Photo: Mael Balland.

What to look for when purchasing a life jacket for your child

If you enjoy water sports and other water-based activities, such as fresh-water of deep-sea fishing, paddling, tubing or skiing, never underestimate the importance of a life jacket. This essential piece of safety equipment saves lives, so be sure to choose one that’s South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA)-approved, fits comfortably, and is designed for your type of water activity. It is also essential that you purchase the correct life jacket for you and your child. The following is important information in regard to life jacket regulations and what you should know before you or your child gets onto any boat.

Life jacket regulations

The South African Marine Safety Authority (SAMSA) specifies a set of requirements for life jackets that must be met in order to receive the SAMSA approval. These requirements cover circumstances that occur at sea, in extreme offshore environments, inland, and near to shore. A life jacket rated at level 275 is essential for usage in waters with harsh circumstances because it offers sufficient buoyancy to assist users who are also wearing additional garments or weights. It is intended to maintain the wearer in the proper position, ensuring that their mouth and nose remain above the surface of the water at all times. Life jackets of the Level 150 variety are intended for use in a variety of maritime contexts, including those in which the wearer is outfitted with multiple layers of clothing for use in severe environments. When the wearer loses consciousness, the jacket should place them in a secure posture automatically. At this level, there is the potential for a rapid rescue to take place in placid or protected seas. The head of the wearer should be supported by the jacket, and an unconscious person should be turned over onto their stomach. Level 50 is for usage only by experienced swimmers in inland water and has restrictions on where it can be utilized. This life jacket is perfect for activities such as water-skiing, jet skiing, yachting, canoeing, and other similar water sports.


Accessories such as emergency lights, multi-chamber systems, and overpressure relief valves will be required for certain types of commercial vessels, pleasure vessels, and passenger vessels that operate outside of a harbour or at night. All levels of life jacket must be fitted with, retro-reflective tape on the front and back and placed high for visibility, a whistle and a centre lifting loop.

Fitting a jacket

After determining the style of life jacket that must be worn, the next step is to select one that is the appropriate size. You can count on the fact that the general rule states that the more straps a jacket has, the simpler it is to customize it to the curves of your body, which in turn adds to the amount of comfort it provides.

The right fit for an adult is based on chest size and not weight, so measure your chest. The jacket should fit snuggly but comfortably and allow for easy arm movement. For children the size is based on the child’s actual weight. An infant life jacket will suit a small child ranging between 3.6 -13.5kgs, a child size should be between 13.5–22kgs, and a youth size between 25–40kgs.

• You should look at the label provided by the manufacturer to make sure that the life jacket is appropriate for your child's height and weight.
• To ensure that the jacket has a good, close fit, check that it is properly secured and cinched.
• Grab the top of the arm holes and pull yourself up in a slow and gentle manner.
• Tell the child to raise his arms in a vertical position above his head.
• Check to see if the child’s face or chin is covered by the life jacket, as well as whether or not there is extra space above the armholes. If this is the case, the child will need a smaller life jacket.

Taking care of your life jacket

A life jacket can provide you with many years of water safety so take extra care of it. Make sure you rinse it with water after each use and allow it to dry thoroughly. If not used, store it in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight. Ensure that no sharp objects are around your life jacket to cause unnecessary damage or punctures.


The vast majority of those who drown do so in placid, inland waters. The majority of individuals who drowned were within a few feet of safety and had easy access to a life jacket, but, they were not wearing one when they went under the water. Take the time to choose the appropriate life jacket for your child's size and activity level, as well as the conditions of the water, but don't forget the most important thing of all: Life jackets are only effective when they are worn by the person who is supposed to be wearing them.

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