Q. How can parents be sure a life jacket fits a child correctly?
A. The Sea Tow Foundation, a Southold-based nonprofit that promotes boating safety and life jacket use, offers these tips:
Don't put a child in an adult life jacket. Look for models labeled infant, child or youth. Unlike children's clothing, often sized by age, life jackets are categorized by the child's weight.
Put the life jacket on the child and fasten it. Ask the child to raise his or her arms overhead, then you grasp the tops of the jacket's arm openings and gently pull up. If you can pull the jacket high enough to create excess space above the arms, or if it rides up over the child's chin or face, try a smaller size. "Otherwise the child could slip out in the water," says Cindy McCaffery, vice president of program development for Sea Tow.
Infant personal flotation devices are designed with a high collar to keep the baby face up and the head supported; they also have a strap between the legs for added security.
Life jackets are classified Type I, II, III or IV, depending on the amount of buoyancy they provide and the water conditions in which they are designed to perform. Type I provides the most buoyancy and is designed to turn most unconscious wearers to a faceup position, McCaffery says.
While adults can wear the same life jacket for several years, children can outgrow a life jacket after just one summer. "If a child has a big growth spurt, the one they had this summer might not fit next summer," McCaffery says.