Making the Best Toddler Life Jacket with Harness

    Practical Sailor takes the best ideas from its recent infant and toddler life jacket test and incorporates them into its own infant life vest design. Several details get improved: including clips, harness attachment points and head flotation.

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    Last summer, Practical Sailor rounded up 13 life jackets for an infant or toddler under 50 pounds. We put them through a series of tests with children ages 1 to 4 who weighed 20 to 35 pounds (“Childs Play, October 2006). We found four Type II personal flotation device (PFD) we liked, but none of them met our expectations. Practical Sailor testers decided to give our ideas to artist and industrial designer Sasha Cole. After several drafts, Sasha came up with an improved version of a life jacket for infants and toddlers weighing 20-30 pounds.

    Infant Personal Flotation Device

    Last summer, Practical Sailor rounded up 13 life jackets for kids under 50 pounds. We put them through a series of tests with children ages 1 to 4 who weighed 20 to 35 pounds (“Childs Play,” October 2006). We found four jackets we liked, but none of them met our expectations. Testers decided to give our ideas to artist and industrial designer Sasha Cole. After several drafts, Sasha came up with an improved version of a life jacket for infants and toddlers weighing 20-30 pounds.

    For comfort, the areas around the neck and sleeves were cut wide, and the foam flotation was tapered around the edges. Our flotation distribution closely mimicked our favorite jackets that we tested, the MTI Bay Bee 201-I and Mustang MV-3150 (see facing page), with a bi-fold head support and a small pillow of flotation in the back. These were the most effective in righting a face-down wearer and keeping them face-up in the water.

    We used clip closures rather than zippers, which are a bear to zip up on a squirming kid. We liked the idea of a one-way clasp that kids could put on, but not take off, and we left it at that.

    We added reflective tape and a pair of D-rings on the jacket front. As far as we know, there is no jacket in this size marketed in the U.S. that has either of these key features. We added another D-ring to the back of the jacket, so parents can keep toddlers within reach while on the dock without having to carry them – or resort to handcuffs.

    As soon as the Practical Sailor life jacket left the drawing board, we found several features wed change or add, but we have a few other projects to attend to. We hope that someone might pick up where we left off and produce an infant jacket that actually does what its supposed to do – keep kids safe and comfortable on the water and give their parents peace of mind.

    Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on marine products for serious sailors for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising or any form of compensation from manufacturers whose products we test. Testing is carried out by a team of experts from a wide range of fields including marine electronics, marine safety, marine surveying, sailboat rigging, sailmaking, engineering, ocean sailing, sailboat racing, and sailboat construction and design. This diversity of expertise allows us to carry out in-depth, objective evaluation of virtually every product available to serious sailors. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser with more than three decades of experience as a marine writer, photographer, boat captain, and product tester. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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