Anyone who truly loves boating will find that there’s always that desire to share the experience with others. And although your friends might be willing boating buddies, your family should be the first people that come to mind. Boating is an activity that the entire brood can enjoy - yes, even the littlest members of your clan.
But before you pack everyone on to your boat for a day on the waves, it’s important that you have the necessary PFD’s to keep them safe. And since a standard life vest might be a bad fit for the smallest members of your family, you might be thinking about using that old Puddle Jumper instead. But are Puddle Jumpers coast guard approved for boating?
Puddle Jumpers and the USCG
The Puddle Jumper is a personal flotation device designed specifically for children. It features arm floats and a body float sewn together to allow free movement and better comfort. The design makes sure that children are kept upright at all times while in the water, preventing drowning accidents by keeping the head above the surface.
According to their website, the Puddle Jumper is approved for boating by the US Coast Guard. In fact, it’s considered a type III PFD. But that doesn’t mean you can let little Johnny wear his Puddle Jumper and throw caution to the wind.
The problem with the Puddle Jumper as a PFD is that different states and localities might have varying rules and regulations when it comes to the use of these PFDs for kids. So while it is USCG approved, you’re still going to have to check in with your local authorities to find out whether your child can use the Puddle Jumper aboard your boat.
All together, it boils down to the type of PFD that the state requires. To help you understand that better, here are some examples of laws regarding PFDs for children in states were boating is most popular:
The law requires children 6 years and below to wear a type I, II, or III PFD while on board.
All children 13 years of age are required to wear any type of USCG approved PFD.
All children under 6 years of age must wear a PFD type I or II.
The state requires an approved type I, II, III, or IV life jacket for children aged 10 years and below.
All boats are required to have at least one USCG approved PFD on board for each passenger.
In most states, the Puddle Jumper might be good enough to satisfy the laws in the area. But in states like Michigan, the law requires PFD’s that are type I or II, which means the Puddle Jumper is out of the question.
It’s also important to keep in mind that some older Puddle Jumper designs fall into the type IV category. So if you’ve got one of those previous models, then you might have to purchase the latest design to at least meet type III standards.
Are Puddle Jumpers Safe?
In essence, the Puddle Jumper is safe. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be approved by the US Coast Guard. But there’s a lot more to safety than just USCG approval. Keep in mind that Puddle Jumpers are simply slipped on to wear. There aren’t any straps, belts, or buckles to keep it in place.
This makes the Puddle Jumper particularly comfortable for small kids. And because children are more likely to remove a PFD if they feel restricted by it, the Puddle Jumper’s comfort is one of its main selling points.
Another thing about the Puddle Jumper is that it’s designed to keep the head above the water. The buoyant force rests just under the chin and the arms, ensuring that the child is above the water at least from the shoulders up.
However, the main problem with the Puddle Jumper is the lack of any sort of strap to keep it secure. Assuming that a child falls into the water head first, it’s very possible that the Puddle Jumper may slip off due to the upward force of the water pushing the PFD upwards.
That said, a lot of safety experts and professionals recommend that the Puddle Jumper be replaced with a life vest or jacket when the boat is underway especially in rough or choppy waters.
Puddle Jumpers vs Life Jackets
The Puddle Jumper can be more than suitable for water play or for wearing when the boat is docked. But if the boat is underway, you might want to swap it out for a life jacket. These are designed for wearing over deep, open water, but that still depends on what type of PFD it is.
The main difference between a Puddle Jumper and a life jacket is that the latter comes with a set of straps to keep the device securely in place. What’s more, they can provide your child with a better fighting chance should they accidentally fall into the water if you buy at least a type II design.
Generally, all of the latest Puddle Jumper releases are type III PFDs, which means they’re comfortable to wear but not quite as buoyant. This makes them ideal for situations when you can guarantee a swift rescue.
A type II life jacket on the other hand provides a greater buoyancy rating, which means it can keep your child afloat with less effort on their part. These can be ideal if you’re afraid it might take some time to retrieve the child from the water.
Neither of these products are to be confused with the swim vest. Although it might look like a personal flotation device, the swim vest is a swim aid that helps children learn how to navigate the waters on their own. It will not keep the child afloat for a long period of time and isn’t designed to keep the head above water.
Choosing the Right Puddle Jumper
The Puddle Jumper has been around since the mid-2010’s, so it’s pretty widespread throughout the internet these days. However that also means that there are quite a lot of phonies on the market. If you’re looking to buy a working PFD for your child, it’s important that you read the labels and the fine print.
Here are a few of the best Puddle Jumpers on the market, and a few viable substitutes, that you can look into.
1. Stearns Original Puddle Jumper for Kids
The Stearns Original Puddle Jumper for Kids comes in about nine different colors with fun marine animal prints on the front of the chest panel. They also offer a Deluxe design that uses polyester in place of nylon. This just makes the PFD more comfortable, causing less friction and irritation for kids with sensitive skin.
In terms of sizing, the Original Puddle Jumper comes in just one size. But it does feature a single belt strap that goes around the child’s back. This adjustable strap lets you tighten or loosen the body pad to make it fit your child as best as possible.
If you’re looking for something a little more secure, you can try the Body Glove Paddle Pal. Another USCG approved life vest for kids, these designs are considered a type III PFD as well. The only difference is that it comes with a set of shoulder straps that make the flotation device a little more secure in case your child enters the water head first.
Other than that, it’s pretty much the same design as the Puddle Jumper. Of course, it also comes in a variety of colors and prints so you can choose one that best suits your child’s fancy. Keep in mind though that for larger children, the Paddle Pal is considered a type V PFD, and may not be suitable for boating in most states.
While it might not be a Puddle Jumper, the Stohlquist Waterware Child PFD Life Jacket is a type II PFD for children up to 30lbs. The design works to keep the head above water and the child face up in case they fall into the water unconscious. This feature has been known to save countless lives throughout the years.
Although it might not come in such a wide array of colors and prints, its bright yellow design means that it should be visible from great distances. In terms of fit, the design comes with a crotch strap and a quick release chest strap that lets you get your child in and out of the vest without a moment’s pause.
Are Puddle Jumpers Coast Guard approved for boating? Well, yes they are. But that really isn’t all there is to consider. Boating can be a load of fun for the entire family, but safety should always come first - especially for the smallest members of the pack. Make sure you’ve got an appropriate USCG approved PFD for every kid on deck to curb the risk of accidents.