It’s summertime, which means the kids are out of school and flocking to youth sailing camps, heading out on family cruises, or, if they’re lucky, sailing one of the hot small boats reviewed in the August 2011 issue. Over the years, we reviewed dozens of safety products to keep wee crew safe around the water, including PFDs (personal flotation devices) for children, toddlers, and infants. Here are some of our top picks.
Our favored children’s vest-style life jackets (types I, II, and III for kids weighing 50 to 90 pounds with 26- to 29-inch chests) for near-shore and bay-water sailing are the Stearns 3630 (www.stearnsflotation.com) and the Mustang MV3160 (www.mustangsurvival.com). Both cost about $55-$65 and provide extra buoyancy without undue challenges in comfort and fit. We especially liked the Mustang’s grab strap. (See PS, July 2006.)
We found few options that met our criteria for infants’ and toddlers’ PFDs: flotation that turned the baby face up and kept the head well above water; a comfortable, snug fit; easy donning; and a wide grab strap. One product that did meet our criteria was MTI Adventurewear’s Baybee 2001-I ($35, www.mtiadventurewear.com), the top pick for infants in the October 2006 test. For 30- to 50-pound children, Mustang’s MV-3155 was our top choice.
None of the PFDs we tested was suitable for babies weighing less than about 20 pounds, partly because the U.S. Coast Guard’s minimum buoyancy standards apply to kids up to 30 pounds, resulting in a vest that is extremely bulky for infants less than 6 months old.
Despite the lack of standard, there are vests marketed for this size child. We evaluated one (September 2010) made by Salus Marine (www.salusmarine.com) that’s designed for infants weighing 9 to 25 pounds. The $70 Salus Bijoux, recommended by many PS readers, met our criteria for a well-designed infant PFD, but in field tests, it was a little loose on our 20-pound tester.
A few things to keep in mind when selecting a vest for your youngster: Get one that fits comfortably, is rated for a person his or her size and weight, and for the waters you intend to cruise. Since every child floats differently, these PFDs should first be tested in the store for proper fit and then in a pool or calm water for flotation.
We also recommend using a safety harness and tether for children while offshore. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of options. We’d suggest having a sailmaker design a custom one for those children on offshore boats. Others can check out the Crewsaver Venturer kids’ harness and tether (www.crewsaver.co.uk), which we reviewed in September 2009. The $70 Crewsaver, the best built and designed kids’ harness we’ve come across, is made in two chest sizes: 16 to 24 inches and 22 to 32 inches. It is designed to be worn forward or backward, so the tether can serve as a “leash” for waterfront strolls with a toddler as well as a tether at sea.