water, practice swimming and being comfortable with the PFD. Test first in shallow and calm waters, in a controlled environment with close supervision. Teach your child to relax.

Do Not Forget

Still, the most important and best security against children drowning is an adult watching close by. There must be a designated water watcher AT ALL TIMES. Children under 5 years must have an adult companion within an arm’s length.

Swimming is fun for both kids and grown-ups, not to mention a healthy activity, so don’t let fear keep you dry. Be safe in water using these recommended PFDs. Enjoy!

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