The start of summer for some families means the first launching of a boat and enjoying fresh sea air, water sports and fishing. Before heading into open water with children, take inventory of personal flotation devices to ensure safety.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children should always wear life jackets when boating or when near bodies of water. Boats are required by the U.S. Coast Guard to have a life jacket for every person on board, and some states require life jackets always be worn by adults and children. The U.S. Coast Guard does not recommend taking infants on boats because life jackets available for infants 18 pounds and under might not fit properly. All life jackets should be tested yearly in pools or shallow water.

The AAP advises parents to select personal floatation devices based on the child’s weight. Devices should be labeled as approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and tested by Underwriters Laboratories. A jacket fits well if it cannot be lifted over a child’s head after it has been fastened and should be able to keep the chin above water.

There are three types of life jackets. Type 1 jackets are available in two sizes: for those over or under 90 pounds. They offer the most protection and are used in large bodies of water. Type 2 jackets come in more sizes for children, but cannot turn an unconscious person face up as well as type 1 jackets. Type 3 jackets are for use in water sports such as tubing, when in the water for a short time.

Children participating in water sports like tubing should be strong swimmers and not rely solely on protection from life jackets.

Parents can set a good example by wearing life jackets at all times. They also should keep a watchful eye on children playing in or near the water.

For more AAP water safety tips, visit and click Register or Visitor.

© 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics. This information may be freely copied and distributed with proper attribution.