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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 and armband comparison guide


Float suit

Float vest


Age suitability

1 year – 6 years

1 year - adult

Birth – 6 years


No warmth protection

Neoprene fabric for added warmth

No warmth protection


Robust material with integrated floats which can’t be removed easily by child

Robust material with integrated floats which can’t be removed easily by child

Susceptible to air leaks and punctures, can be easily removed by child

Removable floats


Yes, vests without removable floats are also available

No, floats are either on or off


Helps keeps child in natural swimming position

Helps keeps child in natural swimming position

Keeps child in upright position in water with arms above the chest




No sun protection

Ease of use

Pull on and zip up

Pull on and zip up

Need inflating, can be awkward to pull on


Soft fabric

Soft neoprene fabric provides extra warmth

Plastic can cause chafing or rubbing


£20 - £30

£18 - £30 (Adult vests are around £50), vests with non-removable floats cost less than those with removable floats

Can be bought for as little as a few pounds


Floats can make suits feel bulky on smaller, slim children, can be bulky to pack

Slim line 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 arm bands, 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 proving extra buoyancy as they learn to swim. You will be able to hold onto your child’s hands while the vest keeps them afloat as they learn to kick in the water. As they become more confident, you will be able to let go, knowing that the swim vest will keep them afloat.

Float vests are ideal for older children and adults who enjoy snorkelling 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 or 16 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:

  • Outer pockets at the front of the vest first
  • Outer pockets at the back of the vest
  • Inner pockets at the front of the best
  • Inner pockets at the back of the vest

Vests with 16 floats provide a better fit as the floats are contoured and the increased number of floats means the buoyancy is more adjustable than vests with 8 floats. Vests with non-removable floats are also available (such as the Set Sail Go Splash Swim Vest) and these tend to be more affordable then vests with adjustable floats.

Below are examples of the non-removable, 8 float and 16 float vests designed by Splash About:


Dragon Fly Go Splash Swim Vest


Set Sail Go Splash Swim Vest

The floats work with your child’s natural buoyancy, so when using a swim vest for the first time, you may need to remove 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

Below are some top tips for increasing safety levels when using a float vest:

  • 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 Learn to Swim Float Jacket in Pink Blossom.
  • 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 is the difference between the Splash About Go Splash Jackets and Learn to Swim Jackets?

The Go Splash Jacket has 8 removable foam floats and is the ideal starter float jacket, whereas the Learn to Swim Float Jacket has 16 contoured floats, with two per pocket to give a better fit and more adjustable buoyancy.

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.

You can learn more about swimming float suits and float jackets with our Buoyancy Masterclass.

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.