Best life jackets for kids: buyer’s guide

How to choose the best life jacket or buoyancy for your child, along with 5 top picks

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Best kids life jacket and buoyancy aids

Enjoy a family day out at the beach safely by making sure your kids top their wetsuits with a proper fitting life jacket or buoyancy aid.

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The devices are ideal for water based activities with kids’ bodyboards, kayaks, dingys and more. Below, we explain the difference between the two types as well as what to look out for when choosing one for your own child.

Plus, if you’re looking for ways to keep them entertained on dry land, we’ve rounded up some of the best beach toys for kids as well as the best family tents, just in case you’re planning of making a staycation out of it.

What’s the difference between a life jacket and a buoyancy aid?

The term “life jacket” has become an almost generic term which people tend to use to describe all types of wearable buoyancy devices.

However, there are important distinctions. For something to be officially called a life jacket, there must be a level of buoyancy (measured in newtons) of at least 100. There must also be strong head and neck support.

There are different levels of newton buoyancy which determine which situations different life jackets can be used in, from calm waters right up to offshore, extreme conditions. You can read more advice about this on the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) website.

A buoyancy aid, on the other hand, will help you to stay afloat while swimming or treading water, but it isn’t required to meet the same standards as an official lifejacket.

The RNLI recommend that this type of device be used “by swimmers in sheltered waters or by those doing watersports where help is close at hand.” This style of jacket is readily available to buy and therefore ideal for activities like sailing and kayaking on days out.

What to look for in a child’s life jacket or buoyancy aid?

Once you have decided whether you will need a life jacket or buoyancy aid, the most important thing is the sizing. Don’t look for a jacket which kids will have room to grow into, you want to make sure the jacket is able to fit securely around them to help keep them safe and supported.

Crotch straps can be fiddly to get kids to agree to wear, but they will help keep the aid in place. Choosing a brightly coloured jacket with reflective attachments will also mean they stand out in the water, should they happen to fall in.

Different styles may also be designed for certain activities. For instance, some vest shaped aids will allow the wearer to move around more when sailing or kayaking.

You may also see padded vests which look similar to life jackets, but which are in fact floatation devices. These are designed for sheltered swimming pools rather than being out in the open sea, so make sure you check you have the right product for what you need before you buy.

Here’s our pick of the best life jackets and buoyancy aids for kids…

1. TWF Kids’ 100N Approved Life Jacket, £39.95

Best for all round use

Buoyancy: 100N | Sizes: 10-20kg, 20-30kg

This neon orange life jacket should be easy to spot in the water, especially with the additional reflective patches. With 100N buoyancy, this life jacket should support your child’s head and neck, thanks to the secure collar, and therefore be suitable for swimming in calm waters.

The crotch strap should also help secure the jacket tightly and it’s adjustable, so you can make sure it has the best fit for your child.

The jacket scored an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars from previous reviews and seemed to go down well with parents, particularly when it comes to the adjustable fastenings.

“A crotch strap and adjustable belt hold it securely in place…I was confident that the jackets would keep all of the children afloat in the unfortunate event that it should become necessary,” said one parent.

Another, who had bought two, said “they fit my 5 and 7 year old girls perfectly with easy adjustable straps.” However, a couple of reviews did mention there was slight fraying on the fabric edging, such as the ties.

Available from: Amazon

2. Tribord Kids’ Life Jacket, £14.99

Best for small children

Buoyancy: 100N | Sizes: 15-30kg, 30-40kg

This T-shirt shape jacket is designed to be easy to put on – a useful feature when it is suitable for children as small as 15kg. The crotch strap and buckle are fitted in the centre to allow arms and legs more freedom to move.

With 100N buoyancy  it should be suitable for use in calm waters and offer proper support. The manufacturer recommends it is suitable for wearing while sailing up to 6 miles from the shore and there’s also a 2 year guarantee included.

Previous reviewers rated this jacket an average of 4.6 out of 5 stars and parents were impressed with the fit and overall performance of the Tribord model.

“Awesome fit and size and plenty of room to move,” said one parent whose sons used the jackets for paddleboarding, while another described it as “a great life jacket at a great price.”

Available from: Decathlon

3. Jobe Junior Jobe 100n Life Vest, £49.99

Best for extra features

Buoyancy: 100N| Sizes:20-30kgs

This kids’ lifejacket is designed with safety in mind, being equipped with buoyancy of 100N. The bright colours and reflective panels should make sure little ones are visible in the water and there’s an attached distress whistle in case of emergencies.

The jacket fastens with strong buckles while the adjustable straps allow the vest to be fitted securely around you little one so they feel fully supported. This model is also guaranteed for 2 years.

Available from: Decathlon

4. Marinepool Childs’ 100n Buoyancy Life Jacket, £46.99

Best for user ratings

Buoyancy: 100N| Sizes:20-30kgs / max chest size 60-70cm

This life jacket is made with a soft touch fabric so it should be more comfortable for little ones to wear. The belt and crotch straps are adjustable and come in multiple sizes for the best fit.

There’s a signal whistle included to alert attention if kids get into distress. The reflective strips should also be able to pick up light from a distance in low lighting.

This model went down particularly well with previous buyers, scoring 4.8 out of 5 from over 100 reviews. It is also recommended by Amazon.

Reviewers seemed happy with both the fit and quality of the jacket, with one buyer praising the “good buoyancy and freedom of movement.” Another described it as, “well made and very comfy for my 5 year old kayaking.”

Available from: Amazon

5. Tribord Sailing 50n Buoyancy Aid, £29.99

Best for general water sports

Buoyancy: 50N| Sizes: 25-40kg, 40-60kg, 60-80kg, > 80 kg

This buoyancy aid was designed by sailors especially for water sports. The ergonomic shape is designed to allow further movement as you are out and about on the water.

There’s also a handy front pocket to store things in while you are offshore and there’s a choice of three colours; orange, grey and purple. There’s a 2 year guarantee included, too.

Previous buyers rated this model 4.3 out of 5 stars overall and praised the design and functionality. One reviewer described the buoyancy aid as “strongly built” and “ideal for canoes.”

While the design of the aid was considered “efficient and simple”, one buyer did mention that the stitching could be rough around the arms if there was no clothing beneath it.

Available from: Decathlon

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