Everything you need to know to get your kid started in kayaking
As parents, we all want the safest, best life vest for our kids. We know pfds are essential to kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, tubing, and all other paddling sports, but it can be hard to know what to buy. If you want an in-depth lesson on life jackets for kids getting into paddling sports visit my life jackets 101 page, but if you are standing in the store and need the answer to "What life jacket do I buy my kid right now?" then read on for answers or scroll to the bottom of the post for my reviews and suggestions for youth-sized life jackets.
What size life jacket do kids age 7 to 12 need?
Girls and boys age 7 to 12 typically need a YOUTH sized US Coast Guard approved life jacket. Kids 7-12 are an average of 50-90 lbs. Youth sized life vests (life vests are also known as life jacket and PFDs, or personal floatation devices) are for kids who are 50-90 lbs. If your child has a heavier build, consider the TEEN size rather than YOUTH, which is for 75-125 lbs and bridges the gap between youth and adult life jacket sizing.
Sizing For Life Jackets - Quick Reference
Infant 0-30 lbs
Child 30-50 lbs
Youth 50-90 lbs
Teen 75-125 lbs
Adult - many sizes, sized by chest measurement
Life Jacket TYPES Quick Reference:
Type II and Type III
You can get a YOUTH sized life jacket in Type 2 (Type II) or Type 3 (Type III).
Type II = has headrest to help flip wearer to a face-up position, and is bulkier
Type III = has no headrest, looks like mini adult life jacket, and is less bulky
What TYPE of life jacket does a 7 to 12-year-old need, or a child who is 50-90 lbs, Type II or Type III?
A child 7 to 12 years old and 50-90 lbs who can swim or tip their head back to float comfortably while wearing a life jacket can wear a TYPE III (Type 3) PFD. Type III life jackets look like a mini version of an adult life vest. If the child can't swim or turn themselves to float on their back in the water, they need a Type II (Type 2) life vest.
Type II (Type 2) youth life jackets have a headrest meant to turn a child from face down to face up if unconscious. They are more bulky and less comfortable than a TYPE III PFD.
What Life Jacket for slow moving, calm water paddling?
If your child can swim and you will be participating in a safe calm inland paddling experience, such as paddling on a lake, generally your child can wear a YOUTH TYPE 3 (Type III) life vest and will be much more comfortable then wearing a bulkier Type 2 (Type II) with a headrest.
What material of youth life jacket is best?
Neoprene is softer and more comfortable, generally zips instead of buckles, and is more expensive than nylon. Neoprene material is meant to stretch tightly like a glove and fit very snugly.
Nylon is not as soft and comfortable and is bulkier than neoprene, but it dries faster and is the most affordable. Nylon does not stretch like neoprene, which is why it has adjustable buckles to tighten it depending on your child's build.
What life jacket for a child who can't swim, can't hold their head up to float, or is disabled?
If your child can't swim or turn to their back to float in the water, or you will be participating in a high risk boating excursion, such as white water or near-shore ocean paddling, your child needs a Type 2 (Type II) life jacket which is meant to turn most unconscious users to a face-up position for imminent near-shore rescue.
What about Type I?
Type I (Type 1) PFDs are rare and are for off-shore use where rescues is not imminent. They are extremely bulky and not generally used for recreational paddling sports because it is difficult to even move in them. This is the life jacket you would want to be given if you were on the Titanic.
YOUTH SIZE Life Jacket Reviews & Recommendations for Safest Best PFDs, Life Jacket, Life Vest for Age 7-12, 50-90 lbs
What Youth-Sized Life Jacket should you buy your kid?
Time-tested, highly-rated, and affordable - the Airhead Kwik-Dry NeoLite Flex Type III, the Stearns Hydroprene Type III Life Vest, or the Stearns Nylon Youth Type II Boating Vest are the best all-around youth sized life jackets you can buy.
If your child can swim or flip over onto their back to float with a life jacket on and you will be in calm near-shore water please get a YOUTH TYPE 3 (Youth Type III) life vest. (Type 3 is the most common life vest for use in all paddling sports)
If your child can't swim or physically flip over onto their back to float in the water with a life jacket on, or you will be participating in a very high risk water sports get a YOUTH TYPE II (Youth Type 2). (Type 2 is Much Less Common for Paddling Sports as little kids move into youth sizes and the teen years.)
Knowing what life jacket to choose for your child can be overwhelming with all of the technical sounding jargon, but I hope I have helped simplify the answer to what life jacket your youth age 7 to 12, 50-90 lbs child needs for paddling! If you didn't get the information you were looking for please leave me some suggestions below so I can make this page more helpful!
All the best,
MJ from Kayakingkids.com
Have fun, be safe, and HAPPY PADDLING!
For more information on life jackets, such as recommendations for babies, toddlers, and more check out Life Jackets 101.
Almost six years ago we moved into a little New England house with a river in the backyard and quickly discovered the joy of kayaking kids.
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Legal Information: This site is meant as a log of our family's opinions and experiences, but is in no way a comprehensive safety guide for kayaking. Kayak at your own risk and research well anything pertaining to your family's safety. This site shares our experiences and products we have tried and researched. There are affiliate links used to reference the products being reviewed.