Whether you’re a boat-obsessed family or just occasionally hit the neighborhood pool, it’s never too early to introduce your baby to water. Not only is it fun, but it’s also a great opportunity to instill safe water habits. (Don’t forget the sunscreen!)
According to The World Health Organization, drowning is actually a leading cause of death worldwide and in the United States, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in children aged 1–14 years. The good news is that the proper safety equipment can help. Most important? An infant life jacket. (Note that no flotation device is disaster-proof or a replacement for keeping a constant eye on water-side babies and children.)
Like bike helmets, the best life infant life jacket is one they’ll actually wear, so finding one that’s comfortable is imperative. The infant life vest you choose should have plenty of head and neck support since babies are still developing that skill in and out of the water and should be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. For babies (who obviously don’t know how to swim), the Coast Guard recommends a Type II PFD (personal flotation device), which can turn some wearers from a face-down position in the water to a position where it’s easier to breathe. (This does not always happen in all circumstances with all wearers, so never leave them unattended!)
Most baby life jackets are designed for babies under 30 pounds, but be sure to double-check the manufacturer’s specifications. The straps should all be able to buckle securely and check to make certain that the vest can’t slip off over their head.
Any time your little one is near a body of water they should be wearing their life jacket. The younger you start, the more likely they’ll feel naked without it!
We’ve rounded up the best infant life jackets for babies under 30 pounds, each of which are U.S. Coast Guard approved Type II PFDs to give you greater peace of mind on your adventures.
Made for infants under 30 pounds, Full Throttle’s unique design features a buckle at the collar, which makes it one of the easiest life jackets to put on wiggling, reluctant babies. Instead of a crotch strap, this one features a onesie-style cut with elasticized fabric leg straps which keep it in place without riding up or slipping off. The oversize collar offers plenty of head and neck support and helps keep water out of their face while they’re floating. In the event of an emergency, it has a convenient grab strap for a quick recovery.
Reviewers say: “My kid has a huge head and is generally chubby all over. We had a traditional vest-style life jacket first, but it seemed to ride up, squish his face, and generally limit his head movement. This one fits much better and looser around the neck area. He is 11 months now and is still generally comfortable in this vest. If anything, he is about to max out on the length of the chest strap. But overall definitely better than the normal vest style, and at a reasonable price point.”- Liz
With three straps around the torso and a leg strap to keep it from riding up, the Airhead Infant Life Vest is a great affordable option. The head support is ample and the yellow/red color scheme is very easy to spot. (There’s a reason lifeguards traditionally wear red bathing suits!)
Reviewers say: “Love the large head support and the between-the-legs security strap! Baby’s only complaint is that no part of it reaches his mouth to chew on it!” –Sally
Stohluqist Infant life jacket is a favorite among parents for a variety of reasons. First, it’s one of the less bulky versions on the market, allowing a better range of movement. The deep v-neck and generous armholes also help little ones feel less chafed or constricted, without compromising safety. And with not one, but two collars, it assures that baby’s nose and mouth will have plenty of clearance from the water. It also features a front zipper, single front buckle, crotch strap and easy-grab handle for quick recovery. (Designed for babies 8-30 pounds.)
Reviewers say: “We’ve had 3 other kinds of infant life jackets, this is the only one that does look like my baby is being choked out when he sits. All the other ones push up his cheeks and he can’t even sit upright in, only stand. He doesn’t mind this one, it fits well and doesn’t choke him out. We can now have safe and peaceful boat outings!” –L. Carter
Stearns Infant Classic Series checks all the boxes without blowing the budget. It’s got a durable nylon shell that’s easy to spot in the water (red more so than blue, however) PE flotation foam and adjustable webbed straps at the waist and crotch so you can easily use it season after season. The open-sided design is made for babies 8-30 pounds, but many reviews note that it’s a bit bulky for infants.
Reviewers say: “I was worried this would be too big on my 2-month-old, 15-pound baby. It fits great and he doesn’t hate it. It’s not all up in the baby’s face like the one I had when my first baby was small. It’s easy to adjust and gets tight enough to get the right fit.” –Chloe
Future jet skiers get ready! This adventure-ready neoprene life jacket is lightweight and quick-drying with a close-sided zip-front construction with plenty of head and neck support for babies weighing 15-30 pounds. The crotch and waist straps feature quick-release buckles and keep the jacket from riding up, along with a snug fit that offers a respectable range of motion.
Reviewers say: “I was comparing this to another less expensive jacket and there is no comparison. The quality of this jacket is great, the material is soft and the jacket is very lightweight. I love the zipper and the ease of the 2 fasten clips. When in the water it does not ride up. I am ordering one for my son as well.” –Amazon Customer
The Stearns Heads-Up Infant Vest has all the trappings of the others on this list with additional visibility features we love. It’s bright green, making it super easy to spot and includes reflective material to make it even more so. The ample, contoured neck float supports like a pillow and encourages face-up floatation without making them grumpy when hanging on the boat or by the pool.
Reviewers say: “We just tried out the infant size and it fits perfectly with a little growing room! Both of them are great quality and are designed to keep the head up, whether they can swim or not. The crotch strap is also padded which is so nice. And the color is vivid, we will be able to spot him anywhere. I’m very happy with both of them!” –Dallin
A version of this story was published June 13, 2021. It has been updated.