Puddle Jumpers: Are They Really Dangerous?

By: Thomas C.

Puddle Jumpers. All I have to do is say the word and many will cringe. Should I let my kids wear Puddle Jumpers? Are Puddle Jumpers dangerous? Will a Puddle Jumper cause my child to drown? Will my kid ever be able to learn to swim if I let them wear one? Should I make my kid wear a life jacket, Puddle Jumper, or not put them in anything?

Our commitment is to reduce drownings, so we did our research.

Let’s dive in…

What Is The Big Deal About Puddle Jumpers?

Puddle Jumpers, also called water wings and floaties, are a type of flotation device that functions similarly to a life jacket and reportedly helps kids learn to swim.

Many Puddle Jumpers are even Coast Guard Approved as a Type III PFD (Personal Flotation Device). Type III flotation devices are commonly used in boating and are somewhat effective at turning an unconscious person face up. However, they are not as effective as Type I or II PFD’s at turning someone face up.

If some Puddle Jumpers are Coast Guard Approved, then what is all the hype about?

Tragic Stories Involving Puddle Jumpers

Stories like “My child drowned. Here’s my warning about puddle jumpers.”

These kinds of tragic stories seem to pop up a lot in the media. The general story line goes something like this:

The child always wears their Puddle Jumper and loves to swim. They could swim all day in their Puddle Jumper. Then, the child somehow ends up in a pool for various reasons including: getting outside through an unlocked door when no one was watching, their wasn’t someone designated to watch the pool, or, like this story, the child slipped out of supervision even though others were around and watching the pool.

Then, this article reads: “the issue with the Puddle Jumper and all flotation devices is they give a false sense of security.” This makes Puddle Jumpers sound dangerous, but this article actually says the key phrase “all flotation devices”. Most similar articles do not. I am thankful for that phrase, because their theory applies to all flotation devices, not just Puddle Jumpers.

The theory is that if a child always wears a flotation device, then when they are not wearing one, they think they swim and float the same way. Of course, they do not. Swimming and floating with a flotation device on is totally different than swimming and floating without one, Puddle Jumper or life jacket.

There are also a ton of steps you can take to make pools a safer place, so check that out here.

Puddle Jumpers Classified as “Dangerous”

On top of all that, the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA) has an “End the Misinformation” letter that lays out why Puddle Jumpers may be dangerous due to an increased risk of drowning. The key word here is “may”. They haven’t proved their claims are true. We are a partner of the NDPA and I love 98% of their stuff. I don’t love some of this one part of the NDPA.

Some Puddle Jumpers are genuinely Coast Guard Approved, so they do bring some safety to the equation. I would certainly “feel safer” if I was wearing a life jacket. I would also “feel safer” if my child was wearing a life jacket. I am obviously not suggesting to be care-free once the kids are in a PFD, but it is one added layer of protection. So, I’m not upset with Puddle Jumper brands for the safety aspect of their advertising.

I do not know of any research that says which flotation devices help kids learn to swim, so that component of their advertising may or may not be misleading. However, there are swim schools that use flotation devices to teach kids to swim with great success! It very well could be true that Puddle Jumpers help some kids learn to swim.

What I Would Change About Puddle Jumper Advertising

I do not think the phrase “parents can finally enjoy peace of mind” is a good idea. No one should ever feel like they can kick back and relax while their child is swimming in the pool, PFD or not. You should always have a designated Water Watcher when kids are in the pool.

My two cents… I would have them remove at least the phrase “parents can finally enjoy peace of mind”. The rest is up for debate.

I do think the theory about being accustomed to a flotation devices holds water (he, he), though we don’t have formal research to back that up. We have seen many kids jump right into their first swim lesson that think they can swim when they can’t. It seems like they think they can swim because they always floated with a flotation device. They learn real quick that they can’t, though!

What Type Of Flotation Device Should My Child Wear?

Here is our recommendation.

Always wear a Coast Guard Approved PFD appropriate for the environment when you are in natural bodies of water of any kind.

If you can pull it off, practice touch supervision while your child is in the pool without a life jacket. Touch supervision is simply being within arms reach of the child at all times.

If you can’t manage touch supervision in a pool (due to multiple children, disability, etc.), then put them in a Coast Guard Approved PFD.

We don’t recommend Puddle Jumpers because they do seem to change the way you swim more than a typical life jacket. The arm bands make it difficult to maintain a horizontal swimming position and swim with a normal stroke. Puddle Jumpers also keep kids more upright than other boating life jackets, which gives them the classic “bicycle kick” that we see all the time. It takes awhile for kids to change that habit, but it is certainly not impossible. The bicycle kick is the main reason we tell parents to stick to a standard life jacket, not safety.

Will My Child Learn To Swim If They Always Wear Puddle Jumpers?

If they always swim with a flotation device, then they will never learn to truly swim.

However, we have had many students that have learned to swim just fine even though they are accustomed to a flotation device. It just takes practice. So don’t stress! Your child isn’t doomed to wear a flotation device forever.

You can learn more about the swim lessons we offer to see if it fits your needs. Contact us at 865-309-4944 or drowningfree@allknoxswim.com for more info.

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