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"Life Jacket" on a kid playing in the waves?

post #1 of 48
Thread Starter 
A certain family member has his child wear a life jacket, designed for the child to wear on a boat, to "swim"/play in the waves when they go to the ocean. Not while they're on a boat (well.... actually, he does also wear it on the boat) but also has him wear it when they are just hanging out at the beach with kick boards & such. You can't really swim there unless you're a good enough swimmer to go out past where the waves are breaking, which this kid doesn't do yet. They don't live near the beach, so they are only there for a few short visits (a week or less each time) in the summer.

We're talking about a beach with good-sized waves, side currents (I forget what you call them) and sometimes a strong undertow. I grew up going to that beach (although my parents took us a bit farther down, to the part where they have lifeguards). Never did I see anyone wearing a life vest to play in the waves/ swim. I don't know why, but I feel like it would not make the child safer. Might it even cause a problem?

This dad *will* actually listen to me if I offer advice, but that's b/c he's realized I usually know what I'm talking about when it comes to safety, more than he does at least.... and I make sure my explanation makes sense. In this case I don't really *know* if there's a danger, so I haven't said anything, but does anyone know if this is safe or not?

Just wanted to clarify that unless it is really dangerous, I won't waste my time bringing it up.... just something seems weird about it to me.
post #2 of 48
The best thing about it is that it raises the child with the expectation that water play must have a life jacket. With kids, exceptions are difficult to teach. "You have to have one in the river, but not on the banks. You have to wear one DEEP in the water, but not in the waves." There are too many variables...how deep is too deep? How strong of an undertow is too strong? Our area has lost many kids in lakes...parents swear up and down that they weren't out that deep. There's usually a hole, kid loses footing, gets pulled out just enough to not get footing again. Same for the rivers around here...just not a chance I'm willing to take.
post #3 of 48


-at lakes I am less concerned, but remain within arms reach up until at least 6-7yo, after that they still need to be in my direct line of sight
-at my Dads, that's on the ocean, they wear life jackets on the dock/boat. There is no shoreline or beach, just straight drop-offs/rocky cliffs (yeah, thats another thread on safety!! )

I'm curious to see what others think...
post #4 of 48
I vote to wear the life jacket. I don't think you said how old the child was, but I don't see any problem with the life jacket other than it might give some children a false sense of security and make them a bit more reckless. But, if I am going to have a child get knocked over by a wave I'd rather the life jacket give me a little extra time to get to them.

It might make it a little more awkward for them to stand up/swim smoothly, but a proper coast guard approved jacket should help keep their head above water.

I also vote for a BRIGHT color life jacket so they are easier to spot. (Camouflage or navy blue jackets are not the way to go)
post #5 of 48
As long as it's not a substitute for parental supervision, I'd be totally for the life jacket. I got into a sticky situation at a beach once when I was about 11 and probably would have drowned if not for the fact that I was still wearing the life jacket I had used while out on a boat earlier that morning.
post #6 of 48
I don't see the big deal about wearing the life vest to play. I'm usually pretty go w/ the flow, but when water is involved, that has to be a v quick rescue.
post #7 of 48
I always put a lifejacket on my child when we play at the ocean beach. She is only 3.5 and not a good swimmer. I figure if a rogue wave comes crashing over her head and pulls her out, the lifejacket will draw her to the surface and hopefully give me a window to swim out and save her. Without a life jacket if a rogue wave pulled her in she might not surface agian and just be gone.

Most of my experience with ocean swimming is in northern Californa, where the water is icy cold (shocking), and rogue waves can and have pulled both adults and children into the water. I might be more lax about it on a different beach with lifeguards present (Waikiki beach in Hawaii comes to mind as one where I would let my kid play without a jacket.)
post #8 of 48
We have never put a life jacket on my son while playing in the ocean. He is always in arms reach though! It only takes a second to be knocked down by a wave.
post #9 of 48
If I wasn't prepared/didn't want to hang out w/ him and run in the waves myself, I'd do it. Only to help pull him back up if he fell in the wrong spot - cause' it'll still take me a minute to get over there if I'm sitting and talking w/ friends, you know? DS1 knows if he's playing in the lake he needs a life jacket, and he's OK with it. I honestly don't see a darn thing wrong w/ it, or why you'd talk to the dad about it...
post #10 of 48
I have been told NOT to let my kids wear their life preservers in the ocean. The reason I was given: the buoyancy makes it harder for the child to maintain control and easier for an undertow to pull them out. I STILL put them on my kids because they are not strong enough swimmers to handle the ocean without a "safety net". Like other posters said- I believe the life preservers could save my child's life my buying my extra time to find them and get them out should they loose control.
post #11 of 48
I live in HI and only see life jackets on tourists. I want my children to learn how to handle themselves in the ocean (under my supervision, of course) and learn what the currents feel like, as they feel different than a swimming pool. They also take swim lessons, and have for about 4-5 yrs, including lessons at the beach. My baby (15 mo) is in the ocean every weekend, usually with us, sometimes I'm sitting at the shoreline while she splashes around me. My older ones started snorkeling with us about age 4 or 5.

If it's rough enough to need a life jacket, my kids aren't going in the water because that usually means the rip currents are too strong. (usually only happens in winter)
post #12 of 48
I am very against the use of lifejackets in this manner. It gives the parents & children a safe sense of security & doesn't teach the child anything, not water safety or how to swim.

I will admit I occasionally put a lifejacket on ds to play in the water for a few minutes but then we take it off again. I do it more to give him a sense of how the buoyancy feels different in the lifejacket & for something fun to do.

I cringe everytime I see parents doing this with their children. I think there are some children who believe they cannot get wet without being in a lifejacket.

Plus, think of how darn uncomfortable they are!
post #13 of 48
I live near a beach. It has rip currents, strong undertow and waves. Every year people drown when they get carried off by the under tow or the current. Last weekend 2 teenagers drowned after getting caught in a rip tide. On Friday a man drowned just across the state line. Almost always they claim they were not far out, and then someone looked up and they were far out or gone. Sometimes we have double drownings, were a child gets caught in the undertow, and a parent swims out to save them and gets caught themselves. It takes days or weeks to find the bodies.

Young children and non-swimmers should, in my opinion, wear life jackets. And everyone should be supervised like a hawk, and attention paid to beach warnings (here there is a flag system that indicates if its safe to go in). A beach with waves and tide like that is NOT a good place to learn to swim, or for a beginner to practice. I also think an adult should always be in the water with the child. Sure, it looks odd, but the kid is safer with one on than without one.
post #14 of 48
Where we live, there are not only rip currents, but also 'sneaker waves' that come up higher than expected. They can easily knock a child off their feet and into the water. So, if I had a non-swimmer playing in the waves, I'd put the life jacket on. (As it is, the temperature is also rather frigid, so there isn't much playing in the waves.)
post #15 of 48
The younger kids here wear a life jacket when playing in the water at the beach. If the child trips in the wrong place at the wrong time and goes under, the ocean can and most of will pull them out. With a life jacket they at least stay on the surface where an adult or life guard can spot and catch them. The ocean can be a very dangerous place, even close to shore.

ETA: Where we live, we don't get strong rip tides and the undertows are not nearly as strong, still a non-swimmer is advised to either wear a life jacket or stay close to someone who can swim well. Beaches also tend to have an area cordoned off for swimmers that is fairly neutral though you don't have to stay there.
post #16 of 48
Thread Starter 
Interesting to read all the responses! As I said, I hadn't seen anyone doing it before and it seemed odd. I'm not much of a beach goer as an adult.... especially not when it's hot & sunny. Sometimes I'll take the kids for a walk on the beach when we visit my parents for Thanksgiving.

I was leaning toward thinking it would be an encumbrance and might cause some problem... it definitely doesn't seem like it would help the kid learn to be safe in the ocean.

This has me wondering what effect a life vest would have, in a situation I encountered a number of times when I used to go in the water there.... ~ when the undertow drags you down & the wave flips you around / upside down & you can't tell which way is up until you hit the bottom or come out into the air. Would it make any difference? I have never actually been in the water wearing anything like a life vest...
post #17 of 48
Imanother one on the Pacific Coast. With the undertow and riptides common to this area, i wouldnt risk my child out of arms reach without one.
post #18 of 48
If you're wearing a life jacket in the water, even under the water, you can tell which way is up because the life jacket pulls at you trying to do what it is designed to do which is take you to the surface.
post #19 of 48
Yup. Thats the point of a life jacket - it utterly eliminates the confusion as to which way is 'up' - its the way its trying to pull you towards. And even in the ocean it'll pull a young toddler to the surface if a rogue wave knocks them down and pulls them out where they can't stand up (or at least where they aren't able to when surprised). And then you can find them. *THATS* why ds1 would wear a life jacket when playing in the waves in the ocean unless I was *RIGHT THERE* with him - so if a freak wave came he'd still pop up to the surface, and I could go grab him without searching, cause' he can't swim. And we both know it, and thats why he wears a life jacket.
post #20 of 48
Since this isn't your child I have to say my opinion is "butt out". How would you feel if you told the dad you didn't think it was necessary and he shouldn't put one on the kid and he follows your advice. What if the kid is then at the ocean again, without a life jacket because that was your advice, and he drowns? That's not something I could live with so I would seriously MYOB and let the dad/parents do what they feel is necessary. For some people that's using a life jacket, for others it's not. But it has to be what the PARENT is comfortable with.

My ds goes to the ocean maybe once a year. He can't swim. He has autism and has impulse control issues (he has jumped straight into a lake before without thinking twice). We do not use a life jacket with ds while we're at the ocean. But we feel comfortable with that because there are 2 of us (dp and myself) and only 1 kid. We take turns taking him into the ocean HOLDING HIS HAND the whole time. If he goes in the water, one of us goes with him. When we're sitting down playing in the sand, we're sitting far enough from the water that if he jumped up and ran for the water we would be able to catch him.
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