Why your child should wear a life jacket a lot more than you think

This post may seem a little out of the blue to you, with summer coming to an end an all, but it is not.

The reason why?

Because this Sunday I almost witnessed a toddler drown in a lake I am basically on every day of my life.

The scenario – A floating boat show on Lake Union (Seattle), where people come walk the docks and check out everything from runabout boats to yachts. I was working (boat sales) and talking to two parents who had their two young children in-tow. The children were calm and well-behaved, nothing was wrong. Then all of a sudden, we heard a *splash*.

Without turning around, I instantly knew their two-year-old who was not wearing a life jacket had just teetered over our barrier on the dock and into the lake. I spun, prepared to grab him out of the water, and was stopped in shock with what I saw.

I saw nothing. Nothing but black water. Within seconds of falling in, the child had sank fast enough that he was no longer visible to us. I had expected to see him flailing, or bubbles, or anything. But instead there was nothing, he was gone. My thoughts instantly went to what clothes I should kick off before jumping in to try and find his body so that I did not sink myself, and if I remembered infant CPR.

It was an absolutely horrible moment, and I can’t even imagine being in the parent’s shoes.

Do not worry though, because this story does end well. By some combination of a miracle and natural instinct kicking in, the child was able to struggle himself close enough to the surface that he once again became visible. I remember distinctly he was wearing an orange long-sleeve shirt, and all of a sudden we saw this little hand and an orange sleeve struggling towards the surface. The dad and I were able to plunge our arms in and pull this poor little child to safety, where he was able to sputter out water and immediately started crying – what a blessing to hear him cry and see him breathe!

Everyone was a buzz – ‘how could he have not been wearing a life jacket?’.

Well for us in the boating industry, life jacket wearing is basic knowledge. However this event made me realize that we are an extremely small population of people who think this way, and that life-jacket wearing as a safety measure is something that is not beaten into us as things like ‘baby proofing’ is.  My impression is that many people think life jackets are for people to wear on planned trips into the water, when in reality, they are to wear on the times you aren’t expecting to go in.

Life jackets are for the moments you don’t plan for. They aren’t made for the times where you fall in completely aware and ready to swim. They are for people who fall into icy cold water and go into shock because of the freezing temps. For when someone is canoeing and accidentally flips, hitting their head and being knocked unconscious. They are for the child playing harmlessly at the beach in the sand when a big wave rolls in and pulls them into a rip tide out of nowhere. They are for this little guy, who was going to walk the docks with his family, but accidentally tripped as little kids do, and stumbled into the water.

I am a huge advocate for water-safety, and this recent life event has me motivated to continue to spread the word. I am not here to shame or scare you, I am here hoping that this post has motivated you as a parent to not only buy a life jacket for your child, but to enforce them wearing it ANY TIME you are ANYWHERE close to water.

So please people…

If you are boating, and planning to hold your baby the whole time, they still need a life jacket. I will never forget the sight of the black water where that child slipped in.

If you are at a dock and planning to hold your child’s hand the whole time, they still should wear a life jacket. These were attentive parents and calm kids. An this accident happened in a blink of an eye.

If your kids are playing at a beach while you are watching them, have them wear life jackets.

If you are canoeing, kayaking, or paddle-boarding, everyone should wear life jackets. EVERYONE.

If your kids are swimming where there is a current, have them wear life jackets.

Even if your toddler or young child attends swim class, that does not make them safe. It is common when people slip and fall off a boat or dock into the water, to hit their head on the way in. With even brief loss of consciousness, a life jacket will be the life or death difference.

Life jacket, life jacket, life jacket! Do I need to say it one more time? Life jacket!!

The Washington State LAW is that all children under 13 should wear a life jacket at all times while boating. The law, guys, what is is how serious this stuff is. Would you ever toss your toddler in the back seat of your car without a seat belt on? I am guessing no! If you feel that strongly about your child being in a car seat while traveling, you should have the same feelings towards them wearing a life jacket around water.

The next important part of this is making sure that your child is wearing a correct life jacket. All life jackets have weight limits. Step one is checking to see that the life jacket selected fits your child’s weight.

An ideal infant life jacket will look like this image below, including a neck/head support for the infant, and also having a strap that goes in between their legs to prevent them from slipping out.

Step two is making sure the life jacket you are looking at is certified by the United States Coast Guard. Many parents are unaware of the fact that all life jackets and not USCG approved… take for example those ever popular water wings. In the eyes of the Coast Guard, these are NOT an approved life vest that will save your child from drowning, they are just a swimming assisted device (pretty much a pool toy!).

Stearns Infant Classic Boating Vest, Blue

Once your child graduates from their infant life vest (usually 30lbs) you can go up to the next size, ditching the neck support but otherwise keeping the same layout, just for a higher weight limit.

Stearns Child Classic Series Vest

Shop all Children’s Life Jackets

I hope this post is taken as it was intended to be… not a scare tactic, but a reminder that our little ones are so vulnerable in their first years of life! The good news is that throwing a $20 life jacket on them when around water is a very easy way to keep them safe in a variety of instances.

I appreciate all of you reading and hope you gained a little knowledge about life jacket safety for our loved ones!

X.O. Abbey Co.

My daughter 16 months rocking her infant life vest for a fun day boating trip
Pool time about 2 years old… zooming around!

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9 Replies to “Why your child should wear a life jacket a lot more than you think”

  1. Omfg how scary!! I’m glad the child is fine but moments like these remind everyone that safety precautions are there for a reason. You always think that would never happen to you until it does and you aren’t prepared. Great post though!

    1. That is exactly what the mom said too… never did it even cross her mind that this would have happened. It was SO terrifying. Thank you for reading, just trying to share this as a safety reminder to everyone with small kids!!

  2. So terrifying! I’m glad everything was ok in the end! I can’t imagine the horror the family was feeling when it happened!! I am a believer in life jackets as well. Even for myself as an adult. Safety first!! My son always wears a life jacket too and he is 6. He doesn’t mind because he knows it keeps him safe!

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