What is the difference between a lifejacket and a PFD (Personal Flotation Device)?

  • A lifejacket holds the person wearing it upright. It turns the person over from face-down to face-up. A PFD will keep a person floating, but not necessarily face-up. A PFD is lighter and less bulky than a lifejacket. PFDs keep people warmer in the water because the flotation device is evenly distributed around the body.
  • In Parachute's safety information for parents, we use just the word "lifejacket" when we are talking about all approved safety vests for the water (including PFDs). We do this to keep our information as clear and simple as possible.
  • You can choose either a lifejacket or a PFD for your child, as long as it is designed for children. Remember: even if your child is wearing a lifejacket or PFD, you must actively supervise her when she is in or near the water.
  • Make sure your child's lifejacket fits properly. Inflatable toys like water wings and blow-up rings are not safety devices, like lifejackets are.

When should my child wear a lifejacket?

Children have often drowned when they were playing near the water and were not intending to go swimming. Children can fall into the water quickly and silently without adults being aware. A lifejacket can help keep your child safe until someone can rescue him.

Make sure the lifejacket fits your child's weight. Buckle it up every time, and use all of the safety straps on the lifejacket. Your child could slip out of a lifejacket that is too big or not buckled up properly.

  • If your child is under age five, put him in a lifejacket when he is playing near or in the water – like at the swimming pool or at the beach. You still need to stay right beside your child.
  • If your child is older than age five and cannot swim well, put her in a lifejacket when she is in the water. You still need to stay close to your child.
  • If you are visiting somewhere where you will be near water, bring a lifejacket that fits your child. The place you are visiting may not have a lifejacket that fits your child properly.
  • On a boat, make sure you and your child always wear a lifejacket that fits properly.

How do I know which lifejacket is right for my child?

  • Make sure the lifejacket is the right size for your child's weight. Lifejackets for children have weight limits. Adult sizes are based on chest measurement and body weight.
  • Make sure the lifejacket is comfortable and light, so your child will wear it. The fit should be snug. It should not ride up over your child's ears.

Check the label to make sure it has been approved by at least one of the following:

  • Transport Canada
  • Canadian Coast Guard
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada

For young children, the lifejacket should also have these special features:

  • A large collar (for head support)
  • A strap that buckles between the legs – so the lifejacket will not slip over your child's head
  • A waist strap that you can adjust – so you can make the lifejacket fit snugly
  • Ties at the neck and/or a sturdy plastic zipper
  • Bright colour and reflective tape to help you see your child in the water
  • At least once a year, check to see if the lifejacket still fits your child

Is it safe to take my baby on a boat?

It is not recommended that babies travel by boat because there are no Canadian-approved lifejackets for infants who weigh less than nine kilograms (20 pounds). Because of their level of physical development, lifejackets would not help to keep a young baby safe. Wait until your child is at least nine kilograms and can fit into a Canadian-approved lifejacket, before taking him on a boat. Many babies will reach that size at  around nine to 12 months of age.

Is it the law in Canada for everyone in a boat to wear a lifejacket?

No. Currently, Canadian laws require that recreational boats have one properly fitting lifejacket for every person on the boat. But there is no law requiring people to wear the lifejackets. Since nine out of 10 people who drown in boating incidents are not wearing lifejackets, it is clear that that the current law is weak. A lifejacket will only help keep you safe if you wear it. Make sure all children and adults wear a lifejacket when on a boat.

Where can I get more information on lifejackets?