Lifejackets VS buoyancy aids

I'm Fran from NipperSkipper, we offer functional and fashionable clothing alongside technical safety gear, for children aged 0-10 years who enjoy messing about in boats or getting outdoors for adventures. 

At Nipper Skipper, we believe that the first point to consider when taking children on board is safety. If your little ones aren’t safe then you are not going to relax, and they too will feel uneasy as a result.

Having your children up on deck seeing what’s going on, (and where you can keep an eye on them) means that they will get to share the boating experience, learn new skills and get to know how to do things safely for themselves.

Parents are often confused by the various items of safety gear on offer and wonder what the difference is between a buoyancy aid and a lifejacket. So I have explained all below:

The technical bit

Lifejackets and buoyancy aids are sold by their buoyancy rating, measured in Newtons (N). A Newton is a metric measurement of force. 1 Newton is equal to 0.225lb so a 150N lifejacket will therefore support someone with an in water weight of 15.3Kg or 33.7lbs.

150N devices are suitable for most situations, including offshore, 100N are also available and only suitable for inshore/inland sailing. Children’s lifejackets are either made of a light, static soft foam (sometimes plus a manual air inflation system) or one which automatically inflates on contact with water using a CO2 gas cylinder.

If you think that your child is going to bob in and out of a kayak or stand-up paddleboard or paddle near the water’s edge then you need to opt for the foam (or foam and air) version, otherwise you’ll be replacing the costly rearming kits every five minutes! If you do use an automatic inflation mechanism you should regularly check the cylinder and replace according to the date stamp.  

So what’s the difference between life jackets and buoyancy aids?

Life jackets

Both lifejackets and buoyancy aids will help support someone who falls into the water but only a life jacket can turn an unconscious wearer to face up and support them should they be unable to swim.

A lifejacket is an investment and there can be a temptation to buy a life jacket that your child will ‘grow into’. Don’t be tempted – the jacket will only work if fitted correctly. Life jackets are fitted according to weight, rather than size.

At Nipper Skipper we only stock life jackets that have crotch straps and some with a built in safety harnesses. The crotch straps will ensure that your child doesn’t ‘slip’ through the jacket, and that it will keep it in place during a rescue. Only lifejackets are intended to support the wearer on their back, with their face clear of the water.

These days, lifejackets are much lighter than people might remember them and as such are comfortable enough to wear all day! They even come in a crib format for babies – so you can get even the smallest on board safely!


Buoyancy aids

Buoyancy aids are exactly as they say – an aid to help keep a child afloat. It will keep the wearer buoyant in the water but the wearer will need to swim to keep afloat fully and should only be used if help is immediately at hand.

Buoyancy aids are only suitable for competent swimmers and are designed to be used in sheltered waters where help is close at hand. They should only be used on children who can swim, and preferably when under full adult supervision.

Buoyancy aids are often used in canoeing and water sports. It is not advised to try and take a short cut by buying buoyancy aids instead of lifejackets – they are two very different items of safety kit. 

In summary

Life jackets

In a nut shell – automatic life jackets generally best suit older children, whilst foam life jackets are perfect for smaller children and toddlers who may wish to play in the water as well as on it. Plan ahead and remember – a lifejacket will only work when worn!

We consider that lifejackets should be worn at all times when cruising and up on deck. You might also wish to think about children wearing lifejackets or buoyancy when playing on the pontoons, just in case of a slip or trip, plus it can help them get used to wearing them regularly. 

If we encourage little ones to act safely on boats, they will grow up thinking that that’s the norm. Boating is about having fun on the water – so make sure you’re all safe and comfortable. Le Boat provide life jackets on board all of their boats but if you would like to invest in your own, the Nipper Skipper range which also includes harnesses and life lines can be found on our website. Le Boat UK clients are entitled to 10% off their order with Nipper Skipper, look out for the promo code in your pre-departure email!

And just to repeat…a lifejacket only works when it’s worn! So get afloat, have fun and stay safe!