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Life Jackets for Infants and Toddlers

Pfd, Water Birth

My husband and I might be a little crazy, but our son Chase took his first swim in a pool when he was just 11 weeks old. He was actually almost born in water, but at 2 weeks late, he was disqualified from our hospital’s water birth tub. We had read all about babies having a natural affinity to water, and sure enough, when we held him just by his head, he stretched out his arms and legs and relaxed in the warm pool water, just like the books said he would.

Not long after that we contemplated taking him on his first short sail. Crazy, maybe but still safety conscious, I picked up a cute little PFD at a major retailer. It was blue and had little turtles on it. It seemed to fit his tiny body well enough. So, we took a brief sail on a beach cat and all went well.

Once ashore, I decided to take Chase in the pool with the PFD on, to get him accustomed to how it felt in the water. I lay him in the pool in the PFD on his back, and he promptly flipped faced down. Of course he was not able to right himself. Nothing bad happened, I flipped him back over immediately, he did not cry or panic as he had already become comfortable with his face being briefly in the water, but it was a good lesson on how glaringly inadequate the PFD I’d selected was.

I had a mission. After surfing around on the web a bit, I was off to a major marine outfitter, certain I could find a better floatation option there. I had now read a bit about PFD ratings and was determined to find a PFD rated 1. A 1 rating will “provide the most insurance of keeping the wearer’s head face up.” This was something that would obviously be important on a non-swimming infant or small child.

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In the aisles at the marine supply store, I was swarmed by well meaning sales people. I explained that I was looking for a PFD for babies under 20 pounds that was rated PFD 1. Together we raked through their entire stock of kids PFD’s and could not find one. I also looked for a harness, thinking a better approach might be to just have my little crawler hooked on. The webbing on the store’s version of a child harness I was shown was so thin, I would not even put it on dog.

In complete disbelief, I continued to rifle through the stock in hopes of finding a PFD 1 vest. One sales person would leave to go look and see if they had I wanted in a catalog, another would come. One even tried to sell me a PFD based on the cartoon character it had on it. I was not convinced Spiderman would help save my child in a boating incident. I needed a PFD that would float him face up.

I left the store empty handed. We had just bought a 35 foot sloop, we were going to be going out on the open seas with my one and only child and was not about to base his safety on how cute he looked in a cartoon character!

Back at home, I returned to the web. By now, my criteria for a PFD was getting clearer. Not only did the PFD need to safety rated 1, it needed to have a built in harness or suit that went around his bottom, so that my child could not slip out. Many of the PFD’s I had seen had but a single strap between the legs or nothing at all.

After months of searching I found two 1 rated PFD’s. I could not find a PFD 1 for an infant/toddler that was manufactured in the US or sold in a store in the US. Of the two I found one was manufactured in England by “Crewsaver,” and the other in Australia by “Ultra Sea Raider.” This blew my mind, didn’t we care about the safety of our smallest boaters in the US.

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Pressure mounted as my husband announced that he’d booked a trip to Antigua as a surprise. After studying the descriptions, I decided to buy the Ultra Sea Raider. My husband stayed up until the wee hours of the night to call a retail marine supply store in Australia, about a hundred dollars and a few days later, a package with plastered in Australian postage stamps arrived on our doorstep.

My son is now two, and he has been wearing the Australian Ultra Sea Raider religiously because it has proven to be the so comfortable. I have also now purchased the Crewsaver, to keep on hand in case of a passage, because it has a built in harness. If I were going to do any extended cruising, particularly in cooler climates, and/or with an infant, I would purchase a third The Thermo Cruise Baby, which I just learned of at the 2007 Miami boat show.

From time to time I search the web to see if any other options for PFD 1’s have become available, there are still these few, and finding a place to purchase them can be trying. For the remainder of the article, I am going to share my research, because it should not be so difficult to get the best possible PFD for your infant, toddler or small child.

Here are the PFD 1 rated options I could find .The Ultra Sea Raider (Australia). What’s great about this PFD: It is rated PFD 1. It has a neoprene back and diaper bottom that is very secure.It’s not bulky , and super comfortable. It really keeps the head up, even on a non-swimmer. The buckles can tighten down for a smaller child and be loosened as you child grows. Here are drawbacks: It doesn’t have a built in harness. You need to put a knot in the napweb of the buckle for the diaper bottom strap or it can slip loose. It must be ordered from Australia – and you’ll likely have to make a phone call to order it and it is priced in Australian dollars. Here is a link to purchase.

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The Crewsaver: What I like about it: It is PFD 1 (Offshore) rated. It has a built in harness. It has a light and whistle. It can be ordered online. Its drawbacks are: the tie closure is very bulky. Must be ordered from England, it is priced in British pounds. It is comparatively expensive. Here is Link to purchase:

Thermo Cruise Baby by Regatta of Norway: What I like: This PFD provides protection from heat loss. It is for babies up to 15kg. Has a built in harness. Norwegian manufactured used on cruise ships. Its drawbacks: It is impractical in warm climates for constant use. It is limited availability, I had great difficulty locating a link for purchase information, but here is one.

All of the PFD’s I have reviewed provide excellent head up floatation, all are rated for offshore. All of these PFD’s also come in infant to toddler weights, up to age 4. An additional option, which auto-inflates, is made by Sospenders, which is available for children beginning at 30 pounds. Given the possibility of a child in this age range jumping in, I am not sure I would want to risk an accidental opening. I’d rather put an auto-inflate PFD on an older child or adult.