What You Need to Know
about Life Vests for Children
Is a Life Vest?
life vest or a life jacket is a Coast Guard approved
personal flotation device (PFD) that helps you and your
child float and stay warm in the water.
Should Your Child Wear a Life Vest?
is often silent, takes as little as five minutes and
usually happens when an adult is nearby. No one can watch
a child every second. Here are guidelines for wearing PFDs:
between birth and five years: on beaches, docks and in
Children between the ages of 6-11: on
docks, boats, inner tubes and river banks.
Teens and adults: on
boats or inner tubes.
a Life Vest:
are different types of life vests: Types I, II, III and
IV. Type I is for boating in severe conditions where
rescue may be delayed. Type LV is a boat cushion or rescue
ring. It does not replace a wearable PFD and should not be
used by children. The types most helpful for near-shore
recreational boating are:
for calm, inland water where there is a good chance of
fast rescue. Smaller sizes often have high collars to help
keep a childs face out of the water.
provides similar flotation to Type IL and offers the most
comfort and freedom of movement. It comes in a variety of
styles and sizes, from small child through adult. It is
also best used in calm water where theres a good chance
of fast rescue.
Buy your child a PFD there may not be one that
fits to rent or borrow.
Buying a Life Vest Check for
Coast Guard approved label.
A snug fit. Check weight and size on the label and
try the PFD on your child. Pick up your child by the
shoulders of the PFD; the childs chin and ears wont
slip through a proper fit.
Head support for younger children. A well designed
PFD will support the childs head when the child is in
A strap between the legs for younger children. This
is a good feature because it helps prevent the vest from
Comfort and appearance. This is especially important
for teens, who are less likely to wear a PFD.
Do You Use a Life Vest?
Every spring, check the life vest for fit as well
as wear and tear. Throw it away if you find air leakage,
mildew, rot or rust.
If a child panics in the water and thrashes about,
he may turn onto his face, even though a PFD with a collar
is designed to keep him on his back with face out of the
water. Have your child practice wearing a life vest in the
water this will help prevent panic and rolling over.
Never alter a PFD. It could lose its effectiveness.
Wear your own life vest to set an example, and to
help your child if an emergency occurs.
Never use toys like plastic rings or water wings in
place of a PFD.
PFDs only work when they are worn, and they do not take
the place of supervision!
Jackets Have Been Saving Lives for Generations
A little history about life
They have been saving lives
for nearly 150 years, but even though no one has ever
given them an award for heroism, tens of thousands of
people have been given the credit and provided all the
proof necessary that they do the job for which they are
They are personal floatation
devices-"life preservers" or "life
jackets" (with emphasis on the word
"life")- and they've been in the forefront of
lifesaving since 1852, the year Congress passed the first
requirement that passenger steamboats on the nation's
rivers carry a float or life preserver for every
A lot of water has swept over
life jackets in the years since that first act of
Congress. Life jackets have been there when it has
counted, aboard sinking passenger liners, though several
wars, on countless pleasure cruises, and amid storms on
the oceans and great lakes. And everywhere they've been
worn, they've brought people back alive.
Today's life jacket is the
product of a considerable amount of research and
development. Life jackets are now models of ingenuity in
comparison to the original ones.
In earliest years of
development, the "life preserver" was nothing
more than a wood plank used by Norwegian seamen, an empty
barrel or even a vest of cork blocks. But when Congress
got involved, a gradual life preserver development process
began. Legislation passed in 1852 set the first carriage
requirement for life preservers and also created a Board
of Supervising Inspectors. The Board quickly set
requirements for life preservers on board commercial
carriers and mandated that the devices be "furnished
with ready and suitable means for secure attachment to the
body of the person, or to enable persons to hold
themselves securely hereto." Translated: A life
preserver had to be wearable and designed to either be
secured to the body or have hand-holds (typically rope) so
that a person could hold onto it securely while in the
The following year, the
legislation was amended to require "shoulder straps
to all life preservers be recommended or other means
attached, so as to prevent the same from getting in an
improper position to the hazard of life."
Through the following years,
the Board determined that inflated life preservers
developed in the 19th century were not as dependable as
uninflated types. They also voted to ban tin or metal
components from use in life preservers because those
pieces might be damaged through carelessness or oxidation.
The cork-block type became something of the standard
against which all other life preservers were measured.
Research and development of
new designs continued based on the experiences of seamen
and passengers involved in maritime disasters. At times,
such research found materials that were being used for
life preservers were unsuitable for such use. For example,
the use of loose granulated cork was banned in 1857. Each
new development added to the knowledge about life jackets
and changed the requirements for such things as material,
buoyancy, form and even the shape of the life jacket.
The use of kapok life
preservers became the norm. Particularly on warships,
because crew members were expected to wear their life
jackets even while sleeping.
But the introduction of kapok
was not without problems. First distributed in 1902, kapok
was then prohibited in 1904 because it was found to be
flammable and tended to lose buoyancy rapidly under the
compression that typically occurred while being stored.
However, developers did not turn their backs on the
material, and it was once again approved in 1918.
Two years later, balsa wood
was approved for use in life preservers because of it's
light weight, excellent buoyancy and life span. Meanwhile,
cork was still in wide use because of it's high buoyancy
retention and the fact that it did not readily burn or
deteriorate. In 1920, a regulation was passed that
mandated that 5% of all shipboard kapok life preservers
must be able to support a "downward gravitational
pull of 20 pounds for two hours." The vests that did
not pass the buoyancy test were condemned.
In 1928, the sinking of the
Vestris, a British passenger steamer, influenced life
preserver development. Many lives were lost, which led to
the convening of an International Convention for Safety of
Life at Sea in London in the following year. Rescuers who
responded to the Vestris sinking testified that they found
many bodies floating face down, even though they were
wearing cork life vests. As a result, a US Navy captain
urged that kapok life jackets be required for the merchant
marines because they kept an unconscious individual's face
and head above the water.
With the passage of the
Motorboat Act of 1940, the US Coast Guard began to address
the problems of recreational boaters- in addition to
commercial boaters- in it's consideration of life
preserver carriage. The Coast Guard recommended that life
preservers designed for use on recreational vessels be
able to support a person for shorter periods of time than
required for ocean-going vessels and not be so bulky that
people would not wear them. The Coast Guard developed a
life jacket with lower buoyancy requirements and lesser
performance that was intended for emergency use on
World War II gave rise to
extensive life jacket development, including inflatables,
for use by submariners and sailors. The arrival of the
"modern" inflatables opened the door for
continued research and development in the post-war years.
Boating safety specialists and the business community
worked to adapt military advances in life preservers to
the civilian market.
By 1964, the Coast Guard
determined that recreational boaters' needs still were not
being met by life jackets, so the agency developed a
standard for "special purpose" devices to offer
minimum restriction while still accommodating boaters'
For example, this included
specific models for water skiers and kayakers. Such life
jackets, made from new materials such as closed-cell foam,
are not as bulky as older styles and are more attractive
and colorful. Participants in specific recreational
activities can often be identified at a glance by the
style of life jacket they wear, and these lifesavers have
even become something of a status symbol.
In 1979, the Coast Guard
published a notice in the Federal Register proposing
to amend it's rules for the use of inflatable life
jackets. But it was not until 1985 that the Coast Guard
actually proposed and adopted extensive requirements for
approving inflatable life jackets and additional
requirements concerning their carriage on recreational
boats. Continuing advances in technology are making the
inflatables more reliable, as well as lighter and easier
Thank you for taking the time
to learn more about Life
won't work if you don't use them!