Top Life Jackets For Active Kids (30-50 lbs) – Have Fun Safely

Growing children are adventurous and most of them love water, so sailing, canoeing or even just scrambling on rocks by the shore are all great family activities. Water has its dangers though, so quality safety gear is essential. Any child on or near the water needs a good life jacket, and it has to be designed for the special needs of young people.

A child can’t help themselves in the water as much as an adult can so good head support is vital. At the same time you don’t want something so bulky that your child can’t enjoy themselves. Here are what we believe to be the 4 best life jackets for kids in the 30-50 lb weight range.

TOP PICK (Type 3 PFD):

Stohlquist Nemo

The best-selling Stohlquist Nemo is available in a range of sizes, and thanks to clever design and great construction, it’s at or near the top of the class in all of them. For children weighing anywhere from “about” 30 to 50 pounds, it has all the features you need in a life vest, making it our top pick. Unlike the infant/toddler version, the child size is a type 3 PFD which is pretty standard for this age group.

Important:  If you plan to take your little one boating or for another off shore activity, you’ll want to go with a good Type 2 vest such as the Stearns below.

The Nemo is a sleek, low profile vest that still packs in a lot of buoyancy. Its filling is well distributed to keep a child floating high in the water and the collar design is particularly impressive. The main collar is quite low and won’t get in the way, but still does a fantastic job of keeping the head safely up, while a separate neck rest gives some extra support.

It’s also designed for comfort. Many life jackets zip high on the chest, which can feel restrictive, but the Nemo has a deep V front for freedom of movement. It still fastens securely though, with a heavy duty zipper and a security strap as backup. There’s a crotch strap too, so even a slim child won’t be in any danger of slipping out. Side straps let you adjust it for a good fit.

Stohlquist Nemo reviewStohlquist has paid a lot of attention to detail. It can be difficult to grab someone floating in the water, so to make rescue easy, most vests include a grab handle. The Nemo’s is large and easy to catch hold of, and it’s also threaded with floating beads to keep it on the surface even when soaked.

The Nemo is covered in tough 200 denier nylon, making it robust and easy to clean. Three color schemes are available but it’s best to stick with the yellow or red models. The dark blue one looks nice, but it’s a lot less visible and could add long seconds to the time it takes to spot a child in the water.

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TOP PICK (Type 2 PFD):

Stearns Flotation Heads-Up

best-type-2-pfd-childWhile slightly less comfortable than a Type 3 vest like the Stohlquist above, this US Coast Guard approved Type 2 life vest is a much better option for activities when not around the shoreline (such as boating or even kayaking). This is especially important for younger children. While there aren’t many options available for Type 2s in the 30-50 lb range, this Stearns “Child Size” vest will do its job of turning a non-swimmer or unconscious child on their back to a face-up position.

Two straps around the waist and a padded crotch strap will keep the vest securely on your child while a collar handle is standard. A bright lime green is the only color offered but is very noticeable in the water.

One negative of this model is true with any Type 2. It will feel a bit more restrictive than a Type 3 but you can’t compromise on safety and you as a parent will feel much more at ease. Another small annoyance is that the buckles are a little harder than normal to snap and unsnap but that’s almost nitpicking. Overall, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better Type 2 life vest for small children than the Stearns Flotation Heads-Up.

Note: If going with a different Type 2 PFD model, make sure it is truly a USCG approved Type 2 and not simply “styled” as a Type 2 which some lesser known brands may advertise.

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Swimways Sea Squirts White Shark

Some children aren’t happy at wearing safety gear, either because they think it’s going to be uncomfortable or because they want to be “grown up”. Responsible adults are going to be wearing flotation vests on a boat, but maybe not for some onshore activities, and an adventurous child might not want to be the only one wearing a life vest.

Swimways have a great solution; instead of telling the child to wear their safety gear, why not ask them if they want to be a shark (or dolphin or killer whale)? This Sea Squirts type 3 vest is low profile and close fitting, so it won’t get in the way, and fastens securely with zip, crotch strap and two front buckles.

To add some fun, it’s a two-tone blue (or pink/blue for the girls) and has a cool fin on the back. The fin’s flexible, so won’t get in the way, and can also be used as a handhold if you’re teaching kids to swim. There’s a grab loop at the neck making the necessity of a rescue easy. The lack of a collar and colors that don’t stand out as well as others might not make it ideal for open water boating or sailing (you’ll want a Type 2). But for the beach or pool it’s excellent!

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O’Neill Wake Waterski USCG Vest

best life vest for kidsThis O’Neill vest is another unobtrusive option for kids who want something even sleeker than a Nemo. It’s USCG approved (Type 3) and easily supports a 50lb child, and buckles securely with two sturdy straps that run right round the body. There’s also a full length zip and crotch strap.

Like the Swimways, it doesn’t have a collar and is a type 3 PFD, so it shouldn’t be used for off-shore activities like boating, but it’s a high quality vest that’s ideal for most situations. While the blue with yellow may be the most popular option, opt for the yellow model for the best visibility.

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8 Responses to “Top Life Jackets For Active Kids (30-50 lbs) – Have Fun Safely”

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  1. Trish says:

    Is there a reason you did not include any U.S. Coast Guard approved (USCG) personal flotation device Type II’s instead of only infant and then the less buoyant Type III’s?


    Airhead 100-10-02-A-BL Blue Nylon Child Life Vest, also USGS PFD Type II

    Sterns Flotation Heads Up Vest

    • Alex says:

      Trish – You’re absolutely right and I apologize for the oversight. Thank you for bringing this up. A Type 2 PFD should be almost mandatory in this age range for certain activities such as boating. We’ve updated the section above to include the Stearns model.

  2. Luke Yancey says:

    I’ve always found that O’Neill makes amazing life jackets. They usually fit comfortably and absorb the water. Along with that, they feel secure. I would recommend these jackets for those that go tubing or water skiing.

  3. Jeannette Gute says:

    Is there a reason the type 2 is recommended for infants but not for the 30+ range when boating? We got the stohlquist for our infant based on this site and love it. We primarily use it for boating. We need to upgrade now that’s she’s 30 lbs and saw that the stohlquist was again recommended, unless you’re boating. I want to make sure it’s comfortable as we often boat for most of the day but am concerned that the type 2 isn’t actually recommended?

    • Alex says:

      Hi Jeannette. Sorry I missed this comment. Stohlquist actually doesn’t make a Type 2 in the 30-50 pound weight range. If you look above, we actually have two Top Picks. The second (Stearns) is a Type 2 which we recommend for boating. Hope that helps. Thanks!

  4. W. Hickey says:

    I am interested in a low profile vest for a 40 lb 4 year old. To wear around the swimming pool should an incident occur Any suggestions of yours or other models ?

  5. Ben Watson says:

    Thank you for this. My comment is a little off-topic, but I am trying anything i can for the safety of my children. 🙂

    Can you provide any assistance on finding something for my children who weigh too much (just over 50 pounds) for the Child items (30-50 pounds) yet are too slender for the youth ones (50-90)? From all my searching, this appears to be a hole in the industry. Based on their size, age, and growth patterns, I think they won’t be able to safely wear the youth ones for this year and probably next year.

    I recognize that they are most likely safe in something rated to 50 pounds, when they are 51-52 pounds. However, there are weight ratings for a reason. At what point is it too much for safety? 55 pounds? 60 pounds? The Youth jackets are WAY too big right now so I am quite confident they will still be too big at 55 pounds.

    Thank you for any help you can offer.

    • Alex says:

      Hi Ben. Great question. The weight ranges on kids’ life jackets are simply for convenience to get a starting point. It’s all about how the life jacket fits so don’t pay too much attention to weight minimums and maximums. A vest rated for 30-50 lbs might be too small for a 40 pound child or a vest rated for 50-90 lbs might be too big for a 55 lb child. With adult vests, fit is typically dependent on chest measurement. It would probably be more accurate measuring the same way for kids but there must be a reason why kids vests are sized the way they are.

      Even if you’ve already tried a life jacket in the 50-90 lb range and it was too big/loose on your child, try another brand. Just like clothes, fit varies depending on brand or even model. It might be best going to a brick and mortar store like REI to have your children physically try on a few vests.

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