Is Your Child’s Life Jacket the Right Size and Fit?

kids life jacket size

In between life jacket sizes? Follow these tips to ensure you are getting the right kid's life jacket size for your growing child

Many parents end up on this site looking for some guidance on what type or size of life jacket they should buy their kids. When it comes to youth life jackets style is nice, but size matters most.

Your growing kid will go through about 3 different youth life jacket sizes before he or she reaches the adult sizes:

When they pass 90 lbs and you need older kid life jackets they will actually go into adult sizes.

Finding a life jacket that fits "just right"

Each child life jacket size range has its own set of challenges. Sometimes they feel too small, sometimes they feel too big. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you want to find one that fits "just right". But because the size ranges are pretty wide it may feel like an impossible task to find a really good fit when they are at the top or the bottom of a size range.

Each age comes with it's on set of challenges for a good life jacket fit.

If you ask the experts, the most important characteristic for life jacket size is buoyancy based on the current weight.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, youth life jackets should have these characteristics when it comes to size & fit:

  • Be the appropriate size range based on current weight (buoyancy matters most)
  • Be snug fitting so they stay on while in the water
  • Keep a baby's head up (for baby & infants)


Babies and infants should be wearing life jackets labeled 0-30 lbs - even newborn babies. The most distinctive feature of the infant life jacket is the heads up pillow, as well as a crotch strap. Neoprene type material can also help a baby feel snug and secure. An of course being able to easier get a baby in and out of a jacket is something to look for in baby life jackets.

Here are our TOP 5 PICKS for baby life jackets under 30 LBS:

See all our picks for infant & baby life jackets


For toddlers and young kids, the size problem gets tricky. Most toddlers will wear a life jacket for 30-50 lbs that includes a crotch strap. However, depending on their weight a toddler could be wearing a 30-50 lb size jacket or step up to the 50-90 lb size range life jackets that are typically labeled as youth.

Here are our TOP 5 PICKS for toddler life jackets 30-50 lbs:

Toddler can also opt for a USCG approved swim vest that gives them flexibility, comfort & safety while swimming at a pool, lake or boat. We like these swim vest options from Line + Cleat that are super cute & US Coast Guard Approved vests.


When your toddler outgrows the 30-50 lb size they'll need to step up to youth jackets labeled 50-90 lbs. The biggest difference in this size range is that there is no longer a crotch strap. Most kids at this age will be fine without it and will likely be wearing a neoprene watersports style that fits snug.

Here are our TOP 5 PICKS for Youth Life Jackets 50-90 lbs:

See all our picks for youth life jackets.

Solutions for a Better Kids Life Jacket Fit

As mentioned, let the actual weight of your child be the guiding factor when buying a life jacket. If they are still under 50 lbs then buy one within the 50 lb range. If they are just over 50 lbs, then its time to step up to the 50-90 lbs life jacket - even if it feels just a bit too big.

Here are some of my suggestions for helping a slightly large size feel like it fits a bit better:

  • Use a crotch strap to keep the jacket from riding up while in the water.
  • Select a neoprene or "sculpted foam" style jacket that is usually a snugger fit.
  • Choose a jacket with a zipper up the front as well as chest buckles to help with a tighter fit

When you child is hitting a growth spurt and about to reach an upper limit in size range, you might want to consider purchasing the next size jacket so you are always equipped with the right life jacket size during your boating season.


Before you know it your little boat kid will be a big boat kid. Luckily, there are also some good options for older kids or teens that are almost ready for adult sizes. Kids in this weight range can also wear inflatable life jackets or belt packs (for paddleboarding type activities) that fit much more comfortably.

Here are our TOP 4 PICKS for life jacket for older kids over 90 lbs:

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. Dennis AtkinsonMay 17, 2018

    What type of LIfe Jacket is recommended for a calm river/creek less than 3 ft deep for kids ages 10-12?

    1. Avatar photo
      Diane SeltzerMay 20, 2018

      Hi Dennis,
      I think for waist deep water you probably should still have a life jacket – especially if there is a current or they are doing kayaking. I’m guessing in a camp setting they require a jacket for even a calm creek- check the 50-90 lb category here:

  2. AutumnJuly 4, 2019

    Thank you for commenting on the Youth-size struggle! In our case, it was just a matter of trying different brands and styles until we found a match! (My kids prefer the neoprene jackets–they are more comfortable and more likely to be worn without complaint!) We have a Stearns youth, only barely bigger than the Child jackets, which works well for a 60lb 9 year old. We have a Yamaha Youth that is bigger than our Hyperlight Adult Small, but they fit a tall 12 year old and petite 16 year old respectively. Finding the right lifejacket is like finding the perfect pair of jeans–keep shopping until you get it right! 😉

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