As of May 2005, Minnesota law requires a life jacket to be worn by children less than 10 years of age when aboard watercraft in Minnesota when the craft is under way (not tied up at a dock or permanent mooring).
A child should wear a life jacket anytime they are near water, such as in a boat or float tube as well as on docks and river banks and at the beach when allowed by the life guard.
Contrary to many TV shows and the movies, drowning is usually silent. A victim (of any age) in the process of drowning can not cry out for help. They just bob up and down in the water, their head tipped back, mouth wide open gasping for air and they are silent.
It takes as little as 30-45 seconds for a child non-swimmer, and it usually happens when an adult is nearby but doesn’t recognize the telltale signs of a child in distress in the water.
When buying a child’s life jacket, check for:
• A U.S. Coast Guard approved label.
• A snug fit. Check weight and chest size on the label and try the life jacket on your child right at the store. Pick up your child by the shoulders of the life jacket, and tell them to raise their arms and relax. The child’s chin and ears won’t slip through a properly fitting jacket. Do not buy a jacket that is too large, hoping the child will grow into it. Children come in many sizes and shapes. If a life jacket style does not work well, try another one. A well designed life jacket will support the child’s head when the child is in the water. The head support also serves to roll the child face up.
• A strap between the legs for younger children. This helps to prevent the jacket from coming off over the child’s head.
• Selecting a fit for children between 30 and 50 pounds. While some children weighing between 30 and 50 pounds may like the freedom of movement that a Type III life jacket provides, only children who can swim and are comfortable in the water should use a Type III. Most children in this weight range should wear a Type I or Type II life jacket.
• Comfort and appearance. This is especially important for teens, who are less likely to wear a life jacket. What follows are pointers for keeping your child safe.
• Every spring, check the life jacket for fit as well as wear and tear. Throw it away if you find air leakage, mildew, rot or rust. Cut up discarded life jackets so someone else doesn’t try to use them.
• If a child panics in the water and thrashes about, they may turn onto their face, even though a life jacket with a collar is designed to keep them on their back with face out of the water. Have your child practice wearing a life jacket in the water – this will help prevent panic and rolling over.
• Never cut or alter a life jacket in any way. It will no longer be Coast Guard approved since it may lose its effectiveness.
• Wear your own life jacket to set an example for your child, and to enable you to help your child if an emergency occurs.
• Never use toys like plastic rings, arm floaties or water wings in place of a life jacket.
- Image courtesy of the Minnesota DNR Web site