How to Decide Between Paddle Pals or Puddle Jumper

Learning how to swim is an exciting time for any aged child, but caregivers and parents know that safety comes first. However, this is hard when your kids want their freedom in the water. Most parents put their toddlers in some sort of personal flotation device (PFD) to help them learn, but what are the differences between some of the most popular ones? We have the complete guide on Paddle Pals vs Puddle Jumper choices here.

Paddle Pals vs puddle jumper

A puddle jumper or Paddle Pal can be a great compromise for parents and their children who want a swim aid that does more than just water wings. However, with so many on the market, you want to learn more about each to decide which is best.

Paddle Pals vs Puddle Jumper: What Are They?

A puddle jumper combines a life jacket, swim aid, and swim vest. To use a puddle jumper, the child slips their arms through the arm floaties, buckling it from behind to secure it. Paddle Pals are essentially the same as a puddle jumper, just with a different name.

Most parents recognize puddle jumpers as a swim aid for small children to wear when swimming or to help with flotation during swimming lessons. While most products are called “puddle jumpers,” some companies produce similar products under different names (i.e., Paddle Pals).

Generally, puddle jumpers and Paddle Pals have arm and chest flotation support, and, unlike traditional PFDs, they lack head support and straps. However, most puddle jumpers do conform to US Coast Guard PFD guidelines, which means they’re safe to use, as long as there is adult supervision.

Types of Paddle Pals and Puddle Jumpers

When comparing Paddle Pals and puddle jumpers, you’ll find they look very similar. The common features of both PFDs include polyester fabric, arm floaties and a chest flotation panel.

However, a few different types of Paddle Pals and puddle jumpers are available, and not each is US Coast Guard approved.

Here are the details of the different types available and their similarities.


A standard Paddle Pal or puddle jumper has a chest panel and arm floaties with flotation foam inside. The arm floaties are connected to the chest panel with additional pieces of foam or fabric. They will often have buckles in the back with a single strap that can be loosened and tightened to adjust the fit of the flotation device.

Shoulder Straps

This type of PFD for children incorporates an additional piece of fabric over the child’s shoulders. This extra fabric on the shoulder straps keeps the puddle jumper or Paddle Pal from loosening when the child is in the water. It also adds some UV protection.


While most Paddle Pals or puddle jumpers feature a buckle, some have a zipper option. Zippers ensure a better closure and prevent children from removing the PFD.


These are rare to find, but they look like swimsuits with built-in flotation device panels. Sizing these PFDs can be challenging, and there’s typically a narrow window for children to wear them before outgrowing them.

Rash Guard

These incorporate UV protection with a life preserver design. You’ll generally put the rash guard puddle jumper or Paddle Pal over your child’s head and then zip it up from behind. These usually have long or short sleeves and offer extra UV protection.

Puddle jumper
Source: Shutterstock

The Differences: Paddle Pals vs Puddle Jumper

Now that you understand the many similarities there are between Paddle Pals vs puddle jumpers, let’s look at some of the differences.

Paddle Pal

A Body Glove Paddle Pal has an extra vest element that goes across the chest and shoulders. This extra element allows the device to be better secured to the child. It is especially helpful for a thinner child. It is also a patented US Coast Guard approved “learn to swim” life jacket with attached armbands.

Puddle Jumper

A Stearns Original Puddle Jumper for kids life jacket has also been tested and approved by the US Coast Guard and can be used as a Type V/III PFD in or near the water. While it is designed to fit snugly for added safety, the puddle jumper lacks the additional vest element that the Paddle Pal has.

However, as we previously mentioned, it features safety buckle straps in the back, so children can’t remove the vest themselves when it is properly tightened.

Benefits of Paddle Pals vs Puddle Jumper Devices

There are several benefits to using a Paddle Pal or puddle jumper for your child, including:

  • Children prefer puddle jumpers or Paddle Pals over life jackets because they have more freedom of movement.
  • They come in fun designs that make it easier for parents to put on their kids because they don’t resist as much.
  • The PFD will put your little one in the right position to swim properly.


Using a PFD will be safer than going without, but it’s still worth noting that there are some drawbacks to using a Paddle Pal or puddle jumper.

For example, some parents get a false sense of security while their child is wearing one because they think their child is safe in the water. While life jackets protect against water hazards (i.e., drowning), nothing will replace adult supervision.

Additionally, just because a PFD carries a US Coast Guard approval doesn’t mean it’s going to save their lives when they fall into the water unexpectedly.

Parents need to watch their children closely, even when they’re wearing a Paddle Pal or puddle jumper. They also need to ensure that their child learns how to swim properly on their own in case something does happen.

Bottom Line

What’s the difference between Paddle Pals vs puddle jumper? You can see from this article that there really isn’t much of a difference between the two types of personal flotation devices. In fact, the only real difference is the name and company that makes the PFDs.

They both are made to have chest panels and arm floaties to help your child afloat in the water, and they both come in great designs your little one will love.

Finding a Coast Guard-approved puddle jumper or Paddle Pal for your child can be easier than you think. There are several great options on the market today that you can look at.

When you purchase a Paddle Pal or puddle jumper, you need to ensure the safety of your loved ones regardless of if they’re wearing a PFD or not. Paddle Pals and puddle jumpers will help protect your child, but they won’t replace adult supervision.

So,  always ensure that you keep a close eye on your children when they’re in the water and practice water safety at all times.

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