It’s never too early to introduce your child to water-based activities, whether that means a yachting trip or just playing beside the pool. 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.
All the best infant life jackets have to give 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.
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.
At 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.
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.
The 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.
One point that’s less good is the color options, with most of them heavily based on medium to ark 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.