Safety For The Smallest Sailors – Best Infant Life Jackets (up to 30 lbs)

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It’s never too early to introduce your child to water-based activities, whether that means playing beside the pool or out boating. Obviously that means it’s never too early to fit them out with the right safety equipment either and the most important piece of gear is a good life jacket.

The best infant life jackets must provide excellent head support, because unlike an adult or older child, small babies can’t help to keep their own head up. Avoid simple buoyancy aid types such as baby floaties and choose a vest with a full collar.

Also look for secure fastenings and high visibility; an infant will be totally dependent on the vest to stay safely afloat. While infants and toddlers are technically in the same weight group (up to 30 lbs) as far as life jackets are concerned, we do have slightly different recommendations for toddler life vests.

And don’t forget a good kids sunscreen. It’s easy to get preoccupied with making sure the life jacket fits correctly or is comfortable on your little one that we forget the basics such as sun protection.

Our 5 Favorite Life Jackets for Infants & Babies

ProductMaterialUSCG ApprovedSizeCrotch StrapColors
Stohlquist NemoNylonType II8-30 lbsYes3
Mustang Lil' LegendsNylonType IIUp to 30 lbsYes2
O'Neill SuperlitePolyesterType IIUp to 30 lbsYes2
O'Neill WakeNylonType IIUp to 30 lbsYes2
Stearns Infant ClassicNylonType IIUp to 30 lbsYes2

Infant Life Jacket Reviews

#1 – Stohlquist Nemo Personal Flotation Device

The Nemo is a unisex baby flotation device for children weighing up to 30 lb. It’s a lightweight, low profile, type 2 PFD (necessary for this age) with a nylon shell, secured by a front zipper and a backup quick release buckle at the waist. It’s fully adjustable for security and comfort, should fit most children down to 3 months old and comes with US Coast Guard approval.

What really inspires confidence about the Nemo is its flotation capability, especially the large double collar. It provides excellent support to a baby’s head and neck so should ensure that the occupant floats safely with their mouth and nose well clear of the surface. Obviously, maximum floatation for babies is critical and Stohlquist will do a great job turning the infant face up if it came to that.

stohlquist-infant-vest-1At the same time a large back flotation panel acts to hold the baby more upright. Judging by user comments in various online forums, the Stohlquist also seems more comfortable than most of its competitors.

A common problem with infant life jackets is the front panel riding up over the baby’s face, which is uncomfortable and can even interfere with their breathing. The Nemo has a V-neck design to avoid this problem.

If an infant ends up in the water the Nemo will do a great job of keeping them afloat until they can be recovered. Recovery will also be easy; there’s a large, sturdy grab loop behind the collar, so a bobbing baby can be safely retrieved.

The Nemo is available in three colors, all with contrasting trim. The yellow and red models are highly visible. The dark blue one, however, has black straps and trim.

It looks smart and stylish, which could attract a lot of parents. Unfortunately it doesn’t stand out well against water and could delay recovery of an infant, so we don’t recommend this color. Stick with the red or yellow; it’s a safety device, so make the most of it.

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#2 – Mustang Survival Lil’ Legends 100

The Nemo is very adjustable, but for more petite babies under 6 months old, the Stohlquist appears to be a slightly better option. Mustang Survival has been making life jackets and immersion suits for the military, Coast Guard and even NASA for nearly 50 years.

With their recently redesigned Lil’ Legends 100, this nylon type 2 PFD is available in more colors and incorporates more mesh to keep the little ones cooler.

It’s available in youth, child or infant sizes, and the infant size is ideal for babies under 20 lb. It has a large collar with good head support, a crotch strap and a cutaway neck for comfort. There’s also a generously sized grab handle. While it may be slightly more bulky than the Nemo above, the quality is top notch.

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#3 – O’Neill Infant Superlite Life Vest

Another quality O’Neill product, the Superlite provides all the quality of a Type-2 floatation device without being as heavy as similar vests. The coated polyester shell is filled with a lightweight polyethylene foam for excellent front support. Three quick-release Delrin buckles make the vest both secure and easy to remove.

Designed to position toddlers on their backs, the vest features a collar that folds down when not needed and a safety strap to allow for quick retrieval when your child’s in the water. Properly adjusting the crotch strap will simultaneously keep your child from tugging the vest down and the collar from pushing up against their face.

Once properly adjusted, parents have found their infants are so comfortable they fall asleep while wearing one. As a type-2 PFD, this vest is a little difficult to swim in but is great for teaching your infant how to move around on their backs. Another advantage that parents love is the ability for the vest to support up to 30 pounds, allowing the vest to continue protecting the child will into their toddler years.

With an affordable price and Coast Guard approval, the Superlite will provide both comfort and peace of mind.

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#4 – O’Neill Wake Waterski Infant Vest

best newborn life vestThe O’Neill Wake is another good choice for smaller babies and also has the USCG Type II designation. It’s quite bulky but gives excellent head and neck support, and just feels really secure. The O’Neill baby flotation device has two waist buckles as well as an adjustable crotch strap.

While this or any other life vest on this page can also be used in the pool, you may want to instead consider a baby pool float. Your baby will probably be much happier.

One point that’s less good is the color options, with most of them heavily based on medium to dark colors and not as visible as they could be. Blue is fashionable, but we don’t think fashion should be a factor in safety gear. Apart from that, though, this is an excellent life jacket.

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#5 – Stearns Infant Classic Series Vest

Stearns has a reputation for quality which can be seen in this traditional-style PFD for infants under 30 pounds. Beginning with a durable nylon shell and PE floatation foam, this vest includes secure one-inch webbed straps and an open-sided vest design.

The chest belt and leg strap are fully adjustable to comfortably fit your child, while the rescue handle on the collar allows for easy retrieval from the water.

As with many similar vests, there are additional weight ranges so your infant can continue to use the same style once they outgrow the infant size. On some of the smallest infants, this and other vests may prove bulky even after adjustment, although properly adjusting the vest after zipping it up can minimize how far it rides up.

The Classic Series provides high quality at an affordable price and is fully Coast-Guard approved. We recommend choosing the red version over blue for easier visibility when in the water.

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8 Responses to “Safety For The Smallest Sailors – Best Infant Life Jackets (up to 30 lbs)”

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  1. Dianne says:

    every time i click find price for the Stohlquist, it brings this same page up.

    • Alex says:

      Thanks for letting me know. Links are fixed although it appears the Stohlquist is temporarily out of stock.

  2. Kerry Stephenson says:

    Is the Stearns Classic vest really ok to take our 12-month old out on the lake? I really want the Stohlquist but we’re on a budget. Thank you.

    • Alex says:

      Absolutely! The Stearns has the same US Coast Guard approval as the others. It may be a bit bulkier but does the job just as well.

  3. Nadine says:

    Is there one life jacket for babies that will turn their heads up every time if they fall in the water?

    • Alex says:

      There is no life jacket that is guaranteed to turn a baby face up in the water 100% of the time. Every life jacket on this page will do a good job of turning a baby face up in MOST cases but it’s still really important to have proper adult supervision.

  4. Pam says:

    Hi there! Talk to me about Puddle Jumpers for toddlers that are under 30 pounds but over 25. My understanding if it doesn’t fit proper it will ride up. What’s your thoughts on
    Stearns Puddle Jumper Infant Hydroprene Life Jacket.
    I’m a RN safety instructor. Thx

    • Alex says:

      Hi Pam. Just to be clear, the Puddle Jumpers most people refer to are the 30-50 lbs swim “aids” found here: Some people mistake the life jacket you linked to as a smaller version of the popular Puddle Jumper which it’s not. Not saying you did, but just wanted to point that out for our readers.

      The Puddle Jumper life jacket you linked to, I couldn’t say I recommend. Stearns is a good company but the reviews in this model are very hit or miss. The design is a bit non-traditional.

      Between 25-30 lbs is a tough range. You should be able to get away with an infant/toddler life jacket but most people think kids life jackets run a tad small. Also it depends on how the child is built.

      When one of our daughters was around 30 lbs, a toddler life jacket still fit easily since she was taller than average, but for a more stocky kid, we would have had to gone to the next size up (30-50 lbs.). If close to 30 lbs and average build, I’d personally go with the 30-50 lbs range which should still be a safe fit but you wouldn’t have to buy a new life jacket in a few months.

      Here are the ones we recommend for that weight:

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