Puddle Jumpers vs Life Vests when Boating

With Labor Day approaching many will be soaking up final summer days poolside or lakeside. So I’m excited to have one of our readers guest post today about her experience in boating and being poolside with twins. Several months ago, I wrote a post “Swimming Safely with Twins and Multiples.” From this post, I had an outpour of questions and emails. One question in particular came from a mom of twins from Houston, TX, Joanna Taczanowsky. Joanna asked me, If I would recommend the use of puddle jumpers in the scenario in which she was taking her twins to a small lake and would be on a three bench aluminum boat going very slowly. Now the answer to this question was intriguing to me for the fact that I’m a solver and fixer and wanted to answer Joanna’s question and because I’ve been wanting to take my three boys canoeing at a popular lake nearby. However, up to this point, I’ve only taken my boys poolside. Joanna and I talked back and forth about life vests and puddle jumpers and the following post is her experience shared in the hopes that it might help answer questions from other moms of multiples in similar situations.

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Joanna boating with her twins

This is Joanna’s experience: Floats and Boats: I was very excited to be planning my 2 year old boys’ first vacation. My boys would be the 5th generation in my family to spend time on Lake Ebeemee in Maine. I started looking into what kind of flotation device I would need to purchase for them since the camp has a small outboard motored boat. My guys love the water and I have been lucky that last summer and this summer I can handle them at the splash pad and the pool by myself during the week, as well as enjoying the water with my husband and the boys on weekends. They love being in the water and hadn’t needed a lifejacket before, so this was my first time looking at the variety of Coast Guard approved vests for our upcoming lake trip.

The more I researched online the more confused I became. I thought my choices would be a traditional looking life vest or Puddle Jumper. The boys were over 2 years old, but only 24 pounds, so according to their weight they belonged in an infant life vest. When I looked up some information about Puddle Jumpers I learned they are really designed for children around 3 years old who weigh between 30 and 50 lbs.

I decided we should start with the vest, as it was a more appropriate fit by weight. We went to our local sporting goods store to try some on and I was disappointed to see the life vests for children weighing less than 30 pounds all had buoyant collars with handles. They looked like they were really designed for smaller children, but the weight was appropriate so we tried them on. The fit was laughable; I couldn’t even zip them up because the neck hole was much too small. The boys were extremely uncomfortable and couldn’t wait to rip them off. We tried some life vests that fit children over 30 pounds but they were too big and/or too long, and I could tell that in the water the jackets would be uncomfortable up and around their neck when they became buoyant in the water.

We moved onto the next option of the Puddle Jumpers. The thought of putting my boys in something not really designed for them made me nervous, but I wasn’t sure we had any other options. A friend had a few she passed down to me so we went to our neighborhood pool to try them out. The chest actually fit better and more snuggly than I thought it would when we made the adjustable strap the very smallest it could be, but the arms were still loose. If they boys tried to they could easily slip the arms down off their shoulders and take their arms out. On the positive side, in the water the boys did like them. I can see why they are designed for older kids, because it takes a bit of control on the part of the child not to face plant in the water and get stuck like that. The boys were clearly too young to just be thrown into the water and expect the Puddle Jumper to save them. But I didn’t feel like we had any other options so we decided to use them on our trip.

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Joanna’s double blessings making a big splash!

There were a few reasons I felt comfortable using the Puddle Jumpers on our trip, even though they were less than ideal. The boat only goes about 1 mile an hour, the lake only has a handful of other watercrafts on it, my husband and I are both excellent swimmers, and I have known the waters and the ins and outs of the lake for 27 years. However, under different circumstances – such as a larger busier lake or the ocean – I definitely would not have been comfortable using these as a true lifesaving device.

After my research and experience, I wish there was a life vest designed for older and lighter children, something between a true infant vest and a vest for older children over 30 pounds. After a fair bit of internet searching there seems to be a large group of us with smaller, lighter kids that fit into the space between infant life vests and Puddle Jumpers. It’s been my experience around pools and boats that parents use Puddle Jumpers with much younger and lighter children than they’re designed for and also using them under the misconception that they are a tool to teach your child to swim. Being approved by the U.S. Coast Guard doesn’t mean they are designed to aid in swimming. When worn correctly, they actually put the child vertical to the water with their head up when swimming necessitates the body being horizontal to the water.

I’ve been in and around swimming classes for all ages my whole life and I’ve never seen an instruction use or recommend any kind of life vest or buoyancy device for learning to swim. I certainly see the appeal to parents – they allow less confident swimmers more freedom out of a parent’s arms – and see lots of kids having fun swimming with them. For me, it’s definitely more work to teach my guys to swim without any kind of vest or Puddle Jumper, and I leave the pool sweating after chasing them around for an hour, but I am hoping next summer I have two avid swimmers and we can enjoy the lake together.

Thank you Joanna for sharing your personal experience. We hope this helps answer questions from other moms of multiples!
Thanks Joanna!

Click here for more information about water safety when boating with toddlers and kids. Would you like to share your story, tips and or tricks and or have some questions needing to be answered please contact us. We would love to hear from you and share with others through our blog, WiseMommies.

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6 thoughts on “Puddle Jumpers vs Life Vests when Boating”

  1. Great information Joanna. As a former Water Safety Instructor (swim lesson coach) of the American Red Cross I am so glad you brought up children learning to swim not wearing any flotation devises. They are downright dangerous and give children (and adults, for that matter) a false sense of security and buoyancy. I appreciate that you discussed that because I believe too many people ‘conform’ to what is socially acceptable and you see a lot of little kids near a pool wearing floaties. Even ones that can swim! Its impressive that you set out to find just the right fit of flotation devise for your boys. Maybe someone out there will hear you and make some!
    Kudos mama, you’re doing GREAT.

  2. I’m sorry. But I grew up wearing a “floatie” because we always had a pool growing up and it kept me safe until I learned to swim. And I believe I am an excellent swimmer and have been for a long time (I am 39 now with 2 kids of my own). While I agree that you cannot learn to swim correctly in a flotation device. But when you have children near water, to call a flotation device that is designed to keep children safe (and possibly from dying) “downright dangerous” is misguided and cruel to parents who use them properly. When you have children, especially more than one, and you are near water on a hot day, you cannot make every moment with all the kids a swim lesson and keep them all safe at the same time. And not everyone can afford fancy swim classes (I learned well without them from my father). If you train your children properly you can teach them the extremely important need for water safety and also teach them gradually how to swim on their own. My son is 4 1/2 now and has used a puddle jumper and is learning to be safe and also learning to swim correctly from his parents. I don’t believe it is the use of safety devices that are dangerous. Especially in situation you call “socially acceptable” where you see “lots of little kids near a pool”. Therein lies the danger. Any one child could easily slip away from an adult rapidly and end up accidentally in the water. It is not just for peace of mind or for fitting in with the crowd that parents use these. They simply don’t want their children to die! Teaching your children to swim properly is a matter of training separate from using a safety device and depends on the training and abilities of each parent. Don’t knock someone for keeping their kids safe. To be helpful, you could offer free swim lessons. Not negativity.

    • I’m sorry I meant to say in the beginning…my comments are directed towards your previous commenter. Not the article above. Apologies for forgetting to put that in my comment.


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