7 Best Coast Guard Approved Puddle Jumpers of 2021 (Reviewed!)

Learning to swim is exciting for children of any age, but parents and caregivers know that safety should be at the forefront. At the same time, kids who are getting comfortable in the water want the freedom of movement.

A puddle jumper can offer a compromise for children and parents. But while there are many fun puddle jumper products on the market, you want the safest one for your child.

Therefore, selecting a Coast Guard approved puddle jumper is the ideal first step toward water recreation with fewer risks. But when it comes to Coast Guard approved puddle jumpers, options can be a bit limited.

Caregivers can make the best choice by navigating puddle jumper sizing, weight limits, and Coast Guard approved puddle jumper reviews. Our buyer’s guide covers this and more, including safety tips for using your child’s puddle jumper the right way. Plus, we’ll give seven recommendations for the best Coast Guard approved puddle jumpers available.

(You can also read our article on Best Kids Life Vests)

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The Best Coast Guard Approved Puddle Jumper Reviews (Updated 2021)

Here are the top Coast Guard approved puddle jumpers, in no specific order. Read on for recommendations on the safest puddle jumpers for all sizes, ages, and recreation needs.

1. Body Glove Paddle Pals

Body Glove’s Paddle Pals PFD is a Coast Guard approved “learn to swim” product, or category III PFD (for recreational boating). It fits children from 30 to 50 pounds and has both an adjustable chest strap and quick-release safety buckle.

The multi-panel design helps your child’s Paddle Pals remain flexible and allow freedom of movement both in and out of the water. Multiple styles are a plus, as kids can choose a Coast Guard approved puddle jumper that’s both safe and fun to wear.

Fabric shoulder straps help with the fit, as well as keeping this swim vest from slipping off in or out of the water. As far as fit, Body Glove’s paddle pals jacket is trimmer than comparable options, and parents appreciate the relatively slim fit.

However, with only one size option, not every child will be able to wear a Paddle Pals Learn to Swim jacket. Parents may feel tempted to purchase a PFD outside of their child’s weight range, but this is not advisable.

(You might be interested in reading our article on Best Non-Swimmer Life Vests)

Pros

  • A long list of style and character options
  • Qualifies as a Type III PFD for recreational boating
  • Fabric shoulder straps help with fit and safety
  • Not as bulky as comparable products

Cons

  • No smaller size option (for 30 pounds and above only)
  • Some colors seem to fade faster than others
  • Limited adjustability

2. Stearns Original Puddle Jumper

The original Puddle Jumper life jacket from Stearns has enjoyed a long run of popularity with parents over the years. The Type V/III personal flotation device conforms to Coast Guard guidelines and is suitable for use on boats, at public pools, and in water parks with specific safety requirements.

The lower-cut Puddle Jumper doesn’t have shoulder straps, which can mean a more comfortable fit for some kids (and an awkward one for others). The trimmer chest area might be more comfortable for your child, but the tradeoff is that the chest flotation piece may move around more than is desirable.

Endless styles ensure you can find something your child will agree to wear, but the single-size option is a bit of a disappointment. The single-buckle safety belt is at the rear, so kids will need help putting their Puddle Jumper on. That said, the rear closure also keeps them from removing the jacket before it’s safe to do so.

Pros

  • Plenty of style options
  • Qualifies as a Type V/III PFD
  • No shoulder straps to chafe
  • Fits children from 30 to 50 pounds

Cons

  • Only one size
  • Chest flotation piece can creep up or down
  • Some seeming quality control issues with specific designs

3. SwimSchool TOT Swimmer

SwimSchool’s TOT Swimmer qualifies for Coast Guard approval as a Type V flotation device. Per the Coast Guard, such devices are “only for special uses or conditions,” such as canoeing or kayaking or as deck suits.

However, many parents report using such life vests for support during swim lessons or as an emergency preparedness step while boating or playing near water. The TOT Swimmer promises to promote natural swimming tendencies, as it holds children in the appropriate position for learning to swim.

The vest is suitable for children from 30 to 50 pounds and features both a padded chest float and arm floats. One adjustable strap allows you to tighten the vest, and the shoulder straps offer a closer fit.

Depending on your child’s size and body shape, this puddle jumper may not fit snugly enough to prevent drowning. Both an S/M (up to 33 pounds) and M/L (30 to 50 pounds) are available, so you’ll want to size your child according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Pros

  • Multiple color and style options
  • Fabric shoulder coverings for comfort and a snug fit
  • Adjustable strap for safety and comfort
  • Keeps children’s faces above water when sized correctly

Cons

  • Not recommended for children under age two
  • Not enough size adjustments to accommodate all body types
  • Chafing is sometimes an issue

4. Full Throttle Little Dippers Life Vest

Full Throttle’s puddle jumper option doesn’t look like a life vest, but that makes children love it even more. It’s a Coast Guard approved flotation device with polyester fabric and a full-front panel for flotation.

The design options are fun, albeit somewhat limited with princess, sports, and police officer themes. Vibrant colors are a perk, though, especially since they appear to be largely fade-resistant.

Of course, the full coverage is ideal for keeping kids buoyant in the water. At the same time, the lack of shoulder straps helps avoid chafing.

Unlike other puddle jumper-type vests, this one has a panel that extends below the child’s chest. For some kids with shorter torsos, this will be uncomfortable. But for taller children, more coverage means easier flotation in the water.

Sizing is a bit limited, though—only 30 to 50 pounds—with a one-size design. The rear buckle keeps kids from removing their jacket alone but offers little in the way of adjustability.

Pros

  • Full front flotation panel for supreme buoyancy
  • Fun patterns kids will like
  • Little to no fading or sun bleaching over time

Cons

  • Single sizing option
  • Limited adjustability (single strap)
  • Might be bulky depending on the child’s torso length

5. Elejolie Swim Aids

For children 50 to 70 pounds, it can be tough to find a puddle jumper with enough buoyancy to support safe water activities. Elejolie’s swim aids support young swimmers from 22 pounds to 66 pounds to accommodate a wide range of ages and sizes.

The manufacturer claims these swim aids qualify as PFDs under the Coast Guard guidelines, but it’s unclear whether every product qualifies, or only a few. Therefore, parents should use these products at their own discretion (and with proper supervision for their children).

That said, for either smaller or bigger children, Elejolie’s swim aids fulfill a specific need. A trim fit benefits smaller children, while high buoyancy benefits bigger kids up to 66 pounds. Plus, the release buckle is childproof, so kids can’t remove their puddle jumpers without parental assistance.

The gender-neutral color options are another highlight, with designs like Turtle, Crab, Lion, and Whale. Color-fast designs tend to stick around after multiple swims, too.

Pros

  • Multiple pattern options
  • Childproof buckle release for security
  • Wide weight range
  • One of the few options for children under 30 pounds or above 50

Cons

  • No clear distinction on US Coast Guard approval
  • May not meet public pool/water park guidelines without Coast Guard labeling
  • Sizing is a bit unpredictable with such a wide weight range

6. Puddle Jumper Kids 2-in-1 Life Jacket and Rash Guard

Whether sun exposure is a concern or parents are not fans of wrangling kids into multiple pieces of swimwear, the Puddle Jumper 2-in-1 option might be the perfect solution. You’ll find UPF 50+ sun protection in this rash guard top, plus flotation support.

The Puddle Jumper life jacket and rash guard has a zipper and adjustable buckle for a comfortable and secure fit. The woven polyester is similar to other rash guard materials, and the colorful style options help kids remain visible near water.

Coast Guard compliance is a highlight—Puddle Jumpers come from The Coleman Company, Inc., which notes that its life jacket and rash guard combination meets requirements for a Type III PFD.

Like other similar puddle jumper products, this one’s a bit limited in size. Kids weighing between 33 and 55 pounds should fit the product, but since body types range widely, getting an ideal fit might mean trying the item in-person first.

Pros

  • 2-in-1 styling eliminates the need for a puddle jumper and rash guard
  • UPF protection is built-in
  • Fits kids 33 to 55 pounds
  • Qualifies as a Type III flotation device

Cons

  • Might be bulky for petite children
  • Size adjustments are a bit limited
  • Sleeves might not cover the child’s entire arm

7. Dark Lightning Kids Life Vest

For kids who need a bit of swimming support at your home pool, Dark Lightning’s Kids Life Vest might be a great fit.

While the manufacturer noted as of 2019 that they were ‘in the process’ of receiving Coast Guard approval, the brand does have EN Standard flotation verification. In short, the company’s product adheres to safety requirements in accordance with the European Standard.

And for parents searching for a flotation device for children around 20 pounds, this is one of few options on the market. Dark Lightning confirms that their floaties are suitable for kids 20 to 50 pounds, with an age range of one to four years.

The designs are colorful and fun, and parents will like these floaties for their affordability, too. Overall, the biggest drawback is that kids won’t be able to wear their swim vests on a boat or in a public facility that requires a USCG-approved sticker or number on the flotation device.

Pros

  • Meets EN Standards
  • Multiple color options and styles
  • Affordable
  • Accommodates children as light as 20 pounds

Cons

  • Technically not Coast Guard approved
  • Size runs a bit small (which may also be a perk for some children)
  • Does not qualify for use on boats or in public facilities that require a USCG cert

Coast Guard Approved Puddle Jumper Buyers Guide (Making Sense of It All)

Finding the perfect puddle jumper product for your child can feel overwhelming. To make sense of it all, consider these points.

What Are Puddle Jumpers?

Technically, a puddle jumper is a specific flotation device from The Coleman Company, Inc. But in fact, the term comes from a small type of airplane that usually makes short trips.

Of course, most parents recognize puddle jumpers as a type of life vest and arm floaty combination for small children to wear while swimming.

While some products are branded as “puddle jumpers,” many companies have begun manufacturing their own under similar names. Generally, a puddle jumper-type product offers both chest and arm flotation support.

Unlike traditional life jackets, these PFDs lack head support or strap. However, most products do conform to US Coast Guard flotation device guidelines. This means they are safe to use—in the proper conditions and with appropriate adult supervision.

Types of Puddle Jumpers

Puddle jumpers tend to all look like. The common features are usually a chest flotation panel, arm floaties, and polyester fabric. But there are different types of puddle jumpers, whether US Coast Guard approved or otherwise.

Here are details on the types of puddle jumpers available and the features they offer.

Standard Puddle Jumpers

A standard puddle jumper has arm floaties and a chest panel with flotation foam inside. The arm floaties connect to the chest panel either through additional pieces of foam or via fabric—usually polyester. Some puddle jumpers use neoprene or similar materials, much like wetsuits.

A standard puddle jumper buckles in the back via a single strap. In most models, the single strap can be tightened or loosened to offer a better fit.

Shoulder Strap Puddle Jumpers

Puddle jumpers with shoulder straps incorporate extra fabric over the child’s shoulders. These straps help keep the puddle jumper from loosening in the water. They can also offer a bit of sun protection for a child’s bare shoulders while swimming.

Zip-Up Puddle Jumpers

Though most puddle jumpers have a single buckle closure, others feature a zipper, either on its own or in conjunction with a strap. Zippers can ensure a closer fit and also prevent children from taking their life vest off without help.

Swimsuit Puddle Jumpers

Swimsuit puddle jumpers are a rarer type of flotation device. These resemble swimsuits but have flotation panels built-in. Sizing these types of life preservers can be complicated, and there’s usually a narrow window of time for kids to wear them before outgrowing the weight limit.

Rash Guard Puddle Jumpers

Rash guard puddle jumpers incorporate UV protection into a life preserver design. Typically, you’ll pull the rash guard puddle jumper over the child’s head or zip it up from behind. These types of PFDs can have either long or short sleeves, and they usually offer UV protection in all the fabric areas.

Benefits of Using Coast Guard Approved Puddle Jumpers

A Coast Guard approved puddle jumper is a smart idea when you’ll be on or near water with children. In general, using a puddle jumper has plenty of benefits, such as:

  • Children tend to prefer puddle jumpers to life vests since they have more freedom of movement.
  • Fun designs make puddle jumpers easier for parents to use, since kids don’t resist wearing them as much.
  • A puddle jumper can help children learn to become independent in the water.
  • The flotation of a puddle jumper puts children in the right position to begin swimming or paddling.

But using a Coast Guard approved puddle jumper has more benefits, depending on how and where you’ll be interacting with the water.

For example, many public facilities, such as pools and boating rental companies, require US Coast Guard approved life vests for everyone. If you need to provide a number or certification, devices with proper labeling are the only solution to gain admittance.

Many parents report disappointment at being turned away from public pools or campgrounds because their child did not have a US Coast Guard approved life vest to wear while there.

If you know your local public pool or lake requires this type of flotation device, it’s worthwhile to purchase a product that meets all guidelines and requirements.

Drawbacks to Kids Using USCG Approved Puddle Jumpers

Using a flotation device is inherently safer than going without. Still, it’s worth noting that although a product may have approval from the Coast Guard, that doesn’t mean it’s a foolproof solution on the water.

For example, parents may have a false sense of security because their child is wearing an approved flotation device. Although life vests of all types offer protection against water hazards such as drowning, nothing can replace appropriate adult supervision.

Plus, just because a flotation device carries a USCG approval label, this doesn’t mean the device will save a child’s life if they fall in the water unexpectedly. Different types of PFDs apply to various scenarios, with some conforming to kayaking standards while others are for use on boats.

(Read our articles on Best Boating Life Vests and Best Kayaking Life Vest)

Parents still need to watch their children closely, even if the child is wearing a Coast Guard approved puddle jumper. Learning proper water safety is also necessary to ensure your child’s wellbeing while near water. Enrolling children in swimming lessons can help mitigate some of the dangers associated with water sports, for example. Teaching kids to always stay near an adult while swimming is another helpful safety step.

No life vest or flotation device can serve as a replacement for parental guidance and learning how to be safe in the water. Even children who are able to swim should still be within sight of a parent or guardian while wearing puddle jumpers (or any other type of life vest or jacket).

Sizing and Proper Wear of Puddle Jumpers

As the US Coast Guard confirms, a proper fit is crucial when choosing a flotation device. Especially for children, sizing the PFD correctly can mean the difference between safety and a potentially fatal water emergency.

However, the limited puddle jumper options for smaller and younger children often means parents disregard this advice. Because drowning is a very real threat to young children, it’s advisable to always follow manufacturers’ guidelines for product sizing and use.

To that end, young babies and children of smaller stature may need to wear a life vest rather than a puddle jumper-type flotation product. For a baby 10-20 pounds, there are no safe puddle jumper products on the market. In fact, the Coast Guard advises parents against taking infants out on boats altogether. But if you’ll be near water with your young baby, you should purchase an infant life vest in accordance with product sizing guidelines.

For children 20-30 pounds, sizing can still be complicated. In general, most puddle jumper products aim to accommodate children between 30 and about 55 pounds. Some outliers exist, but in many cases, a properly fitted life vest will offer better protection for your young swimmer (or non-swimmer).
(If your kid weighs between 15-30 pounds, you should consider Best Life Jackets for Toddlers)

Generally, chest circumfere-ce is an afterthought—though most adult and youth sizes use this measurement only. When sizing children over 30 pounds for a puddle jumper, consider the following:

  • The flotation device should fit snugly without riding up or drooping too low.
  • Weight limits are not recommendations—they are hard and fast. So, the PFD may not float properly with a child who is below or above the weight limit.
  • When used in water (test your PFD at home in a small pool or bathtub), the puddle jumper should keep your child’s head above the water.
  • Most puddle jumpers aim to provide beginning swimmers with support, not life-saving flotation in emergencies. Therefore, children should always have supervision regardless of how strong of swimmers they are.

Safety Tips for Coast Guard Approved Puddle Jumpers

Puddle jumpers typically fall into a flotation device category that is not for emergency use. Generally, they’re under the category of “other” types of life vests. That said, a puddle jumper can be used safely and under proper supervision while around water.

Here are safety considerations parents and caregivers should be aware of when shopping for (and using) puddle jumpers.

What Does USCG Approval Mean?

While you can buy many types of puddle jumpers online, not all of them are qualified for USCG approval. In fact, some products may come from outside the United States and follow an entirely different set of safety guidelines.

At the same time, some products carry certification from other countries or even international standards. But if your local facility requires USCG certification, those products likely won’t qualify.

The US Coast Guard equipment search tool can help you find approved equipment for water recreation. By searching “infant” or “child,” you can see whether a product has current approval from the Coast Guard, or if its approval has expired. It can be tough to navigate this tool, however, unless you know the name of the parent company for the puddle jumper you’re considering.

It’s also worth noting that even if a product’s approval status says “expired” or “former,” that doesn’t mean a product is unsafe. In some instances, a product will say “former” and indicate that the product is still safe to use. Of course, the US Coast Guard does not endorse any specific product. They also do not routinely certify products.

Manufacturers must follow a process to receive confirmation that their product satisfies USCG guidelines. In some cases, manufacturers may claim they have approval when they don’t—or when it’s still in progress, denied, or expired.

Regardless, a certification does not mean any flotation device offers life-saving support in every scenario.

How to Size a Puddle Jumper

The US Coast Guard website suggests that parents follow manufacturers’ sizing guidelines to choose the right puddle jumper or life vest for each child. In general, manufacturers offer weight limits rather than height guidance or chest circumference measurements.

Many companies also specify age ranges for their products. However, they may recommend certain ages based on the average body size of kids in that range. For example, a manufacturer might say its product is appropriate for ages one to four.

But if your one-year-old is smaller than average, the product may not fit safely. Similarly, many younger children may not be mature enough to understand how their puddle jumper works or why they always need to keep it on.

Apart from selecting a product based on weight, how can caregivers ensure the right fit for their child? You’ll likely need to have the child model the flotation device, both in and out of the water. Check these points when fitting for a life jacket of any type:

  • The fit should be snug, and the PFD should not slide around or creep up.
  • The child should be able to move freely while wearing the product, enough that they can right themselves in the water unassisted.
  • The child should not be able to remove the flotation device on their own. Or, they must be mature enough to understand that a parent or caregiver decides when it’s safe to take off the puddle jumper.
  • While in the water, the puddle jumper should not float above the child’s head.
  • In the water, the flotation device should hold the child’s head and mouth above the water line.
  • In the water, the PFD should help the child remain on their back or upright—not pull them forward or onto their face.

Personal Flotation Device Solutions for All Sizes

Though a puddle jumper-style flotation device is tempting for many children—as well as their parents—the truth is that some kids won’t be able to wear one. Whether due to sizing or weight limit constraints, a puddle jumper might not be the right fit for your child.

In that case, you’ll want to investigate other options for water safety. Fortunately, you can find a life vest for every type of water sport or emergency scenario.

It may not have a stylish design, but a high-quality, Coast Guard approved flotation device is your best option for keeping kids of all sizes and shapes safe while swimming or playing near bodies of water.

For infants, especially, a life vest with appropriate head support is crucial for emergency preparedness. Many parents also prefer life jackets with built-in handles and other safety features to keep their children close at hand while boating or swimming.

Run Safety Tests Before Heading Out on the Water

The USCG also recommends testing out your chosen flotation device before relying on it in an emergency. Parents and caregivers can test their child’s PFD by filling the bathtub or backyard pool and having the child wear the puddle jumper with close supervision.

This way, you can see what level of flotation the device offers your child. Though buoyancy testing from the manufacturer guides sizing guidelines, not every child will float the same way wearing the same PFD.

While USGC gives approval to products based on their categorization as a flotation device, that doesn’t mean any one product is superior to another. And, proper sizing and usage are paramount for your child’s safety, regardless of what product you purchase.

Best Coast Guard Approved Puddle Jumpers Comparison Chart

Product NamePriceSizes(Fit For)SafetyUnique Features
Body Glove Paddle Pals$30 - 50 lbCoast Guard approved, Fabric shoulder straps help with fit and safetyMade with a durable polyester material and multi panel design for superior comfort
Stearns Original Puddle Jumper$30 - 50 lbQualifies as a Type V/III PFDNo shoulder straps to chafe
SwimSchool TOT Swimmer$30 - 50 lbAdjustable strap for safety and comfortFabric shoulder coverings for comfort and a snug fit
Full Throttle Little Dippers Life Vest$30 - 50 lbUS Coast guard approved life jacketFull front flotation panel for supreme buoyancy
Elejolie Swim Aids$22 - 66 lbAdjustable chest strap and double-security buckle for a comfort fitWide weight range
Puddle Jumper Kids 2-in-1 Life Jacket and Rash Guard$33 - 55 lbQualifies as a Type III flotation deviceUPF protection is built-in
Dark Lightning Kids Life Vest$30 - 50 lbAdjustable straps, buckle and double stitching at the edgeMeets EN Standards

Wrap Up

Finding a Coast Guard approved puddle jumper for your child might be easier than you think. With all these great options on the market, you can enjoy both peace of mind and a fun day on the water with the whole family.

But while purchasing a Coast Guard approved puddle jumper is a great first step for your next water adventure, it’s not the only measure you’ll need to take. Informing the entire family on proper water safety and best practices can help everyone feel more confident about staying safe while near, in, or on the water.

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