With warm weather comes water fun. For most, this time is eagerly awaited for the rest of the year. For parents, though, this season comes with its own host of dangers.
At this time every year, parents place their children in the water and hope they are protecting their precious little ones as best they can. This protection usually includes some sort of personal flotation device or PFD.
We put our children in life jackets and Puddle Jumpers, feeling assured that these devices will keep our kids alive and afloat. But are these wearables all created equal?
What’s the Difference?
We typically use the terms life jackets, swim vests, and Puddle Jumpers interchangeably, but they definitely are not. Each of these flotation devices is designed with different purposes in mind and, truly, only one will likely save a life.
Life jackets are buoyant flotation devices intended to keep one’s head above water in case of an emergency.
You’ll recognize proper life jackets if you’ve ever ridden a boat or other watercraft. Water vehicles are required to have a jacket available for each passenger. Children under 13 are required to wear one at all times during a ride.
When on open water, the Coast Guard recommends wearing Type II or Type III jacket. Type II jackets are designed to flip an unconscious person heads up. Type III jackets are more comfortable, but require the wearer to be able to tread water to await rescue.
It’s almost guaranteed that you’ve seen a Puddle Jumper. Just go to a pool on any given day and you’ll see numerous toddlers decked out in their bright and fun Puddle Jumpers.
Stearns, the manufacturer of Puddle Jumpers, was inspired by the arm floaties of the past. They work even better than floaties though. After all, Puddle Jumpers have the Coast Guard seal of approval.
Puddle Jumpers are put on by slipping the child’s arms in the floats. It is then buckled in the back for a tight fit.
The Stearns flotation vest keeps a child’s head, chest, and arms afloat, allowing for easier and more confident swimming.
Swim Vest vs Life Jacket
A swim vest is a special flotation device made for toddlers and small children. They look similar to life jackets, but they do not offer the same level of protection.
These vests are usually made of neoprene and zip up in the front. They are more comfortable than life jackets because they aren’t as bulky.
Swim vests do not carry the U.S. Coast Guard seal of approval because they are not designed to keep a person’s head above water to save them in an aquatic emergency.
Swim vests can help your child stay afloat, thanks to a certain level of buoyancy, but still requires some semblance of skill on the wearer’s end. Most swim vests would need the child to be able to tread water until help arrived.
The Case Against the Puddle Jumper and Swim Vests
Most parents assume Puddle Jumpers are the safest option for little ones in the water. After all, they’re like souped-up arm floaties and we all used those growing up. I even had my son in a Puddle Jumper his first several times in the water after all my friends recommended one.
Recently though, this once-beloved flotation device has been catching a lot of heat. Browsing Google results for “puddle jumper” brings up results like “Puddle Jumpers: More Harm than Good?” and “Why My Daughter Never Wears a Puddle Jumper.”
What’s the problem? Shouldn’t Puddle Jumpers be seen as a good thing, because they can give children confidence in the water to become better swimmers?
As a matter of fact, that’s the major complaint with Puddle Jumpers. It’s widely believed that Puddle Jumpers hinder proper swimming techniques and give children a false sense of security in the water.
This isn’t limited to only Puddle Jumpers, although it’s the most commonly targeted. Swim vests of all types are presumed guilty of the same crimes.
The next time you see a kid in a Puddle Jumper or a swim vest, observe how they swim. Thanks to the bulky Puddle Jumper, wearers end up swimming upright. This isn’t the natural body angle for swimming. Michael Phelps isn’t swimming that way, after all.
The natural position for swimming is horizontal and face down. This allows for the arms to sweep and the legs to kick.
Plus, wearables like Puddle Jumpers and swim vests give children unearned confidence around water. In a survey of parents whose children experienced a drowning incident, 80% believed their child had a false sense of security that did not match their swimming abilities. Most of these children had often worn Puddle Jumpers or swim vests prior to the incident.
When children swim unaided in their Puddle Jumper, they believe they are swimming on their own. This leads to small children believing the water is safe and that they can enter the water without parental help.
What’s the Best For Learning to Swim?
Simply put, none of them. In a true water emergency, it’s highly likely your child won’t have any sort of personal flotation device. Consider the countless drownings of children who slip past parents and fall into backyard pools.
In a scenario like that, a child needs to be able to swim and keep their head above water until help arrives. If they have never learned how to swim without a flotation device, that fall into the pool quickly becomes a tragedy.
Instead of depending on swim vests in pools, focus on proper swim classes, and teaching your child to stay alive in a water emergency.
Wrapping it Up
As a parent, you are just trying to do what’s best for your child. For places with potential life and death scenarios, like in the water, making the right choice can be overwhelming.
If your child is on any sort of watercraft, a life jacket is an absolute must. These situations bring your child out onto open water where they can end up unconscious in an accident and waiting on a rescue in the water.
However, if your child is fully supervised while swimming in a pool, a flotation device might be a hindrance, especially to those learning to swim.
In the simplest of terms, always use life jackets on open water and try to avoid devices like Puddle Jumpers and swim vests if possible.
If you have a child that needs to learn how to swim, sign up for swimming lessons at your home or community pool today! One of our experienced Sunsational Swim Instructors will teach your child how to swim the right way and come to the convenience of your own pool!