Lake Loving in a Safe Life Jacket

Jack is fascinated by water. Spends hours in the lake. To title him a “water baby” is an understatement. He’s a fish. 

The past few weeks we’ve spent enjoying numerous lakes. A favorite hobby of ours, true to our Michigan blood. Motorboats, sandcastle-worthy beaches and spring-fed fishing waters paint our summer days. Despite our regular routine on the lakes, Jack knows the limits. That was until Sunday.

Jack at my parent's crystal blue cove, Dunham Lake, Mich.
Most parents have been here. If not, they will be. So, take warning. It's the few seconds when your child's head slips under water. A parents superhuman powers take over. Scooping them up. Cradling. Hugging. Hushing. Unfortunately, the image is forever scorched.

On Sunday, we lazily fished from atop my parent's paddleboat. We stopped on the tree-lined bank to take a refreshing break. The deep water drop off only steps away. Four parents. Two tots. Both in life jackets. Jack trekked the muddy knee-high water. Exploring. Our friend asked my husband to remove a hooked fish. Jack's eyes widen. He urgently squirmed towards Justin and the fish.  As he attempted to maneuver behind the boat, his foot slipped. Passed the drop off. Within seconds he was floating. Face down. His life jacket bottled around his neck. He flailed his arms, but the vest prevented the ability to pull his head above water. By the time I gasped he was in my arms. A tiny cry. super shaky. But, he hadn't inhaled water. The underwater adventures in the tub had actually taught him to hold his breath. But, what the Sam Adams was up with his life jacket? 

He needed a new jacket. So that week I dove into research. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) developed resources and guides on choosing the proper personal flotation device (PFD) for children. Accompanied by a clear list of tested and approved products.

“A PFD will keep a child afloat, but may not keep a struggling child face-up.” 

The USCG recommends a Type II jacket for infants and young children. Type II can turn a person upright and slightly backward and comes in many sizes for children. Read the full USCG article here, and access the list of Select Type II Infant and Infant/Child PFDs here. Or, check out the USCG Equipment List to find out if your child’s life jacket is approved. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics states:
“Use only life jackets and life preservers that are tested by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and approved by the US Coast Guard. If they are, they will have a label that says so. Life jackets and life preservers are labeled by type (1, 2, 3 or 4) and for whom they are designed (child or adult).”

A few other resources for choosing children's life jackets:

Check the manufacturer's label to ensure that the life jacket is a proper fit for your child's size and weight.  Make sure the jacket is properly fastened and hold his/her arms over head. Grasp the tops of the arm openings and gently pull up.  Make sure there is no excess room above the openings and that the jacket does not ride up over his/her chin or face. 

Life Jackets
TYPE 1: This jacket floats the best. It is designed to turn most people who are unconscious in the water from the face-down position to an upright and slightly backward position. This jacket helps the person to stay in that position for a long time. It is to be used in open water and oceans. It is available in only 2 sizes: 1 size for adults more than 90 pounds and 1 size for children less than 90 pounds.

TYPE 2: This jacket can turn a person upright and slightly backward but not as much as the Type 1 jacket. It may not always help an unconscious person to float face up. It is comfortable and comes in many sizes for children.

TYPE 3: This jacket is designed for conscious users in calm, inland water. It is very comfortable and comes in many styles. This life jacket is often used for water sports and should be used only when it is expected that the rescue can be done quickly.

Life Preservers

TYPE 4: A life preserver is a cushion or ring and is not worn. It is designed to be used in 2 ways. It can be grasped and held until the person is rescued, or it can be thrown to someone in the water until he or she is rescued. It is not a toy and should only be used in a rescue situation. Check the label on the life preserver to be sure it meets US Coast Guard or state regulations.

The U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also offers Pool Safely as an entire resource guide with up-to-date information

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