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The Trouble With Buying Kids' Life Jackets Like Shoes

"You'll Grow Into It" Doesn't Work

Photo Caption: Buying a life jacket that your child can grow into is a big mistake, says BoatUS. This child's life jacket doesn't move up over his ears when gently lifting - a good fit.
Download hi-res photo.
ALEXANDRIA, Va., February 22, 2013 – Kids grow fast. That’s why frugal parents often buy their kid’s shoes a little bigger than the actual size. However, when buying a kid’s life jacket that’s too large – a common mistake – the results can be heartrending because children in a wrong-sized life jacket can easily slip out.

“I’ve sent my own kids to school with slightly bigger shoes,” says BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety President Chris Edmonston. “However, if a too-big life jacket slips off a child when their arms go above their head, there could be tragic results.” Edmonston, himself a father of five, knows what he’s talking about. Here are some tips on having the right-sized kids’ life jacket:

• Kid’s life jackets come in three sizes: infant (under 30 lbs.) which offer greater floatation for the head; child (30-50 lbs.) and youth (50-90 lbs.). Any child more than 90 lbs. should wear an adult life jacket. Only purchase life jackets that are US Coast Guard approved.

• “Every season I have my kids put on their life jacket to check for comfort and the proper size,” said Edmonston. If you boat year round, it may be good to do this a couple times a year.

• To check for proper fit: 1.) Have the child stand with the jacket on and all buckles, zippers, crotch straps fastened. 2.) Grab the life jacket’s shoulder area and pull straight up. The jacket should not move up to (or over) the child’s ears. If it does, it’s likely to be too big, and mom or dad need to find another one.

• The best fit for a kid’s life jacket is one that fits snugly yet comfortably. If all of the fasteners cannot be attached, it’s likely too small.

“If a child has a good fitting life jacket, they won’t complain about wearing it,” added Edmonston. “Better yet is to set the example and wear one yourself.”

A short video on how to pick a right-sized kid’s life jacket is available at BoatUS also offers a Kids’ Life Jacket Loaner Program at 530 locations where right-sized life jackets can be borrowed for the day or weekend. To find a location near you, go to


About the BoatUS Foundation:

The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water is a national leader promoting safe, clean and responsible boating. Funded primarily by the half-million members of BoatUS, it provides innovative educational outreach directly to boaters and anglers with the aim of reducing accidents and fatalities, increasing stewardship of America's waterways and keeping boating safe for all. To make a tax-deductible donation to this 501(c)(3) nonprofit, go to