USCG: Make sure your child has the proper life vest

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It's a basic safety device that can confuse consumers. Finding the proper personal flotation device (PFD) for a child can mean the difference between life and death.

The U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission says not to assume flotation toys or swim aids are the same as a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vest.

We talked to some new parents with a new boat who were shopping at West Marine in Tampa after initially making that mistake when buying a vest for their seven-month-old.

"We just didn't know any better. It was a vest for swim training, not for boating. It didn't have this flap back that would flip him over so he's not face down in the water and the handle to pull him out of the water by," father Brian King said.

When boating in Florida, a Coast Guard-approved life vest is required for anyone under age 13.

Petty Officer Aaron Massey says to look for a printed seal of approval before purchasing one.

"It's usually on the inside and protected from the weather and then you'll see the USCG approval number," Massey explained.

He says sometimes folks buy a size up for their growing kids - and that's dangerous.

To figure out which floatation device is best for your child, consider their weight, swim level, and water activity.

Kids under 30 pounds or those who can't swim well should have vests with head support and a grab loop.

West Marine's manager Dj Hipona demonstrated, "This back piece has three pieces so it's more comfortable to wear and it has this grab handle on the back in case the child ends up in the water."

A strap that runs under their legs is also important.

"It doesn't fall off," Dj explained. "And with the strap going underneath there's no way it can fall off so that's an added safety feature and then we can grab her."

Kids between 30 and 50 pounds would wear a vest labeled with a "children's" size. Kids 50 to 90 pounds would wear a vest labeled "youth."      

Type 1 vests are designed for offshore conditions and longer rescue wait times. They also have more flotation and reflective materials.

A Type 2 vest meets the baseline requirements from the Coast Guard to have on a vessel. Type 2 will typically keep an unconscious person or young child upright, but they can be bulky and restrictive.

Type 3 vests are more comfortable for recreational use in areas where a rescue would come fast. But keep in mind, they won't turn a child upright in the water when immersed.

The Coast Guard can ticket a boater who has the wrong size vests for the passengers onboard.

"I have found that before," says Massey. "I'm gonna make sure no rips, tears, buckle works, and that it's an appropriate size for the people on board."