Kids and swimming can be a great mix. They love splashing around and having fun in the water. But whether you are spending time at the water park, a weekend next to Grandma’s pool, or going for full-on swimming lessons, your toddler will need a good quality swim vest to stay safe.
We’ll look at everything you need to know before shopping for the best toddler swim vest. Plus, we’ll list our top ten swim vest recommendations and give you some swim safety tips.
- Coast guard-approved
- Wide range of designs
- Comfortable to wear
- Flex-form foam pads
- Comfortable padded shoulders
- Neoprene padded crotch strap
- Front zipper for quick removal
- Provides good buoyancy
- Beach or pool wear
- Soft fabric to prevent chafing
- Wide range of designs
- European safety standard conformity
- Large coverage
- Built into swimsuit
- Comfortable design leaves arms free
- Cute designs
- Soft edging material
- UPF 50 neoprene
- Bright kid-friendly designs
- UPF 50 sun protection
- Child-friendly designs
- Level 2 life vest
- Two air chambers
- Encourages a natural swimming position
- Adds to stability in the water
- Works swim vest & playsuit
- Comfortable fit
Floaties Vs. Swim Vests
When you are looking for items to keep your child safe in the water, you’ll find baby floaties, swim vests, and life jackets.
The major difference between a swim vest and a floatie is that a swim vest is affixed to a child while a floatie is not. You buckle or strap your child into a swim vest so they cannot be easily detached from it.
Floaties are something a child holds onto or that’s slid onto their arms. They can slide off, especially when water makes them slippery.
This makes swim vests significantly safer than floaties which can be easily lost in the water.
Life Jackets Vs. Swim Vests
Swim vests are used to help people float while they are learning to swim. They provide added buoyancy, so the learner has help to stay afloat while they are working on their arm and legwork. They are generally less bulky than a life jacket.
Toddler life jackets are specifically designed to keep the wearer afloat, with their head out of the water. That way if they are unable to swim, they will stay afloat until help arrives (1). While some swim vests will do this, not all of them do.
In addition, to be considered a life jacket, an item must be Coast Guard approved. Meanwhile, a swim vest does not need to be certified by the Coast Guard, although many are.
How to Choose the Best Toddler Swim Vests
There are a number of features to consider when choosing a swim vest for your toddler.
Safety should be your number one concern. Here are some things you should always check while searching for the best swim vests for toddlers.
- Always choose a swim vest from a reputable manufacturer.
- Ensure the swim vest cannot be easily removed by your toddler.
- Look for swim vests with additional closures, such as an underbody strap.
- Check to see if the swim vest will support your child’s weight.
- Never leave a toddler unsupervised in or around water. A swim vest is not a replacement for careful supervision.
Ensure that the swim vest does not ride up under your child’s neck and is manufactured from materials that will not chafe.
Do not buy a swim vest that is too large with the hope your child will be able to use it longer. At best, a swim vest that is too large will be uncomfortable and distract from learning to swim. At worst, it will be dangerous.
While swim vests usually have a recommended age range, double-check that your child is within the recommended weight range.
This is not just a fitting issue. Swim vests are designed to keep a child of a specific weight buoyant. If your child is over that weight, they will not float.
Swim vests are most frequently made of neoprene or another man-made fabric. Read the label and ensure your swim vest of choice can be easily cleaned and dried.
Also, be sure to check the thickness of the material at the seams and their points where the closures are attached. Ensure they are thick enough not to rip or tear with frequent use.
A swim vest with UVA/B protection will provide an additional layer of protection from the sun. That’s essential since the effects of sun exposure at a young age can be felt later in life. One sunburn that blisters when you’re a child can double your risk of skin cancer (2).
Coast Guard Approval
Toddler swim vests with Coast Guard approval can also serve as a life jacket when boating or enjoying other water sports or leisure activities (3).
The Best Swim Vests of 2021
Now that we have outlined all the things to look for when choosing your toddlers swim vest, let us share with you our top ten.
1. Body Glove Paddle Pals Learn to Swim
This vest has an integrated and adjustable shoulder harness with quick release clips at the rear. This prevents your child from undoing the swim vest and taking it off by themselves.
The integrated vest and armbands design is great for teaching your child to swim. It’s also not too restrictive so they can enjoy playing in the water. Meanwhile, the soft material prevents the “under chin rub” experienced with some other vests.
- Coast Guard-approved is printed on the vest.
- A wide range of fun colors and designs.
- Dries quickly in the sun.
- Comfortable to wear.
- Can be bulky to store.
|Weight Range||30 to 50 pounds|
|USCG Approved||Yes – Type III children’s PFD|
2. SwimSchool Swim Trainer Vest
The Swim Trainer vest from SwimSchool has the float pads placed in such a way that your child will naturally turn into the prone position. That’s a great position for learning to swim.
An adjustable crotch strap prevents the vest from riding up while your child is in the water, keeping them comfortable and safe.
And for parents who want to give their child a little extra sun protection, the vest uses UPF fabric. To complete the list of you child’s swimming gears, you can also pair it with kids swimming goggles.
- UPF 50 fabric blocks out 98 percent of the sun’s rays.
- Comfortable padded shoulders.
- Not every child likes or feels comfortable in the prone position.
|Weight Range||20 to 30, and 33 to 50 pounds|
|Closure||Front zipper and safety strap|
3. Poolmaster Learn-to-Swim Dino Swim Vest
Made specifically for helping build confidence in the water, this Poolmaster vest is as effective as it is cute. A neoprene vest with an expandable foam center, it is exceptionally lightweight and comfortable.
The two sizes cover a large range of weights, allowing you to buy the same color and design for multiple ages. This is a huge bonus if you have younger kids who want to look like their bigger siblings.
- The crotch strap is padded neoprene for added comfort.
- It has a front zipper for quick removal.
- Provides good buoyancy.
- Not adjustable around the chest.
- The designs and colors might not be as exciting for your kid as other vests are.
|Weight Range||24 to 40, or 40 to 66 pounds|
|Closure||Front zipper and safety strap|
4. Stearns Original Puddle Jumper
This Puddle Jumper from Stearns is printed with its U.S. Coast Guard approval on the side. This makes it suitable for all places, such as water parks and public pools that require children to wear a USCG-approved device.
A back buckle on the vest prevents your child from removing it unaided, and the strap for the closure is adjustable for a snug fit.
Meanwhile, the armbands provide plenty of support for newbie swimmers.
- It can be used on the beach, at the pool, and on boats.
- Soft fabric to prevent chafing.
- Wide range of designs to interest children.
- It can ride up under the chin a little on smaller children.
|Weight Range||30 to 50 pounds|
|USCG Approved||Yes – Type III Children’s PFD|
5. Splash About Happy Nappy Swimsuit
The unique design of this swimsuit swim vest allows you to add or subtract floats according to your child’s abilities and confidence level. That means this swimsuit can last from the time your child begins spending time in the water, through their growing confidence, to the point that they are ready to swim unaided.
The positioning of the floats around the waist leaves your child’s arms free and promotes a natural swimming position.
- UPF 50 sun protection.
- Arm, leg, and full torso coverage.
- Even a child Houdini couldn’t remove this swim vest since it’s built into the swimsuit.
- Not easy to remove in a hurry for a diaper change.
|Weight Range||24 to 33 pounds|
|Closure||Snap buttons at rear|
6. Megartico Swim Vest with Swimwear Girls
If your toddler’s style is important to you, these Megartico swim vest and swimwear combos might tick all the boxes on your wish list. It comes with a boy version, too!
With compact and lightweight foam, coupled with an adjustable crotch strap, the swim vest will stay in place while your child plays in the water slides within the pool. Meanwhile, the rear positioning of the zipper prevents your little one from taking the vest off unaided.
- Comfortable design leaves arms free.
- Cute designs.
- Some buyers say the sizes come up quite small.
|Weight Range||22 to 66 pounds|
|Closure||Adjustable safety belt|
7. Splash About Learn to Swim Vests
The makers of the Splash About Go Splash swim vests make up for the fact they are not adjustable by making three sizes available. The smallest size, for 1- to 2-year-olds, covers those from 22 to 35 pounds. That makes it an excellent option for the smaller toddlers who may not yet be big enough for some other swim vests.
Said to be especially thin, reviewers have praised this swim vest for taking up minimal space in their luggage.
- Soft edging material.
- UPF 50 neoprene.
- Bright kid-friendly colors and designs.
- Won’t last long on a fast grower.
|Weight Range||22 to 35, 36 to 55, and 56 to 70 pounds|
8. Speedo Kids’ Classic Life Vest
Speedo has been a trusted name in watersports for many years, so it should come as no surprise that their children’s classic life vest should make this list.
But don’t be fooled by the name. Although it is called a life vest, it is not a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. That’s an important distinction since it will not prevent your child from drowning.
However, a lack of bulk makes this comfortable for your child to wear and won’t interfere with their arm movements while learning to swim.
- UPF 50 sun protection.
- Bright, appealing child-friendly designs.
- It has a safety strap with buckle closure.
- Some reviews noticed chafing after extended wear.
|Weight Range||33 to 45, 45 to 60 pounds|
9. SwimSchool Original Deluxe TOT Swim Trainer
A departure from the other swim vests on this list, the TOT swim trainer does not have “floats within fabric” construction.
Instead, this is a fabric vest with an inflatable tube around the waist and a crotch strap to prevent the vest from riding up.
Being able to deflate the ring makes this an excellent option if space is at a premium in your luggage.
- Two air chambers provide adjustable buoyancy.
- Encourages a natural swimming position.
- It can give kids more stability, which can help those who are still afraid of the water.
- The crotch strap is not adjustable.
|Weight Range||33-pound maximum|
10. Gogokids Float Suit Swimsuit
The GogoKids suit has float material in a ring around the neck, the back, and the chest. The float foam can also be removed once your child becomes a confident swimmer, or when your child is playing out of the water.
The relatively small weight range for each size makes the suit well-fitting, and the rear zipper stops your little one from wriggling out of the suit unaided.
- Works well as a swim vest and a playsuit.
- Comfortable fit.
- Versatile since you can remove the float material.
- Not good for fast growers.
|Weight Range||26 to 30, 30 to 37, 37 to 48, 48 to 57, and 57 to 68 pounds|
|Material||80 percent polyamide, 20 percent elastane|
|Product||Best||Weight Range||Closure||Material||USCG Approved|
|Body Glove Paddle Pals Learn to Swim||U.S. Coast Guard-Approved||30 to 50 lbs||Shoulder harness||Nylon||Yes|
|SwimSchool Swim Trainer Vest||3-Year-Olds||20 to 30, & 33 to 50 lbs||Front zipper & safety strap||Neoprene||No|
|Poolmaster Learn-to-Swim Dino||4-Year-Olds||24 to 40, or 40 to 66 lbs||Front zipper & safety strap||Neoprene||No|
|Stearns Original Puddle Jumper||Budget Picks||30 to 50 lbs||Rear clip||Nylon||Yes|
|Splash About Happy Nappy Swimsuit||Swimsuit||24 to 33 lbs||Snap buttons at rear||Polyester||No|
|Megartico Swim Vest||Vest & Swimwear||22 to 66 lbs||Adjustable safety belt||Neoprene||No|
|Splash About Learn to Swim Vests||Girls||22 to 35, 36 to 55, & 56 to 70 lbs||Front zipper||Neoprene||No|
|Speedo Kids’ Classic Life Vest||Unisex||33 to 44, 45 to 60 lbs||Zipper||Polyester||No|
|SwimSchool TOT Swim Trainer||2-Year-Olds||33-lbs||Crotch strap||Neoprene||No|
|Gogokids Float Suit Swimsuit||Buoyancy||26 to 30, 30 to 37, 37 to 48, 48 to 57, & 57 to 68 lbs||Rear zipper||80% polyamide, 20% elastane||No|
Swimming Safety Tips
Now you know how to choose a good quality toddler swim vest, and you’ve read through our recommendations. But the best gear isn’t enough — you need to know about swimming safety as well. These tips will help ensure your child has a safe time in the water.
- Never leave your child unattended in the water.
- Don’t encourage your child to practice holding their breath underwater.
- Teach your child to enter a swimming pool feet first.
- Do not let your child enter the water without their swim vest. Stay consistent and make them wear it every time.
- Ensure your child knows not to go into the water without an adult there to watch them.
Keeping Your Water Baby Safe
Until your child is a confident and strong swimmer, they should wear one of the best toddler swim vests you can find. Select one from our list or use this information to make your own choice.
Remember to follow the swimming safety tips to ensure your child’s time in the water is as fun and as safe as can be.