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Swimming is great exercise for toddlers and it’s also something that kids and parents can do together. It’s always best to be safe in and around water though, so while your toddler is learning to swim they should wear a good quality swim aid or vest.
Once they’re confident in the water they can strike out without it, but in the early stages they – and you – will feel better with some extra assurance that they’ll stay afloat. Keep in mind that swim vests and floaties are not designed to replace an actual life jacket for toddlers or kids life vest.
Our 5 Favorite Learn to Swim Vests
|Puddle Jumper Deluxe||Polyester||Type III||30-50 lbs||18|
|Speedo Begin to Swim||Neoprene/Polyester||No||33-60 lbs||3|
|Puddle Pals||Polyester||Type III||30-50 lbs||9|
|Speedo Water Skeeter||Neoprene/Polyester||Type III||30-50 lbs||3|
|Splash About Float Suit||Nylon/Elastane/Polyester||No||20-50 lbs||7|
Swim aids look simple compared to the sort of vest you need for boating but you still need to choose them carefully. It’s vital that the one you buy allows your child to move freely – otherwise learning to swim will be a struggle. Get it right, though, and it will be amazingly helpful.
Learn to Swim Floatation Aid Reviews
The Puddle Jumper from Stearns is by far the most popular means of swim floatation for toddlers. It’s comfortable to wear and doesn’t get in the way of learning to swim, but does a good job of adding extra buoyancy when it’s needed.
There’s good reason the Puddle Jumper has been the best selling floatation device for toddlers and little kids for some time now. As many parents will attest, it’s an excellent value and we can almost guarantee you won’t have any regrets buying it.
While it doesn’t look like a typical life jacket, it’s technically a Type III Coast Guard approved flotation aid (thanks to the former Puddle Jumper product manager who contacted me). It’s capable enough to be used as a safety aid on the beach or in shallow water. We wouldn’t recommend it to replace a more traditional life jacket for sailing or kayaking (even though technically it could), but that’s not what it’s meant for.
This compact vest has two arm bands and a chest panel; simply slip the arms through the bands then fasten the strap at the back, and it’s all ready to go. The strap makes it quite adjustable and there shouldn’t be any trouble fitting it securely for 30-50 lb children. Since Puddle Jumpers are perfect for being on top of the water and looking underwater, make sure they have a good pair of swim goggles.
The arm bands themselves aren’t adjustable but they do have plenty space in them, even though they may feel tight fitting (especially when wet). Once your child is in the upper part of the weight range, it’s recommended to put a little sunscreen on their upper arms to make putting on and taking off the Puddle Jumper much easier.
The build quality of the Puddle Jumper is pretty impressive for such an inexpensive product. It’s made from a woven polyester fabric that’s a lot softer than a typical life jacket. That makes it comfortable enough to be worn most of the day, unlike a lot of other brands.
It’s also available in a wide range of colors (
12 18 as of this time), most of which have cheerful cartoon designs on the front. Kids love these, meaning you’ll have a lot less trouble getting them to wear it.
This Speedo vest is a more traditional design than the Puddle Jumper; it’s basically a standard swim school vest, made from neoprene for a low profile. It’s not at all bulky and gives the wearer excellent freedom of movement, so new swimmers will be able to learn without any problems.
The vest also gives good protection against UV rays for outdoor swimming, which is important – it’s easy to forget how much UV your child is exposed to, especially around water where constant splashing keeps them cool. For children with paler skin the Speedo is well worth considering just for that. Of course it’s also a secure life vest with a front zipper and crotch strap.
Unlike the Puddle Jumper, the Speedo swim vest is available in both Medium (33-45 lbs) and Large (45-60 lbs) sizes. Keep in mind the Begin to Swim vest is just that, a swimming aid which is not US Coast Guard approved.
While the Stearns Puddle Jumper is by far the most popular swim aid for most young, eager-to-learn swimmers, it may have a tendency to slide around a bit for a small number of kids who may be on the skinny side or just shy of the 30 pound recommended minimum.
The new(ish) Body Glove Paddle Pals would in these cases be a better option as it’s essentially a swim vest with floaties that’s also US Coast Guard Type III approved. When at the beach or by the river, a decent pair of kids water shoes will keep their feet safe while they’re having fun.
Because it has shoulder straps, there’s no possibility of the vest coming off. The vest buckles in the back so they will need help putting it on but this also makes it more secure. The built-in drain holes are a nice touch to keep the vest as light as possible after being in the water.
We’ll see if the Paddle Pals can one day dethrone the Puddle Jumpers as the best toddler floatation device, but it’s too soon to tell. Available in 9 fun styles.
Another good product from Speedo, this floatation aid is an excellent way to give your 30-50 pound child confidence when first learning to swim without getting in the way. This USCG approved Type III PFD has a unique design which doesn’t wrap all the way around so their arms have plenty of room to move. There are instead side straps and a crotch strap to keep them snug and secure.
It’s the best float vest for kids who have trouble floating on their backs due to the “turtle-like” shape. Like other learn to swim aids on this page, it’s not meant to replace a life jacket when boating, but for the pool or around the beach, it’s a fantastic option. It’s available in 3 fun, bright colors that your little boy or girl will love.
The Splash About is a fun, colorful vest that lets children use their arms freely while making sure they have plenty of buoyancy to keep them safely afloat. It has 16 removable floats, so it’s easy to adjust for lighter or heavier children by adding or removing floats. You can can start out using it as a baby floatation suit and slowly take away floats as your child grows and gets more comfortable staying afloat.
This float suit comes in a range of bright colors with fun designs. It’s also very easy to put on. Essentially, it’s a swimsuit with attached floats and makes a good alternative to a typical toddler pool float. Although its unisex probably suits girls better. Like the Speedo Begin to Swim vest, this Splash About float suit is definitely not US Coast Guard approved and should only be used as a swimming aid for the pool.
Can you use a Puddle Jumper on a boat?
While it is US Coast Guard approved as a type III PFD, the use of a Puddle Jumper (or similar Body Glove Puddle Pals) on a boat is not always advisable. Your decision should be based on a few factors:
- Are you on a lake or ocean?
- Are you underway or anchored?
- Are you swimming in the water with your child?
- How good of a swimmer is your child?
In our opinion, if out on the ocean, the boat is moving, or if you have a “not quite ready to learn” swimmer, a traditional life jacket is a must. For the other scenarios above, do what you feel is right as the parent or guardian. But you’ll never be wrong by playing it safe.
What different types of Puddle Jumpers are available?
The top-selling Puddle Jumpers are currently available in 4 varieties.
- Original: Nylon material
- Deluxe: Polyester material
- Deluxe 3D: Polyester material + Antimicrobial + 3D designs
- Ultra: Hydroprene material + Antimicrobial
For most, we recommend going with the Deluxe or Deluxe 3D version. They’re both more comfortable than the Original and about the same price. While the Ultra’s neoprene-like material is the most comfortable, it makes the product seem twice as heavy after being in the water.
What’s the difference between a life jacket and the swim aids listed on this page?
Please see: Kids Life Jacket vs Puddle Jumper vs Swim Vest for a comparison.
Are there learn-to-swim vests available for kids over 50 pounds?
Absolutely. Konfidence is one of the better known brands when it comes to swim aids for kids starting around age 4 all the way to about 14. Here are two models covering that entire age range:
Does anyone make a learn-to-swim vest for adults?
Yes. While obviously not as popular, there are a small handful of brands that sell adult learn-to-swim vests. Here’s our favorite:
What’s the best way to clean a Puddle Jumper type swim aid?
Puddle Jumpers and other learn to swim devices can be cleaned the same way as a regular life jacket. See: How to Remove Mildew, Mold, and Smells From a Life Jacket