Test Your Water Safety and Life Jacket Knowledge: Common Questions Answered

lifejacket imageSummer is finally here and pools, river and lakes are becoming popular destinations for families looking for a fun way to beat the heat. But before stepping aboard a boat or planning a trip to a lake or other open water, it’s important to remember life jacket safety, says Elizabeth Bennett, a drowning prevention expert at Seattle Children’s.

Here, Bennett answers some of the most common questions parents ask about life jackets.

My child can swim. Why should they wear a life jacket?

Wearing a life jacket can reduce the risk of drowning by up to 50%. Children and teens should always wear a life jacket when on a boat, raft, inner tube or swimming in a lake, river or open body of water. Although the water may look calm or feel warm, it can be deceiving and weather can often change quickly. Remember, currents can be strong and dangerous, and the depth of the water can change drastically.

Why do I need to wear a life jacket?

The truth is, even the best, most experienced swimmers can sometimes get into trouble when out in open water. Children, teens and adults should wear life jackets for boating and while swimming in lakes, rivers or the ocean. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about ten people die every day from unintentional drowning, and of these, two are children age 14 or younger. Unfortunately, drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury or death in the U.S. Together, we can help prevent these deaths by following water safety and life jacket guidelines.  Also, it is more likely that your child will wear a life jacket if you do, too.

How do I know the life jacket is the correct size and fits properly?

Always check to make sure a life jacket is labeled “U.S. Coast Guard–approved.” Find the right size and fit for your child or teen. Each life jacket is labeled based on size and weight, so be sure to buy a life jacket that fits your child. When fitting a life jacket, make sure it is snug, but still comfortable. The life jacket should not be able to be lifted above a child’s chin and ears. If the life jacket can be lifted above the ears, it won’t be effective for keeping a child above water.

When buying a life jacket for a younger child, buy one that has a collar for head support and a strap between the legs. The collar will help keep the child’s head above water and the strap will help keep the vest from lifting above a child’s chin and ears.

Remember, never use water wings or floating toys in place of a life jacket. Young children should also wear a life jacket when playing around water, including on a dock.

How can I get my teenager to wear a life jacket?

Be a role model for teens and children while boating. Research shows that children and teens are more likely to wear a life jacket if adults wear them too; model safe boating and water safety behavior by wearing a life jacket. About 85 percent of recreational boating-related drowning victims in the U.S. in 2012 did not wear a life jacket, but researchers found that teens were 20 times more likely to wear a life jacket if at least one adult was wearing a life jacket.

Also, be clear with teenagers about the dangers of rivers, lakes and the ocean. Help teenagers make safe and informed decisions.

Where can I get a life jacket?

Life jackets are available at many major sports and apparel retailers. Learn more about life jackets and get a coupon (PDF) good for 25% off the regular price of any life jacket in stock at Big 5 Sporting Goods stores in Washington and northern Idaho.

Life jackets are also available at Green Lake on June 20, July 18 and August 15, 2015 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cost per life jacket is only $20 for infants, children and youth and $30 for adults. For more information visit Seattle Children’s drowning prevention events page here.

Help a child or teenager pick a life jacket they like and that is also U.S. Coast Guard–approved. The more a child likes their life jacket, the more likely they’ll be to wear it, and the safer they’ll be in or around the water!


  • Water Safety and Drowning Prevention for All Ages
  • Myth and Facts About Water Safety
  • Circle of Drowning Prevention
  • Open water guidelines