We hear this question from well-meaning parents all the time:
"What's the big deal with floaties? Aren't they helping keep my child safe in water?"
Read on to find out why we, and many others, advise against the use of these flotation devices and the bad habits they instill. The CDC advises, "Don’t use air-filled or foam toys, such as 'water wings', 'noodles', or inner-tubes, instead of life jackets. These toys are not life jackets and are not designed to keep swimmers safe" (source).
First, to clarify: by “floaties”, we mean: arm bands, inflatable rings, rafts, noodles, and the ever popular puddle jumper. Here are three reasons you should ditch the "floaties," starting today:
1. "Floaties" teach ineffective floating and swimming postures. Flotation devices such as these hold children in a vertical position - head sticking up, feet hanging down, arms out to the side with legs bicycling to move around the pool. They are learning that this position in the water is how to get air, when in fact, the opposite is true. This vertical position is a drowning position. Children who swim in these devices do not learn to maintain their own buoyancy. They are likely to return to these inappropriate postures and panic quite quickly if they slip out of or find themselves in the pool without the flotation device.
2. "Floaties" provide a false sense of security to parents. Many parents rely heavily on these floatation devices, confident that the "floatie" is keeping their child safe. The truth is that drowning can easily happen when a child slips out of the flotation device (as seen here) or even while still in the device (like here). There is no substitute for effective adult supervision. Even the CDC states, "Supervisors of preschool children should provide 'touch supervision', be close enough to reach the child at all times. Because drowning occurs quickly and quietly, adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity (such as reading, playing cards, talking on the phone, or mowing the lawn) while supervising children, even if lifeguards are present." In the time it takes to check your phone or turn around to pick something up, a child can drown.
3. Children who wear "floaties" think they can swim. The scariest part about flotation devices is that children that wear them think they can swim. Young children simply cannot make the cognitive connection that the flotation device is allowing them to breathe and play with their head sticking up in the pool.
"Ok. So I can't use "floaties" for my kids. What should I do instead?"
1. Get in with your kids! Remember that having a parent or caregiver in the water is the safest way to play. As an added bonus, interacting together allows the parent and child essential time to connect.
2. Enroll your children in survival swim lessons! Effective swim training will provide the child with confidence and lifesaving skills so that they don't need to depend on flotation devices. We recommend Infant Swimming Resource and American Red Cross lessons, provided locally in the NC Triad by Safe Swim NC. Scholarships are available for those needing financial assistance; click here to learn more.
3. If you must use a flotation device, only use U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets and test them before use. With your child in the vest, check that they will be turned to their back to float face up. Many life jackets, even some Coast Guard approved, do not differentiate which way they float the child, meaning they could leave them floating face down in the water. Life jackets should not be worn for daily swimming due to the concerns about flotation devices listed above, but they should be used on boats or open water.
4. Learn and implement the Layers of Protection for Water Safety! A multi-layered approach is truly the key to keeping you and your loved ones safe. Check out our free printable Layers of Protection PDF to make sure your family is safe in and around water.