We get it, we do: the brightly-colored, themed inflatable toys just look like more fun than most life jackets. But you know what’s not fun? Having a child drown on your watch. Unfortunately, many parents fail to consider the warnings and recommendations that come with inflatable toys and use them as safety devices (see Parts 1 & 2). Sometimes, young children who are not yet able to swim are left unattended in water with only these toys as “babysitters.” While even their manufacturers state that this is not their intended use, the trend continues, leading to many long-term injuries and even deaths.
In our previous post, we looked at the alternative we recommend for non-swimmers whenever they are in or near water, and beyond arm’s reach: personal flotation devices (PFDs) that have been approved by the US Coast Guard (USCG). In this post, we’ll go into greater detail about what to look for in PFDs.
Categories of USCG-Approved PFDs
Within the category of USCG-approved PFDs, there are different types of scenarios for which various types of PFDs are suitable; the first 3 types are wearable PFDs, which are recommended for various levels of water activity and risk.
Type I refers to PFDs that are intended for off-shore use, including rough, deep water that’s far from shore; as a result, type I devices are designed to turn an unconscious victim face up in the water where rescue may take some time. Abandon-ship life jackets fall into this category.
Type II devices are for near-shore use such as in calm waters where a speedy rescue would be expected in case of trouble; these are recommended for general boating activities.
Type III PFDs are flotation aids recommended for boating and specialized activities such as water skiing and canoeing; they often offer greater range of motion than the other 2 categories of PFDs.
Added Considerations for PFDs
When you’re looking for PFDs, be sure to look for brightly colored ones that will easily allow you to pick out the child in the water; this means staying away from white or black as well as turquoise and other shades of blue; opt instead for shades of red, yellow, bright pink, or blaze orange, which can be easily spotted. (As a side note, we recommend choosing swim suits in the same colors, for the same reason.)
In addition to color, be careful to consider size. If you’re a pool owner, you will want to have a variety of sizes on hand for your guests. If you’re a parent, this will mean carefully evaluating and re-evaluating your child’s size. If a PFD is too big, a child can easily slip out of it in an emergency; however, one that is too small may not be able to keep them afloat. Always make sure that the jacket fits snugly and that straps are all used correctly and tightened.
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