Life On The Beach: Lifejacket 101

What might cause more harm than help

Jul 14, 2011

Splash Kingdom

As a lifeguard, one of the hardest things to do is tell a parent they can’t do something. While they think they might be doing the best thing for their kids, we have to tell them, no, you’re actually not. Commonly broken rules include piggyback rides, the fun but dangerous child launching, and the misuse of lifejackets. The last one is the hardest to explain but here I go about to try.

What parents don’t understand is that flotation devices can actually do more harm than help when they aren’t Coast Guard Approved (CGA). Usually, when swimsuits come with a built in “floatation jacket,” they are incredibly dangerous. While they are padded in a perfect cylinder to keep a baby straight up and down, this position can also keep them straight down and up—not exactly the ideal swimming/breathing position. Unless jackets are clearly stamped “Coast Guard Approved” followed by a number, they are not safe to use as a life-saving device. Sure, they can float, but not always the correct way.

Further explanation is required for the ever-popular Water Wings. True, they look cute, allow for mobility, and give the illusion of being able to swim. However, as soon as a child gets tired, his or her arms will rest, float straight up and cause the wings to pop off, leaving the child to sink out of them. Not only can they slip off easily, they give the child false confidence. The little one will think she’s able to go out further than she can touch. If she’s stranded in deep water when the wings come off, down she’ll go. There’s a new design that’s CGA. It has the wings, but they’re attached across the chest by a float band, which secures at the back. Usually it has a duck or a frog or some fun print on it. Some styles are not CGA, so again, when purchasing make sure they have been approved as a life-saving device.

Sometimes it’s not the misunderstanding or misuse of a lifejacket, it’s the misuse of an object. Beach balls, kickboards, boogie-boards and so on can all act as rafts for children to float on. They can get out too far and easily lose their swim aid. This is why we do not allow them at Madison City Beaches. While beach balls can be played with, they are not to be used as flotation devices.

So, now that some explanation is out there, what will you let your children wear this summer? CGA jackets are allowed at Madison City Beaches and the Goodman Pool. Just stop and ask a lifeguard to check it and get a purple band to let everyone know it’s been OK’d. Keep the little ones safe. Spend the extra few dollars to make sure the floaties you give them are approved.


See more Life On The Beach posts here, and read more about Madison's lakes on our Crazy4Lakes page.

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