The prevention of such an unbearable tragedy is why The Redwoods’ Group strongly suggests the following:
For all children entering the water, including all children and adults that are part of an outside group (rentals, special events, birthday parties, etc.):
Swim test to determine swimming ability. Users who do not take the test, or children under 7 years old, may be automatically designated as non-swimmers.
Clearly mark all users to identify swimming ability.
Most aquatic incidents happen in shallow water (3'-5'). Protect non-swimmers, especially younger children, by restricting them to the shallow end and adding additional layers of protection… a) The non-swimmer is actively engaged in a swim lesson or activity with staff; b) The non-swimmer is actively supervised, within arms reach of an adult parent or caregiver; or c) The non-swimmer is wearing a properly fitted US Coast Guard approved Life Jacket or Personal Flotation Device (PFD).
Adherence to such a protocol will keep kids safe, but many PFDs are so cumbersome that they limit the kids’ movement and thus stifle their ability to have fun. If the water isn’t fun, what is the point of learning how to swim? Yet kids who don’t learn how to swim will never be safe in or near water. Encouraging non-swimmers to enjoy the water without allowing them to be endangered is a perceptual dichotomy that must be overcome.
It is of critical importance that we keep kids safe when they are in the water. It is perhaps even more important that we make the water fun so that they will want to learn how to swim. Only then can they actually develop the skills that will keep them safe – at least as safe as they can be in an inherently dangerous environment.
USCG-approved PFDs are designed to preserve lives, which is why we specifically require them and don’t accept any of the numerous other “kid-friendly” flotation aids or swim-aids that are available on the market. There are quite a few USCG-approved PFDs made just for kids but generally they are simply standard units in kidappropriate sizes with kidfriendly graphics on them. They are designed to keep the wearer safe, but are not meant to encourage the child to spend more time in the water or to allow any significant freedom of movement.
One exception is the Puddle Jumper™, a USCG-approved PFD for children who weigh between 30 and 50 pounds. The inherently-buoyant flotation bands that go around the upper arms and across the chest are designed to provide stability while also allowing arm movement. That combination helps to build confidence because its unrestrictive design permits a comfort level and a range of movement that is unusual in PFDs. From a child’s perspective the bright colors, cartoony designs, and freedom of movement in the water transform it from a safety device – a necessary encumbrance to be endured – into a toy to be enjoyed.
Yet a safety device it is – a Type V PFD with Type III performance. It is Type V because a child needs help putting it on and taking it off since the fastening device is in the back. While that design element is an issue in some environments, with small children in a pool setting it may be more of a comfort and asset than a disadvantage. Parents and lifeguards don’t have the worry that the child will, accidentally or intentionally, suddenly slip out of the protection it provides.
The MSRP of the Puddle Jumper™ is $21.99. It is available on-line and at local retailers. You may contact the manufacturer (customer service at 800.249.6859 or [email protected]) to find local distributors or inquire about volume discounts. The USCG recommends that any PFD be tested on each individual child. Children come in all shapes and sizes, so just because one child floats best in the Puddle Jumper TM does not mean all will. Ensure proper weight range, a snug fit, and a stable face-up position in the water. Remember to never leave a child unattended in the water, even if they have the perfect PFD on.