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Your Complete Guide to Float Vests and Jackets

Learning to swim is an exciting time for your child but it can also be quite daunting for them (and you!), especially if they’re nervous about being in the water. Buoyancy aids are designed to support children in a natural swimming position and to improve their confidence in the water.

In this guide we take a closer look at float vests and jackets to help you decide if they are the right buoyancy aid for your child.

What are float vests?

Float vests and jackets are worn over swimming costumes or shorts to help children achieve a natural position in the water when learning to swim. They are a buoyancy aid so work with a child’s natural buoyancy to help increase their safety level when in water. The vests feature removable floats which can be taken out gradually as a child’s confidence and swimming ability improve. Vests with non-removable floats are also available.

Some float vests also have the added advantage of UPF to help protect children’s delicate skin from the sun and are made of neoprene to keep children warmer in cool water. All of Splash About’s float jackets and vests provide UPF50+ sun protection.

What’s the difference between float vests and float jackets?

Both terms are used interchangeably to describe a waistcoat-style buoyancy aid. In the Splash About range, ‘float vest’ is used to describe vests that don’t have removable floats and have been specially designed to flat pack in order to fit into a suitcase for taking on holiday. ‘Float jacket’ describes vests that do have removable floats.

Are float jackets the same as life jackets?

No, it’s important to note that float jackets are not life saving devices and are not a suitable substitute for life jackets. Life jackets are designed to help a person in the water remain in an upright position, with their head above water, whether they are moving or not.

Float jackets do not do this, they are designed instead to help children achieve a natural swimming position when learning to swim, whilst still enabling them to go under water if they wish. When a child is using a float jacket for the first time, it is best to hold their hands until they learn how to balance in the water.

Children must be supervised at all times when in or near water.

Buoyancy aid comparison guide


  Float Suit Float Vest / Float Jacket Armbands
Age Suitability 1 year – 6 years 1 year - 6 years Birth - 6 years
Warmth No warmth protection Neoprene fabric for added warmth No warmth protection
Safety Robust material with integrated floats which cannot be removed easily by child Robust material with integrated floats which cannot be removed easily by child Susceptible to air leaks and punctures, can easily be removed by child
Removable Floats Yes

Float Vest - No

Float Jacket - Yes

No, floats are either on or off
Buoyancy Helps keeps child in a natural swimming position Helps keeps child in a natural swimming position Keeps child in an upright position in the water with arms above the chest
UPF UPF50+ UPF50+ No sun protection
Ease of Use Pull-on and zip up Slip-on over arms and zip up Need inflating, can be awkward to pull on
Comfort Soft fabric Soft neoprene fabric provides extra warmth Plastic can cause chafing or rubbing
Cost £25 £20-£23 £5
Size Floats can make suits feel bulky on smaller, slim children, can be bulky to pack Slimline when worn and easy to pack Bulky and restrictive when worn, but small when deflated so easy to pack

How float vests helps children learn to swim

Once your child is big enough to stay upright and hold their head up above the water they are ready to try a float vest. Unlike armbands, which position a child’s arms above their chest and restrict arm movement, float vests fit snuggly to the torso, allowing children to have a full range of movement.

Float vests help position children in a natural swimming position in the water, whilst providing extra buoyancy as they learn to swim. You will need to hold onto your child’s hands at first, to help your child find their water balance. The vest will then help to keep them afloat as they learn to kick in the water. As they become more confident, you will be able to let go of their hands and they will be able to stay afloat using only the swim vest.

Float vests are ideal for children who enjoy snorkeling, as they provide stability and comfort when exploring the water for longer periods.

How to use a float vest

Float vests are simple to use, they pull on like a waistcoat and zip up at the front. Vests come with 8 removable floats, which are positioned in the lining of the vest. The floats can be gradually removed in pairs and are marked so that you know which order to take them out in as your child’s swimming ability grows.

With a vest with 8 floats, the floats are usually removed in pairs in the following order as your child’s swimming ability increases:

  1. Outer pockets at the front of the vest first
  2. Outer pockets at the back of the vest
  3. Inner pockets at the front of the best
  4. Inner pockets at the back of the vest

Vests with non-removable floats are also available. Their benefit is that they are more slimline and are easy to pack into suitcases. They offer the same level of buoyancy as the 8-piece float jacket. These tend to be more affordable than vests with adjustable floats.

The floats work with your child’s natural buoyancy, so when using a swim vest for the first time, you may need to remove some floats to achieve the optimum level of balance for your child.

Even when all the floats are removed, the vest can still be worn to provide your child with extra warmth and sun protection.

Safety tips for using float vests

  • Ensure the float vest fits correctly, this will prevent the vest from riding up and covering your child’s chin and will provide optimum buoyancy. Use Splash About’s size checker to enter your child’s chest and waist circumference or weight for the perfect fit. You can find this size checker on any of the float vest product pages, such as the Go Splash Float Jacket Crocodile Swamp
  • Check the vest has a secure safety strap across the top of the zip to help prevent children from undoing the zip and slipping out of the vest.
  • Choose a vest made from soft neoprene fabric as this will not only provide extra warmth in cooler water but also prevents chafing as the material is so soft.
  • Look for swim vests with added sun protection.
  • Always supervise children when in or near water. Swim vests and other buoyancy aids are not safety devices and should not be used in place of constant adult supervision.


Do float jackets ride up to cover a child’s chin or mouth?

As long as the jacket is the correct size, it shouldn’t ride up. It’s best to choose a jacket that is a snug fit.

Are float jackets suitable to be worn over a wetsuit or swimming costume?

Yes they are, they can be worn over wetsuits or swimming costumes. They are also suitable to be worn with just swim bottoms.

Are float jackets adjustable to fit different sizes?

The size of a float jacket isn’t adjustable so it’s very important to ensure you choose the correct size for your child.

What age are float vests suitable for?

Float vests are suitable for babies over one year old, toddlers and older children. Adult vests are also available.

Further Information

Our Complete Guide to Float Suits will give you all the information you need if you’re unsure whether a float suit or a float jacket is best for your child.

Follow the link to view the full range of Splash About float vests and jackets.