Lifejackets and personal flotation devices

Lifejacket illustration

Lifejacket or PFD

A lifejacket holds the person wearing it upright. It can turn the person over from face-down to face-up. A personal flotation device 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 foam in the vest 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.

Children and lifejackets

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 five years of age, put her in a lifejacket when she 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 five years of age 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 lifejackets that fit properly.

Pick the right lifejacket for your child

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. At least once a year, check to see if the lifejacket still fits your child and has no rips or damage
  4. 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 whistle
  • A waist strap that you can adjust - so you can make the lifejacket fit snugly
  • Ties and/or a sturdy plastic zipper
  • Bright colour and reflective tape to help you see your child in the water

Is it safe to take my baby on a boat?

While there are “infant-sized” lifejackets on the market, there are no Canadian safety standards for these devices. Therefore there are no Canadian-approved lifejackets for infants who weigh less than nine kilograms (20 pounds). Wait until your child is at least nine kilograms (20 pounds) and can fit into a Canadian-approved lifejacket, before taking him on a boat. Many babies will reach nine kilograms (20 pounds) around nine to 12 months of age.

Boating, lifejackets and the law

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. Nine out of 10 people who drown in boating incidents are not wearing lifejackets. 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 and boating?

Canadian Red Cross
Office of Boating Safety, Transport Canada
Canadian Safe Boating Council