How to Decide Between Puddle Jumper or a Life Jacket

Warm weather means water fun. For many people, this time of the year is eagerly waited for. But for parents, it comes with a host of dangers. To protect their children, many parents opt to use a puddle jumper or life jacket. However, when it comes to the puddle jumper vs life jacket debate, how do we know that they’re keeping our children safe – are they created equal?

Kids sitting in a boat on the lake

Puddle Jumper vs Life Jacket: What’s the Difference?

We often interchangeably use the terms life jacket and puddle jumper, but they’re not the same thing. Each flotation device serves a different purpose, and only one will save a life. So, to help figure out which one to use in any given situation, let’s go over a brief definition of each.

Life Jackets

Life jackets are the flotation device that will keep your head above the water if there’s an emergency.

You’ll know what a proper life jacket looks like if you’ve ever ridden on a boat. Boats are required to have life jackets available for each passenger on board, and children under 13 years old are required to always wear one.

When you’re on open water, the United States Coast Guard recommends that you wear a Type II or Type III life jacket. Type II life jackets are designed to keep an unconscious person’s head above the water, while Type III life jackets are more comfortable to wear. However, Type III life jackets require the person wearing the jacket to tread water while waiting to be rescued.

Puddle Jumper

You’ve more than likely seen a puddle jumper before. If you go to a public pool on any given day, you’re bound to see several toddlers wearing puddle jumpers.

The manufacturer of puddle jumpers, Stearns, was inspired to create puddle jumpers from the arm floaties of the past. However, puddle jumpers work better and have the United States Coast Guard seal of approval.

You can easily put a puddle jumper on a child by slipping your child’s arms into the floats then buckling the back to create a tight fit.

These flotation devices keep your child’s head, arms and chest afloat, which gives them more confidence while treading water.

Comparison Chart
Comparison Chart

Puddle Jumper vs Life Jacket Debate

Many parents will assume that puddle jumpers are safe enough for their children when they’re in the water. This is especially true because most parents think that since the arm floaties worked for them, the new and improved flotation device is good enough now.

So, what’s the problem? Shouldn’t puddle jumpers and arm floaties be a good thing, given that they’re Coast Guard approved, and they give children the confidence to swim?

That’s the part that’s being widely debated. It’s believed that puddle jumpers can hinder proper swimming techniques and give children a false sense of security when they’re in the water.

This debate isn’t limited to just puddle jumpers — swim vests of every kind are under heated discussion.

When you next see a child wearing a puddle jumper, notice how they’re swimming. Because of the bulky puddle jumper, the child ends up swimming upright – this isn’t a natural swimming position. The natural swimming position is face down and horizontal, which allows you to sweep your arms and kick your legs.

Additionally, puddle jumpers can give children a false sense of confidence when they’re around water. When children start swimming unaided when wearing puddle jumpers, they think they’re swimming independently. This leads them to think the water is safe and feel that they can play in the water unsupervised.

Puddle jumper
Source: Unsplash

Which Is Best for Teaching Children to Swim?

In all honesty –  none of them. In a real water emergency, likely, your child won’t have any flotation device on at all.

In a scenario such as that, a child must swim properly and keep their head above the water until rescuers come. If they’ve never been taught how to swim without a flotation device, this kind of accident can quickly become a tragedy.

Instead of relying on a swim aid like puddle jumpers or water wings at the pool, focus on your child taking swimming lessons and teaching your child to stay afloat in the case of a water emergency.

Life jackets are great for water safety and boat safety, and your child needs to wear one to keep them safe. However, they shouldn’t be used when teaching children how to swim in pools.

Bottom Line

Being a parent, you’re always looking to do what’s best for your child. Making the correct flotation aid choice can feel overwhelming for things that have potential life and death situations, like water.

In the case of puddle jumper vs life jacket, how do you know which one to pick for water safety? Is there a right answer?

If your child is riding in any boat, life jackets are a requirement for boat safety. Being in a boat brings your child into open water, where they could become unconscious due to an accident, and in the water, waiting for a rescuer.

However, if you’re fully supervising your child in the pool, a personal flotation device could end up being a hindrance to their swimming abilities, especially for those who are just learning to swim.

To summarize: always put your child in a life jacket with a secure fit when on the open water and try avoiding puddle jumpers as much as possible.

If you have a child who needs to learn how to swim, make sure that they’re getting the swim lessons they need to ensure they know what to do in the case of a water emergency.

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