You asked, I answered – Choosing Flotation for Kids and Adults

by Mario Vittone

Mario VittoneSwimWays asked “What questions do you have for Mario?” and you answered! Not surprisingly, Swimways fans asked about flotation. Questions about pool floats and life jackets are very common, especially from parents.  So long as you understand that there are two sides to the answers – safety versus fun – you’ll be able to make good choices for your family on flotation devices for use in all bodies of water.

You see, as a serious advocate of water safety, I’m a big fan of life jackets. As a serious advocate of fun, I’m a big fan of pool floats – they are not the same thing.  You can learn more about that difference in a previous blog post, but for now, on to your questions.

  1.  Which water floats do you recommend for toddlers?

For any yet-to-be swimmers – keeping in mind that water floats do not replace good supervision for safety – water floats are good fun for the littlest of kids.  My favorite floats for toddlers are those that keep their heads supported out of the water, but also allows them to use their arms in head-down swimming when they want to move around like the big kids.

Swim Vests, and my all-time fave the Sea Squirts Swim Assist, make great toys for fun in the pool that support toddlers and encourage them to make tracks through the water too.  Who wouldn’t want to make that fin go? (Note to Swimways: I’m still waiting on an Adult XL Sea Squirts. Orca style, please!)

Parents should stay in the water with your little ones no matter what floats they wear, though.  You can keep a good eye on them, stay within reach if they need you, and you can be part of the play that helps them become stronger swimmers and even more confident in the water.

  1.  How about children?

Well let’s see, are we talking about fun or are we looking for safety?

For safety, I recommend a USCG Approved Type III Life Jacket.  There is just no replacement for use as a safety device – regardless of age – than approved flotation.  For younger children, there is a Sea Squirts Life Jacket – it is U.S. Coast Guard approved and it has a fin!  We’re mixing fun with our safety in this one, which is why I am such a big fan of this product.

If we’re talking about flotation for fun, strong swimming children should be encouraged to swim more, and that means toys.  Floating pool toys can generate play in the water and help build water confidence as children become more capable swimmers without even noticing! Even a few simple Swim Noodles can be just the toy that provides a swimming beak in the water – while allowing children to swim and kick around the pool having a good time. Other floating pool toys like Pooligans can give children a target to swim after, a toy that lets them swim some and float some whenever they decide.

  1. What floats would you recommend for adults who can’t swim?

First of all, you’ve got to remedy that if you are able.  There are too many reasons and ways to learn to swim no matter your age or anxiety level (it’s true).  You can find an instructor who works well with non-swimming adults.  A great resource to locate quality swim instructors is the U.S. Swim School Association, but in the meantime, let’s handle the immediate issue.

A non-swimming adult can rely on any float or flotation device they feel comfortable with, but there are some things to keep in mind for different situations:

Lounging on a Spring Float is fine for a non-swimmer, but you have to make sure you won’t drift into water that is above your head.  Staying in water that is not too deep to stand in is a good way to handle any concerns about swimming ability, but remember that this general rule only applies to clear-water swimming pools.  Beaches, lakes, and rivers introduce uncertainty of the water condition and depth, and you have to be more careful in those situations.

In all but the most docile of environments, a non-swimming adult (or toddler or child, of course) should wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device (PFD) when in or near the water.  (Some beaches can be pretty docile, so I am not suggesting life jacket wear to wade knee-deep on the crystal clear, no-waves beach on the Florida panhandle.)

Life jacket “types” can be a little confusing, but Type III and Type V life jackets are my personal choice for other beaches, deep pools and lakes, and anytime while boating, especially for non-swimming adults.  The non-inflatable versions get my vote for safe use that doesn’t restrict your movement and fun too much while around the water.  Inflatable PFDs are tempting as they are much more comfortable to wear full-time, but they rely on swimming skills to manually inflate them in an emergency, so stick with the other kind – at least until you get those swim lessons!

Stay safe out there and stay tuned for our next water safety article for this season!


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Mario Vittone

Water Safety Expert
Mario Vittone is a nationally recognized expert on water safety. His writing on aquatic risk and drowning prevention has appeared in magazines, websites, and newspapers around the world. Mario is a former Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and instructor and has lectured on boating and water safety across the United States. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation.

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