The Best Infant Life Jacket

Stohlquist Unisex Infant/Toddler Nemo Infant Life Jacket

Our Top Pick for 2016: Stohlquist Unisex Infant/Toddler Nemo Infant Life Jacket
Read our full review.

See it on Amazon for $59.95*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
Too expensive? See our budget pick.

When it’s warm out, there’s nothing more fun than spending some time in and/or on the water. As an adult, you know how to swim, or at least tread water. But what about the most precious, and vulnerable person of your party? Infants need life vests to stay safe whenever around the water. As much as we hate thinking about it, accidents do happen, and it’s better to be prepared for it rather than regretting the choices we could have made that prevented them. Read on to learn how to determine what qualifies as a good life jacket and which jackets we thought were best.

Table of contents

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Infant Vest For 30lbs And Under
200 Denier Oxford Shell And Liner
Fits All Infants 0-30lbs
USCG Approved
Quick Release Buckle
Heads-up Design
Head Support Panel With Safety Loop
Adjustable Crotch Strap
Keeps Face Out Of Water
Adjustable Safety Belt Between Legs
Type II PFD
UCSG(U.S. Coast Guard) Approved
Lightweight Fluid Foam Neoprene Shell
Nylon
2 – 1″ Belts W/ Crotch Strap

*Price at time of publishing and may not reflect current pricing.

#1 Gold pick (Winner): Stohlquist Unisex Infant/Toddler Nemo Infant Life Jacket

Stohlquist Unisex Infant/Toddler Nemo Infant Life Jacket Gold Pick

View it on Amazon for $59.95*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-gold-winnerStohlquist Unisex Infant Nemo Life Jacket has been said, by several parents, to be the most comfortable and one of the safest life jacket choices you can make your baby.

This life jacket is USCG approved, tested and certified as a Type II Vest. This certification is important as it tells you that the life jacket has been proven to be a safe and working product for your baby. The Type II classification is important because it indicates which kind of life vest you are purchasing. There are three types of classification: Type I, Type II and Type III. Type II is the recommended classification for recreational use as it means the vest was made for swimming use and quick rescue in mind.

Created to be worn by infants and toddlers who weight up to 30-pounds, the curvier design of the Nemo Life Jacket is made of 200-denier nylon oxford shell and liner. The life jacket sports a low profile back that allows baby to sit up comfortably an be able to look around and move more easily out of the water. It then wraps around to your baby’s front and encloses securely with the zipper entry and a quick release buckle strap over the top for added security. The low profile back also allows for a less bulky and much more lightweight product. This ensures your baby is wrapped up tight and safely, but is still comfortable and mobile. Not to mention they’re much easier to carry in your arms.

A special feature of the Nemo Life Jacket is the dual collar. The first collar is small and cuts down into a ‘V’ shape neckline design that prevents the material to bunch up irritably in your baby’s face. The second and larger collar is like a flap that lies flat on baby’s back out of the way when out of the water. When in the water it floats out behind your baby’s head like a pillow, providing support to the head and neck while keeping baby’s mouth and nose safe from the water.

A huge safety bonus is the large and sturdy grab loop that is attached to the back of the life jacket. It is lined with floating beads so it is very easy to spot and grab hold of in an emergency situation. This makes pulling baby out of the water quick and efficient, very important things when in an emergency situation.

The Stohlquist Nemo Life Jacket has an adjustable crotch strap attached at the bottom. You place your baby’s legs through the strap – one on each side like you’d put on pants – and adjust its tightness appropriately. This feature is amazingly wonderful because no matter how much your baby squirms and wiggles, he/she is not going to fall out of the bottom of their life jacket. They’re safe and secure.

Some may be put off by the price of the Nemo Life Jacket as it is on the higher side. But the safety and comfort this product provides pays for itself. There are three color options to choose from when you go to purchase your Stohlquist Unisex Infant Nemo Life Jacket. You can either pick a yellow with blue lining, a blue with black lining or a red with yellow lining. Both the yellow with blue lining and the red with yellow lining are bright and easily seen when in the water. Be careful choosing the darker blue with black lining option as it can blend with the water color making it not as safe of a choice.

There have been some customers who noted that despite the ‘V’ shape neckline, the life jacket tended to ride up enough that the zipper rubbed baby’s chin uncomfortably. Other customers were disappointed to find that this life jacket was specifically designed for infants or toddlers who could not swim and has more of a floatation design to it.

#2 Silver pick (Runner-up): O’Neill Wake Waterski Infant USCG Vest

O'Neill Wake Waterski Infant USCG Vest

View it on Amazon for $49.95*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-silver-winnerThe O’Neill Wake Waterski Infant Vest has a bulkier design but provides great support for your baby’s head and neck. It is considered a pretty good choice if your baby is on the smaller side.
This life vest is USCG approved, tested and certified as a Type II Life Vest. Again, this certification is important because it ensures you that the life jacket has been proven to be a safe, working product for your baby and that it is in the right category for you to consider.

Designed to be worn by infants or toddlers who weight up to, or less than, 30-pounds, it is made of nylon with a lightweight fluid foam neoprene shell. Though the design of the O’Neill Wake Waterski Vest is a more aesthetic look with curvier lines, the life vest is still on the bulkier side and can be pretty uncomfortable for baby to wear for an extended time.

It sports a large, pillow like collar that falls down the back of the life vest when out of the water. When in the water, that collar floats out behind baby’s head and provides his/her head and neck with support while keeping their nose and mouth clear of the water. The collar then cuts down into a ‘V’ shape neckline to prevent the material from bunching up in baby’s face life. To wear this life vest, it wraps securely around baby’s torso and is secured into place with a zippered entry with double quick release buckles overlaid for added security. This keeps your baby safely and securely tucked in.

At the bottom of the best is an adjustable crotch strap. Again, you place your baby’s legs through the strap – one on each side like you’d put on pants – and adjust its tightness appropriately. This feature is fantastic because no matter how much your baby squirms and wiggles, he/she is not going to fall out of the bottom of their life vest. The more security the better.
Attached to the back of the collar of the life vest is a large and sturdy grab loop. It is easily accessible and allows for quick retrieval in emergency situations.

The O’Neill Wave Waterski Vest is also in a higher to moderate price range, though not as expensive as the Stohlquist. There are several color options available to choose from. You can choose a navy and pink one; a pacific blue, coal and black colored one; a yellow, pacific blue and coal option; a pink, white and coal one or a neon yellow, neon orange and coal choice.

Quite a few customer did report that this vest is super bulky and uncomfortable for their baby to wear for extended periods of time. Many haves said that their child cannot move very easily and they dislike wearing it quite a bit. Other customers noted that this vest also rides up around baby’s face despite the ‘V’ shaped neckline. This causes further irritation and discomfort for baby. Also, again customers were disappointed to find that this life jacket was specifically designed for infants or toddler who could not swim and has more of a floatation design to it.

#3 Bronze pick (3rd place): MW Infant Heads Up Life Jacket Vest PFD

MW Infant Heads Up Life Jacket Vest PFD

View it on Amazon for $29.95*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-bronze-awardAnother good option to consider and look in to when shopping for your baby is the MW Infant Heads Up Life Jacket/Vest/PFD (Personal Flotation Device).

Like the other life vests, the MW Infant Heads Up Life Jacket is USCG approved, tested and certified as a Type II life jacket. Again, this certification is important because it ensures you that the life jacket has been proven to be a safe, working product for your baby and that it is in the right category for you to consider.

This life jacket is made with 200-denier nylon and created for infants and toddlers who weight up to or less than, 30-pounds. The design of the MW Heads Up Life Jacket is much more rectangular than the Stohlquist or the O’Neill, as well as a bit bulkier in size. It’s not as aesthetically pleasing to the eyes as it is much plainer, but it functions as it should and provides the safety you want in a life vest.

Like the Stohlquist and O’Neill life vests, the Heads Up Vest has an extended collar that flip down and lays behind baby’s head with out of the water. When in the water it provides the same function as the others, pillowing your baby’s head and neck to provide them with that much needed support while keeping the water away from their mouth and nose. The neckline then cuts down into a ‘V’ design so the material doesn’t bunch up into baby’s face.

This life jacket is worn by wrapping it around baby’s torso and is secured into place with two 1-inch straps with quick release buckles. Some parents may not particularly care for this design as it doesn’t have the safety of the zipper entry in addition to the quick release buckles.

At the bottom of the MW Heads Up Life Vest a built in crotch strap is attached. The crotch strap adds extra security to the vest, so no matter how much baby wiggles he/she won’t be able to fall out through the bottom of the vest. Again, you simply place baby’s legs through the strap making sure their legs are on different sides – similar to putting on pants.

Attached to the back of the large collar is a large and sturdy grab loop. It is easily accessible and allows for quick retrieval in an emergency.

The MW Heads Up Vest is moderately priced. Only one color is available – a vibrant blue and yellow. The coloring is perfect as it is bright and easily seen in the water. This is important if there is an accident and a rescue is needed. The bright color catches the eye and directs the sight to it, no matter the conditions the weather may be providing.

Many parent have noted, however, that this life vest is very bulky. Babies ten to be uncomfortable while wearing it due to design. But the bulk actually keeps the life jacket tight and secure on your baby, making it very safe. Once more, customers were disappointed to find that this life jacket was specifically designed for infants or toddler who could not swim and has more of a floatation design to it.

#4 Budget pick (Best cheap): Stearns Infant Classic Boating Vest

Stearns Infant Classic Boating Vest

View it on Amazon for $14.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-cheap-budget-pickStearns “Classic” Boating Vest is a much more budget-friendly life vest.

It is USCG approved, tested and certified. Once more, this certification is important because it ensures you that the life jacket has been proven to be a safe, working product for your baby and that it is in the right category for you to consider

Made with PE floatation foam and cover in nylon, the Stearns “Classic” Boating Vest was made to be worn by infants and toddlers who weight up, or less than, 30-pounds. The design is more rectangular and bulky – not nearly as aesthetically pleasing at the Stohlquist or O’Neill, but is very similar to the design of the Heads Up Vest.

The floatation collar on the Stearns “Classic” also flips down across the baby’s back. Once in the water the collar pillows out to support baby’s head and neck while keeping water clear from their nose and mouth.

Sporting open sides that allows your baby to move more freely, the “Classic” is worn wrapped around baby’s torso and secured into place with an entry zipper and an adjustable chest strap with a quick release buckle for added security.

An adjustable crotch strap is attached to the bottom of the life vest. Again, you place your baby’s legs through the strap – one on each side like you’d put on pants – and adjust its tightness appropriately. This feature provides extra security and safety for your baby because no matter how much they squirm and wiggle, he/she is not going to fall out of the bottom of their life vest.
Attached to the back of the collar of the life vest is a sturdy grab loop. It is easily accessible and allows for quick retrieval in emergency situations.

A much more affordable jacket on a smaller budget, the Stearns “Classic” Boating Vest comes in two bright solid colors: Red and blue. Both are easily seen in the water no matter the weather conditions.

Many who have purchased this life jacket have noted that the material is hard, stiff and bulky. This may make the vest uncomfortable for your baby to wear on a regular basis. And once more, customers were disappointed to find that this life jacket was specifically designed for infants or toddler who could not swim and that it had more of a floatation design to it.


Pre-purchase considerations

USCG Approved, Tested and Certified

It is very important when purchasing any life vest or personal flotation device that you ensure it is USCG approved, tested and certified. You can tell if the vest is USCG approved, tested and certified by looking for the USCG emblem on either the label, the life jacket itself, or possibly both places.
There are three types of vest categories: Type I, Type II and Type III.

Type I indicates that they are made for rough, open waters where rescue is expected to take longer.
Type II indicates that they are made for flotation and designed for swimming and expected quick rescue.
Type III indicates they are made for close to shore rescues.

The recommended type of life vest for you and your child when used for recreational needs is a Type II. Again, this will be stated on the label or life jacket when you are looking to purchase.

Brightly Colored Jacket

When you are looking to purchase a life vest, always choose bright, easily noticeable jackets. This is important because if there is a need for rescue you need to be highly visible when floating in the water. Choosing a darker colored life jacket could cause it, and subsequently you, to blend in with the water around you. You want something bright that catches the eye and makes it easier for rescuers to spot, especially in more difficult circumstances.

Security and Safety

It’s always important to consider the security and safety of a vest when you’re going to purchase one. NEVER purchase a used vest as they do expire. Make sure that you are taking into consideration who you are buying the vest for. If, for example, you are buying a vest for your infant who cannot swim, it will be important if an accident happens that they are able to float with their heads out of the water. You will need to make sure you purchase a life jacket that adheres to the safety of an infant – or whomever else – with their special needs in mind.

Testing

Always take your life jacket out on a “test run” before use. Using a controlled environment, like a pool, put the life vest on and get in the water. Swim around a bit and make sure that it sufficiently helps support you and floats properly.

Also, it is important, especially in cases of babies and children, that the life vest is the right size and fitted appropriately. You can check this by standing in a “touchdown” stance – both arms straight up in the air. If the jacket comes up around the chin or ears, the life vest is either too large or needs to be better fitted. You can make the fit better by tightening and adjusting the straps on the jacket.

Conclusion (Wrapping it up)

Buying a life jacket is one of the most important things you can do for you baby if you plan on going out and/or in the water. A life vest doesn’t just help in keeping your baby afloat in an emergency situation. There are multiple uses for that life jacket, all of them important and lifesaving:

• They serve as extra padding that protects the child’s torso and neck.

• They keep your baby afloat, especially if/when their clothing becomes water logged and too heavy on their bodies for them maintain on their own.

• They lessen the shock to your child’s system when they hit the cold water – which further helps stave off the set in of hypothermia.

Your infants little body needs all the extra help, support and security you can give them. Buying a life jacket is absolutely essential for going out and/or in the water with them. Unfortunately, accidents do happen when you least expect them and even in the best of conditions. Being vigilant and prepared is a must, especially when it concerns your baby’s care.

After reading this, you will be able to make a more informed choice on what to look for when purchasing a life jacket for your little one. Maybe it even helped you decide which one you are going to get. Remember it’s important always to be safe as well as always have fun.

Discussion and comments

We want to know what you think. Do you own any of the products we discussed? Which did you buy and how did it work out for you?

Do you know of an even better product?

Comment below and help your fellow consumers make the right choice. Over to you!

Resources

  1. Life Jacket Advisor, Safety for the Smallest Sailors – Best Infant Life Jackets, Review, 2015
  2. Meg Collins, Lucie’s List a survival guide for new moms, Best Life Jackets for Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers, June 18, 2014
  3. MomTricks, Summer 2016 Guide: Best Infant & Toddler Life Jackets (For Boat Fun!), April 12, 2016
  4. Salt Dog’s Guide, Kids Don’t Float Without the Best Infant Life Jackets
  5. SAFELifeJackets.com, Kids Life Vests: MW Infant Life Jacket PFD

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