Where to Buy Life Vests for Kids

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Where can I rent a child's life jacket for sailing trip?

October 2001

We're planning to take a sailing trip on SF Bay with some friends who own a large sail boat (they live aboard). I'm wondering where I can rent (I'd love to borrow one) a life jacket for my two year old - she's average size. I know they make special jackets for that age - straps around the legs, head support, etc., but I'm just not sure where to get one. We'll only be making a few trips so I don't want to buy one. Jane

Regarding the life jacket for a 2 year old, you should ask your hosts. I'm surprised they aren't finding one for you. It doesn't sound like they are aware you are bringing a child along or else they would have already helped you out. Proper boat etiquette dictates that you supply your guests with a life jacket when you invite them for a sail. Ultimately it's their responsibility to see that everyone on board has a life jacket that fits. The Coast Guard will fine them if you are caught with a minor on board without one. If nothing else, your hosts should know other people at the marina since they live on their boat. Lots of people live on their boats and a lot of them do have children and/or grandchildren. Or the marina itself might have one you can borrow. Those would be your best options if you are not planning on buying one.

The SF Bay has some very choppy water. If your hosts are really going to take you out for a sailing experience, you might want to visit your pediatrician beforehand for some medicine to prevent motion sickness. The bobbing up and down motion can be pretty harsh on anyone not used to sailing. Most of the medications will make you a little groggy for a little while, but it wears off. There is also the patches for adults. I realize a lot of people don't like to give their kids any kind of medication, but sometimes it's the lesser of two evils and it really will make a difference as to whether your child (and you) have a good experience or not. The important thing is you want them to be able to enjoy the trip instead of spending the afternoon throwing up. The wind and the salt water in their face should be more than enough to keep the drowsiness down to a minimum. If you're just going to spend time on the boat anchored somewhere, you may be fine without medication. Marianne

We bought a small life jacket at West Marine in Alameda for our son before he was one. They have a variety of children's sizes. We no longer live in the Bay Area or else we could lend you one. As I recall they were not too expensive and we have used our children's lifejackets many times both at the beach for swimming, in a pool and on our boat. LB
You can get a vest-type jacket or a more familiar-looking over-the-head type life preserver at Target. Our daughter uses a vest-type (and has since she was 2 and 3-4 months) that works great. It's certified by the Coast Guard and seems to be very comfortable for her to wear. You should also be able to find life jackets at West Marine (various locations around the Bay area - I know there's one in Sausalito). Gretchen
I was told by a boat-owning friend that life jackets for children must be labeled in waterproof market with the child's name (for identification purposes in the event of a tragedy). You should ask your friends to check the laws on it. If that's the case, you probably can't rent one (though someone may still be willing to lend you theirs). Letitia

Life vest for 22 month old for ocean play

My 22 month old daughter and I are going to Florida soon and I'm wondering if anyone can recommend the safest kind of floatation device for us to use at the ocean there. Of course I will be holding on to her at all times. I just don't know what works best for kids this age, perhaps those tubes around the waist or is it the things they wear around their arms? Also I'd appreciate suggestions for where to buy this stuff as we're leaving soon---Thanks!
The safest thing your child can use is a US Coast Guard Approved PFD (personal floatation device) commonly called a life vest. They may not be fun and cute like water wings, or blow up dinosaurs, but they are certified to keep your child afloat if he gets away from you, which the others may or may not. Personally I wouldn't let my toddler walk around on a beach without a vest because it is just too easy for them to run off.

You can purchase vests at most sporting good stores, at boating stores, and at Walmart and Kmart. The price range varies greatly, as with any other product. My husband works at West Marine which is a boating supply store with several Bay Area locations. Here is the advice he gives parents on purchasing a life vest for a small child.

1) Don't buy a life vest without trying it on the child. They are sized according to chest measurement and weight. To ensure a good fit, make sure your child can sit down in it with out the vest riding up to see if is too long.

2) All children's vests (meaning young children under 2 or 3) should have a head and neck support and also have a crotch strap so the kid doesn't slide out the bottom. He also recommends buying one with a handle on the back so you can pluck them from the water.

3) Mustang is his favorite brand because the head rest forms a V so the child's head stays in the middle. The other brands usually have a head rest that is simply a flat piece of foam and the child's head can loll to the side. As far as toys go... last summer we found a toy boat with a canopy for our son. I think it said it was safe for children from 6 mos. to 3 or 4 yrs. Basically the child sits in the boat which floats, and you push it around. We only used it in a pool. I probably wouldn't use it in the ocean because of the waves.