Are Puddle Jumpers Coast Guard Approved for Boating? - Pontooners (2023)

Anyone who truly loves boating will find that there’s always that desire to share the experience with others. And although your friends might be willing boating buddies, your family should be the first people that come to mind. Boating is an activity that the entire brood can enjoy - yes, even the littlest members of your clan.

But before you pack everyone on to your boat for a day on the waves, it’s important that you have the necessary PFD’s to keep them safe. And since a standard life vest might be a bad fit for the smallest members of your family, you might be thinking about using that old Puddle Jumper instead. But are Puddle Jumpers coast guard approved for boating?

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Puddle Jumpers and the USCG

The Puddle Jumper is a personal flotation device designed specifically for children. It features arm floats and a body float sewn together to allow free movement and better comfort. The design makes sure that children are kept upright at all times while in the water, preventing drowning accidents by keeping the head above the surface.

According to their website, the Puddle Jumper is approved for boating by the US Coast Guard. In fact, it’s considered a type III PFD. But that doesn’t mean you can let little Johnny wear his Puddle Jumper and throw caution to the wind.

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The problem with the Puddle Jumper as a PFD is that different states and localities might have varying rules and regulations when it comes to the use of these PFDs for kids. So while it is USCG approved, you’re still going to have to check in with your local authorities to find out whether your child can use the Puddle Jumper aboard your boat.

All together, it boils down to the type of PFD that the state requires. To help you understand that better, here are some examples of laws regarding PFDs for children in states were boating is most popular:


The law requires children 6 years and below to wear a type I, II, or III PFD while on board.


All children 13 years of age are required to wear any type of USCG approved PFD.


All children under 6 years of age must wear a PFD type I or II.


The state requires an approved type I, II, III, or IV life jacket for children aged 10 years and below.


All boats are required to have at least one USCG approved PFD on board for each passenger.

In most states, the Puddle Jumper might be good enough to satisfy the laws in the area. But in states like Michigan, the law requires PFD’s that are type I or II, which means the Puddle Jumper is out of the question.

It’s also important to keep in mind that some older Puddle Jumper designs fall into the type IV category. So if you’ve got one of those previous models, then you might have to purchase the latest design to at least meet type III standards.

Are Puddle Jumpers Safe?

In essence, the Puddle Jumper is safe. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be approved by the US Coast Guard. But there’s a lot more to safety than just USCG approval. Keep in mind that Puddle Jumpers are simply slipped on to wear. There aren’t any straps, belts, or buckles to keep it in place.

This makes the Puddle Jumper particularly comfortable for small kids. And because children are more likely to remove a PFD if they feel restricted by it, the Puddle Jumper’s comfort is one of its main selling points.

Another thing about the Puddle Jumper is that it’s designed to keep the head above the water. The buoyant force rests just under the chin and the arms, ensuring that the child is above the water at least from the shoulders up.


However, the main problem with the Puddle Jumper is the lack of any sort of strap to keep it secure. Assuming that a child falls into the water head first, it’s very possible that the Puddle Jumper may slip off due to the upward force of the water pushing the PFD upwards.

That said, a lot of safety experts and professionals recommend that the Puddle Jumper be replaced with a life vest or jacket when the boat is underway especially in rough or choppy waters.

Puddle Jumpers vs Life Jackets

The Puddle Jumper can be more than suitable for water play or for wearing when the boat is docked. But if the boat is underway, you might want to swap it out for a life jacket. These are designed for wearing over deep, open water, but that still depends on what type of PFD it is.

The main difference between a Puddle Jumper and a life jacket is that the latter comes with a set of straps to keep the device securely in place. What’s more, they can provide your child with a better fighting chance should they accidentally fall into the water if you buy at least a type II design.

Generally, all of the latest Puddle Jumper releases are type III PFDs, which means they’re comfortable to wear but not quite as buoyant. This makes them ideal for situations when you can guarantee a swift rescue.

A type II life jacket on the other hand provides a greater buoyancy rating, which means it can keep your child afloat with less effort on their part. These can be ideal if you’re afraid it might take some time to retrieve the child from the water.

Neither of these products are to be confused with the swim vest. Although it might look like a personal flotation device, the swim vest is a swim aid that helps children learn how to navigate the waters on their own. It will not keep the child afloat for a long period of time and isn’t designed to keep the head above water.

Choosing the Right Puddle Jumper

The Puddle Jumper has been around since the mid-2010’s, so it’s pretty widespread throughout the internet these days. However that also means that there are quite a lot of phonies on the market. If you’re looking to buy a working PFD for your child, it’s important that you read the labels and the fine print.

Here are a few of the best Puddle Jumpers on the market, and a few viable substitutes, that you can look into.

1. Stearns Original Puddle Jumper for Kids

Are Puddle Jumpers Coast Guard Approved for Boating? - Pontooners (1)Are Puddle Jumpers Coast Guard Approved for Boating? - Pontooners (2)

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The Stearns Original Puddle Jumper for Kids comes in about nine different colors with fun marine animal prints on the front of the chest panel. They also offer a Deluxe design that uses polyester in place of nylon. This just makes the PFD more comfortable, causing less friction and irritation for kids with sensitive skin.

In terms of sizing, the Original Puddle Jumper comes in just one size. But it does feature a single belt strap that goes around the child’s back. This adjustable strap lets you tighten or loosen the body pad to make it fit your child as best as possible.

Are Puddle Jumpers Coast Guard Approved for Boating? - Pontooners (3)Are Puddle Jumpers Coast Guard Approved for Boating? - Pontooners (4)

If you’re looking for something a little more secure, you can try the Body Glove Paddle Pal. Another USCG approved life vest for kids, these designs are considered a type III PFD as well. The only difference is that it comes with a set of shoulder straps that make the flotation device a little more secure in case your child enters the water head first.

Other than that, it’s pretty much the same design as the Puddle Jumper. Of course, it also comes in a variety of colors and prints so you can choose one that best suits your child’s fancy. Keep in mind though that for larger children, the Paddle Pal is considered a type V PFD, and may not be suitable for boating in most states.

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Are Puddle Jumpers Coast Guard Approved for Boating? - Pontooners (5)Are Puddle Jumpers Coast Guard Approved for Boating? - Pontooners (6)

While it might not be a Puddle Jumper, the Stohlquist Waterware Child PFD Life Jacket is a type II PFD for children up to 30lbs. The design works to keep the head above water and the child face up in case they fall into the water unconscious. This feature has been known to save countless lives throughout the years.

Although it might not come in such a wide array of colors and prints, its bright yellow design means that it should be visible from great distances. In terms of fit, the design comes with a crotch strap and a quick release chest strap that lets you get your child in and out of the vest without a moment’s pause.

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Safety First

Are Puddle Jumpers Coast Guard approved for boating? Well, yes they are. But that really isn’t all there is to consider. Boating can be a load of fun for the entire family, but safety should always come first - especially for the smallest members of the pack. Make sure you’ve got an appropriate USCG approved PFD for every kid on deck to curb the risk of accidents.


Are puddle jumpers Coast Guard approved for boating? ›

Puddle Jumpers are approved by the Coast Guard and are considered a type III personal flotation device (PFD).

How do you know if a puddle jumper is Coast Guard approved? ›

Using Puddle Jumper Jackets on a Boat

One large strap is fastened in the back with a secure clasp (using a clasp similar to the ones found on regular life jackets). The Stearns Puddle Jumper clearly states that it is “US Coast Guard Approved when worn on boats”.

Why are puddle jumpers Coast Guard approved? ›

Puddle jumpers are considered Type III personal flotation devices (PFDs) by the United States Coast Guard. This means that they are designed to keep a wearer's head above water in the event of a fall overboard. They are not, however, intended to turn an unconscious person face-up in the water.

What is the problem with puddle jumpers? ›

The main problem with the puddle jumper is when the child who routinely wears this device while swimming confidently returns to the water without it. The science behind this bias: Statistics show over two-thirds (69%) of fatal drownings for children aged between 1 and 4 years occur during a non-swim time.

Is a puddle jumper as safe as a life jacket? ›

They're not as bulky as a lifejacket making them easy to put on and more comfortable for the kid. They're also usually brightly coloured or covered in beloved animated characters which makes kids want to wear them. But, despite their popularity, puddle jumpers are actually really unsafe, say swim safety experts.

Is Coast Guard approved flotation device? ›

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION: All PFDs are approved by the Coast Guard, but some require little or no direct USCG review prior to approval. All PFDs must be tested by the USCG's Recognized Laboratory, which is Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.

Which puddle jumpers are Coast Guard approved? ›

Each Puddle Jumper® PFD is US Coast Guard-approved when worn on boats and can be used as a learn-to-swim aid.”

What does Coast Guard approved mean? ›


As required by Coast Guard regulations, this is the “approved use” section. It must include the boat sizes on which this life jacket may be used and the weight (more than 90 lbs.) of the person for which the life jacket is designed. The “ML” is the stamp of the manufacturer”s inspector.

What does USCG approved Type 3 mean? ›

A Type III PFD is an approved device designed to have more than 15.5 pounds of buoyancy. While the Type III PFD has the same buoyancy as the Type II PFD, it has less turning ability.

Are arm floaties safer than puddle jumpers? ›

Puddle Jumpers are safer than traditional arm floaties.

These floaties, or swim wings, can be extremely dangerous and provide both parents and children with a false sense of security. One trip down the slide or a misplaced jump into the pool can cause both – or worse – just one float to come off.

What is the best age for puddle jumpers? ›

Puddle jumpers are best for 3 to 6-year-olds who can't swim very well, although some readers noted that their 2-year-olds fit in it as well (Alice was 2.5 and LOVED it). For those taking multiple children to the pool and such, this is a must-have.

Should toddlers wear floaties in the ocean? ›

However, they're not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): Floaties “are not a substitute for approved life jackets and can give children and parents a false sense of security,” their guidelines read.

What is the weight limit for puddle jumpers? ›

Adjustable strap offers a secure fit to children 30 to 50 lb.

What is the minimum weight for a puddle jumper? ›

Infant Life Jackets (Under 30 Lbs.)

Help keep your baby safe and comfortable as they take their first steps into water confidently.

What to use after puddle jumper? ›

Swim vests can be a step up from puddle jumpers, as they can give your child more freedom to move their arms, so that they can improve their swimming techniques in a more natural way.

What is the difference between a puddle jumper and a life vest? ›

Whereas a vest or front and back floaties adds buoyancy to your child's center, a puddle jumper holds them up by the arms and chest equally. This does not mimic the way the body naturally wants to float in the water, and it keeps kids from learning to use their arms to keep afloat and balance.

Should kids wear life jackets in the ocean? ›

Children and teens should wear a life jacket any time they are on a boat, raft, inner tube or swimming in open water like lakes, rivers or the ocean. Children birth to 5 years old should also wear a life jacket while in or near water. This includes while they are on a beach or dock.

Which type of life jacket are most children safest in? ›

The two types of PFD's worn by infants and children are the US Coast Guard's type II and type III devices.

What flotation does the Coast Guard require? ›

Vessels 16 feet and over, except canoes and kayaks, must have one wearable Coast Guard-approved life jacket of a type and size appropriate for the conditions and the boating activity being engaged in for each person aboard, plus at least one Type IV throwable flotation device.

How do I know if something is Coast Guard approved? ›

The label of all US Coast Guard approved life jackets contains a statement that it is approved, with an approval number. This guarantees that the life vest is approved as a USCG life jacket types.

Is a throwable PFD Coast Guard approved? ›

USCG Minimum Equipment Requireme. One Type I, II, II, or V per person plus one Type IV throw able device. PFD's must be CG Approved, wearable by the intended user and readily accessible. The Type IV throw able device must be located such that it is immediately available.

Are Otteroos Coast Guard approved? ›

Otteroo is not a US Coast Guard approved floatation device because it does not fall within the category of flotation devices examined by the United States Coast Guard (USCG).

What does BM mean in the Coast Guard? ›

The most versatile member of the Coast Guard's operational team is the Boatswain's Mate (BM). Boatswain's Mates are masters of seamanship.

Does the Coast Guard accept everyone? ›

You must be a U.S. citizen or a Resident Alien. You also must be 17 to 41 years old. If you are 17, you will need parental consent. Prior-service personnel should contact their local recruiter for specific programs.

Does Coast Guard count as veteran? ›

A veteran is a former member of the Armed Forces of the United States (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard) who served on active duty and was discharged under conditions, which were other than dishonorable.

How do I get my boat USCG approved? ›

How do I document a vessel with the USCG? Boat owners can document their vessel or renew their Certificate of Documentation directly through the Coast Guard's National Vessel Documentation Center. Owners will generally need to submit: An application for documentation (form CG-1258)

What is USCG Type II? ›

Type II - intended to turn some unconscious persons from a face down position in the water to a position where the wearer's respiration is not impeded. Type III - intended to support a conscious person in the water in an upright position.

What is a Category C vessel? ›

Category C. Power Driven Vessels operating more than 5 nautical miles but not more that 15 nautical miles from shore. Approved life jacket per person – S.A.M.S.A approved. Two (2) hand-held red distress flares.

Can a puddle jumper be worn on a boat? ›

Here's the answer: Coast Guard approved puddle jumpers are approved for boating, being superb swimming aids. However, they should only be used in certain circumstances such as when swimming and anchored down and some state laws might prohibit their use whilst the boat is in motion.

What two types of Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices are you recommended to wear when working on or near water? ›

Type II PFDs — Near-shore buoyant vests: For general boating activities, calm inland waters or where there is a good chance for fast rescue. Type III PFDs — Flotation aids: For general boating or specialized activity that is marked on the device (such as water skiing, canoeing, kayaking, hunting etc.).

Who is required to wear a USCG approved personal flotation device? ›

33 CFR 175.15(c) provides that no person may operate a recreational vessel underway with any child under 13 years old aboard unless each such child is either wearing an appropriate PFD approved by the Coast Guard or below decks or in an enclosed cabin.

Can kids wear floaties in the ocean? ›

Lifeguard Shares Warning For All Parents—Never Let Your Child Wear Water Wings.

What does USCG approved Type III mean? ›

A Type III PFD is an approved device designed to have more than 15.5 pounds of buoyancy. While the Type III PFD has the same buoyancy as the Type II PFD, it has less turning ability.

What can I use instead of puddle jumpers? ›

Swim vests can be a step up from puddle jumpers, as they can give your child more freedom to move their arms, so that they can improve their swimming techniques in a more natural way.


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