Did you know that each day 10 people drown in the United States? Of those numbers, 2 will be kids aged 14 years old or younger. That’s a frightening statistic I am sure you will agree.

But it could be avoided, and many parents choose to use puddle jumpers on their toddlers when boating for safety reasons. But are puddle jumpers approved for boating by the US Coast Guard? Here’s the answer:

Coast Guard approved puddle jumpers are approved for boating, being superb swimming aids. However, they should only be used in certain circumstances such as when swimming and anchored down and some state laws might prohibit their use whilst the boat is in motion. When your boat is underway you should swap the puddle jumper for an infant life jacket instead.

I can’t imagine that you will find any puddle jumpers available to buy online that wouldn’t be USCG approved, but please always check before you purchase.

Handy Hint: The puddle jumpers I recommend and review on this website are all USCG approved products. The safest on the market are these from Amazon.

Are Puddle Jumpers Approved for Boating?

Now this is where things can get confusing.

Even thought you might own a Coast Guard approved puddle jumper, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can use it when boating where you live.

The reason being, is that each state can have slightly different laws. I always recommend that you check your state laws, so you know exactly where you stand.

To give you an example, here’s a statement taken from the Tennessee Government website.

“All children 12 years of age and younger are required to wear a Coast Guard approved PFD while on the open deck of a recreational boat except when anchored, moored, or aground. There are four basic things you should keep in mind about your personal flotation devices.”

That’s a pretty simple law, and just tells you that your puddle jumper must be worn when on a boat in motion. But of course, that is providing it is a Coast Guard approved PFD (personal floatation device) which our recommended puddle jumpers are.

But then we head on over to Florida and see this state law:

“Children under six years of age must wear a USCG–approved Type I, II, or III PFD at all times while on any vessel less than 26 feet in length that is underway upon Florida waters.”

That means if you own a puddle jumper that is a Type V (or 5), it will be illegal to use in Florida. But in other states, a Type V is approved for boat use.

To clear up any confusion, always check your local laws, and if in doubt try to purchase a Type I, II, or III puddle jumper.

Most modern puddle jumpers and similar PFDs manufactured recently will be Type III, including all of the products that I recommend on Pontoonopedia.com. 

Are Puddle Jumpers Boat Safe?

This is where you’re going to get some personal opinion from me based on all my years in taking our kids out on boats. 

We own and have owned various puddle jumpers over the last couple of years, all of which have been approved for boating by the US Coast Guard.

Should You Use Puddle Jumpers on a Boat?

I’ve got two trains of thought on this, but in simple terms, yes, they are safe to use on a boat, but it depends on the type of activity. 

My wife and I only use puddle jumpers on our kids when our boat is static and we’re having leisure time in the water.

For example, we have our youngest wear them when we’re anchored down and are swimming.

Kids Drowning Statistics

Drowning is a huge problem where young children are concerned so make sure you are safe and prepared at all times – Statistics from Stop Drowning Now website.

We don’t believe that puddle jumpers should be worn when the boat is moving, because they can be easily removed.

Yes, they can give young kids confidence in the water as they keep their chin out of the water and help them learn to swim. When worn, a puddle jumper will let them lean forward into the water to start the classic swimming position and actions.

But kid’s life jackets don’t quite operate in the same way, as they are designed to flip and float children onto their back – because if they fall in the water, then that’s the best position for them to be rescued.

Life jackets just aren’t as easy to swim with as they are engineered to keep your kid safely in the water until they can be rescued. Most infant life jackets tend to ride up the body, and don’t make for good swimming aids.

What is a Puddle Jumper?

Puddle jumpers are fantastic aids for baby and toddler swimming development.

Unlike “floaties” or buoyancy aids that just loop over arms, young kids can’t take them off as easily.

The president of the Stop Drowning Now charity has this to say: 

“Puddle jumpers are the best option as far as floatation devices go because unlike arm floaties, kids can’t get them off easily. Puddle jumpers are a great option because they’re Coast Guard-approved.”

But if you are boating, I would still recommend you invest in a toddler life jacket too, as they are more secure.

Handy Hint: Whilst kid’s life jackets are available in many sizes, puddle jumpers are typically sized for younger children who weigh between 30 to 50 pounds.

Puddle Jumpers vs Life Jackets

So, what should you choose?

In my experience, both (and you can see my life jacket recommendations here).

Puddle jumpers are very good for swimming pools and shallow open waters when the child is properly supervised by an adult.

But when our boat is moving around, it’s a life jacket every single time.

The reason we do so is because if our kids do fall in the water, a life jacket will help to keep their head up and body back, keeping their faces away from the water.

Kid life jackets also have loops on the back which offer a handy method to hook them out of the water or to keep a hold of the younger ones when walking around a dock or marina.

What is the Best Puddle Jumper for Boating?

The only brand worth considering is Stearns. They invented the puddle jumper, and anything else will just be a poor imitation.

As I mentioned earlier, all our kids have used them, and our youngest son wore his from two and half up to five years old and it’s never had to be replaced.

Be aware of cheap imitations.

You can buy the Stearns’ puddle jumpers on Amazon so click here for latest prices.

For example, work colleague of mine recently told me a story about them taking their kids out on their pontoon boat last summer.

“I got stopped by the cops over the summer whilst on the lake because my daughter was wearing something just like the puddle jumper, but not a Stearns product. He made me change it out right away. I am new to the boating and I had no idea and the officer said it had to be a class 1 or 2.”

Should You Choose Basic or Deluxe?

When shopping online you will see two different types, other than the printed design features and characters.

The main difference between basic and deluxe puddle jumpers is design, comfort and quality. You can see an image of the Deluxe version below.

The regular model is constructed with a nylon material, with the deluxe using polyester. That means that the deluxe can feel softer to the touch and not as abrasive as nylon can be.

The deluxe model does cost a little more, but for a few more dollars you get more padding too, what feels like a better product, and a little more floatability and buoyancy.

Either one you choose will be a great investment and will keep your kids feeling secure too.

Is a Puddle Jumper a PFD?

Yes, it is, and the recommended Stearns Puddle Jumper can actually fit a lot better than the traditional vest-type PFDs that can tend to ride up younger kids’ bodies.

On the Stearns’ website it states:

“Each Puddle Jumper® PFD is US Coast Guard-approved when worn on boats and can be used as a learn-to-swim aid.” 

Conclusion

Puddle jumpers are fantastic as swimming aids for younger children and can help them learn to swim. However, be aware that their suitability for boating can be limited.

As a father, I can’t recommend this product highly enough.

It’s helped our kids learn to swim and given them way more confidence in the water.

All I would say is, don’t use it as a replacement for a kid’s life jacket or vest.

The two things should complement each other, with puddle jumpers for swimming, and life jackets for when your boat is moving, or your kids are walking around a dock or marina.