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Posted 21/03/2024

What is the difference between a Life Jacket and a Swim Vest?

When you start looking into buoyancy options for your child, you will be met with many different titles, terms and confusing names. Life vest, life jacket, buoyancy jacket, swim vest, float vest, float jacket… what on earth does it all mean?

First, lets assume that Life Vests and Life Jackets are one in the same and buoyancy jackets, swim vests, float vests and float jackets are all different words for the same thing also. And for ease from now on, the two groups will be named Life Vests and Swim Vests.

So, lets look at the differences, as a Life Vest is a very different buoyancy device to a Swim Vest.


Life Vest Swim Vest
Can be used as a life saving device (check Life Vest type and instructions before using as such) Cannot be used as a life-saving device
Designed to turn a person face up in the water, even if they are unconscious Designed to support you in the water but relies on the wearer to be conscious and able to kick or paddle
Most of the buoyancy is positioned at the front and around the neck to keep your head above water Buoyancy is positioned around the core of the body, which helps the wearer achieve a natural swimming position, tipped forward with their head towards the water
Can be worn by swimmers and non-swimmers whilst they are away from safe areas such as on a boat or in the sea away from shore Can only be used by non-swimmers in a controlled environment where there are other safety measures in place such as a swimming pool under supervision
Will keep your airways clear of water – will not allow your head to go under water Designed to allow wearers to go under water if they wish
Can be bulky and uncomfortable when worn for long periods of time Less bulky than life vests and usually made from neoprene which is comfortable for all day wear
May be restrictive to swim in Designed to aid swimming and are not restrictive


The main thing to remember is, if you are taking your child swimming in a pool and intend for them to paddle, kick and splash under constant supervision, then a Swim Vest or Float Jacket is suitable.

Splash About Swim Vests and Float Jackets are CE tested and hold children in the correct position for learning to swim. They are not as buoyant as a life vest, so children need to work with the jacket to keep themselves afloat. This enables them to learn basic swimming strokes and how to find their natural buoyancy in the water. Swim Vests will not stop the child from going under the water, so children may need an adult to support them the first time they swim with one. Simply hold your child’s hands in front of them until they find their stability and let go one at a time until they can stay afloat.

If you are planning to go on a boat on changeable waters such as the sea, or you are anywhere with large bodies of water that you do not intend your child to go into, then you need a Life Vest. This will ensure you give your child the best chance of being kept afloat, should they slip or fall into the water, even if they can't swim or are knocked unconscious.

Splash About supply a range of swim vests and floatsuits that can help your child learn to swim. These are not life jackets, so please bear this in mind when purchasing.