Can Kids Wear Inflatable Life Vests?

Recommended age guidelines for your child’s safe use of inflatable life jackets

One of the coolest advancements in life jacket design has no doubt been the introduction of the inflatable life vest. The less bulky design is an appealing idea for kids that may be reluctant to wear a life jacket. But at what age and size is it safe to start wearing inflatable jackets?

special offer: Buy More, Save More with West Marine's Summer Sale

How Inflatable Life Jackets Work

First, its important to understand what manufacturers mean by “inflatable life jackets”.

When they say “inflatable” it means that the jacket uses flexible air chambers which can be filled with air or other gas (usually carbon dioxide) for flotation.

Some inflatable life jackets operate automatically – inflating when hitting the water – while others operate manually with a pull that inflates the jacket.

Why Inflatable Life Jackets are so Appealing to Kids

bulky life jacket

When my oldest daughter started getting to an age where she didn’t want to wear a life jacket all the time, we started thinking about alternatives. She would always wear a jacket when we are underway, but she would complain an awful lot about wearing one on the dock or when swimming anchored out. The bulkiness of a life jacket cramps her style.

The advantages of inflatable life jackets are very appealing to kids…

  • Less bulky
  • More comfortable
  • Lightweight
  • Increased mobility

With all those perceived benefits it naturally makes sense to consider whether or not you should let your child wear an inflatable life vest.

Approved Age for Inflatable Life Jackets

The question is, are inflatable life jackets safe for kids to use? Well the answer, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, is that inflatable life jackets are only authorized for older kids.

Coast Guard Approved Inflatable life jackets are authorized for use on recreational boats by person at least 16 years of age.

Because inflatable life jackets are a relatively new form of PFD, they are not currently manufacturing them to fit kids. If you look a at the specifications, most say “over 80 lbs” and are sized to fit chests 30″-52″. Most kids under 16 do not meet those  size requirements.

According to BoatUS, the leading advocates for boaters, BoatUS Foundation is working with other national boating safety groups and the US Coast Guard to increase support for inflatable jackets that are more suitable for kids. The idea is that if kids are more likely to want to wear inflatable life jackets then giving them that option would be a good thing.

So for now, my daughter will just need to wait for an inflatable. She has moved into a new size bracket, so we’ll be trying out new neoprene styles that will still fit snug but be a bit more comfortable. They say every life jacket fits people differently, so its best to try a variety of styles to find life jackets that fit your child best.

If your boater kid is 16 or older, then investing in an inflatable life vest is a great idea. They will be more likely to want to wear it when they are out on the water – especially important when cruising around on smaller boats or enjoying water sports. The slim design is not only more comfortable, but it has more of a “high-tech” cool factor that they’ll love.

Recommended Products

Here are some inflatable jackets & belt packs we recommend:


More Life Jackets Check out our recommended life jackets for older kids.

Boat Life Gear for the Family

Disclosure Policy: This site may contain links that are affiliated with companies where we receive compensation. Full disclosure policy.

Diane Seltzer

View posts by Diane Seltzer
Diane is the founder of as well as the boating lifestyle site Active in the boating industry, Diane has also led the marketing for multiple recreational boating businesses and startups and is the author of the children's book The Amazing Adventures of Boat Girl.


  1. Heather BlackburnFebruary 13, 2021

    We are vacationing on a houseboat this summer and am looking for something to keep young kids safe at night, in case them wander overboard. I’m looking for an automatic device for peace of mind. Any thoughts? Thanks

    1. Avatar photo
      Diane SeltzerFebruary 14, 2021

      I am not sure having young kids in an automatic inflatable all night is practical (assuming you mean while sleeping) it would be uncomfortable & probably not safe to keep them in a jacket overnight – plus they are not rated for younger kids. Instead I would suggest that you ensure there is a lock on the cabin door to prevent kids from wandering out of the cabin during the night while you are sleeping. They should be wearing a life jacket on the deck if you are unable to be within arms reach. Hope that helps and have a great time!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to top