When Dan Mueller was getting ready to teach his granddaughter Marissa how to swim, he thought he was being safe by making her wear a life jacket. But when she got into the pool, she nearly drowned.
But what Mueller didn’t know was that what he had strapped onto his two-year-old granddaughter wasn’t a life jacket – it was a personal flotation device (PFD).
Thinking it was a life jacket, Mueller demonstrated in the video how every time his granddaughter would be put into the water in their above ground swimming pool, she would turn over from her back onto her front, submerging her head underwater.
“We use this life jacket in our pool and it absolutely tried to drown our child,” Mueller said on the video.
Mueller also said he followed the weight requirements of the device, and proved it on video by weighing his granddaughter. He even showed how he strapped the jacket on her.
Despite his efforts, however, some people noticed he was using the wrong device and pointed it out in the comments of the video.
It’s a common mistake people make, but that wasn’t necessarily the issue in this case, says Lesley Anderson, assistant manager of the swimming and water safety program at the Canadian Red Cross.
And yes, there is a difference.
According to Anderson, life jackets have more buoyancy than PFDs. They’re specifically designed so that if someone fell unconscious in the water, it would turn them face up, so most of the flotation is located at the front of the device.
Life jackets only come in three colours: red, yellow and orange – basically the brighter they are in colour the better, because it is easier for other vessels to spot you if you’re in trouble in the water.
According to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, a life jacket is the best choice if your child is not able to swim or is not a strong swimmer.
PFDs on the other hand, were created as a result of people unwilling to wear life jackets, which tended to be bigger and bulkier.
“These were for people who fell and were conscious and could make sure they stayed upright in the water,” Anderson explains. “So there was more flotation around the entire device, and not so much around the front.”
Canadian-approved PFDs are available in any colour, but like life jackets, it’s best if you choose one with a bright hue.
But in this case, the grandparents made the right choice in using a PFD for their granddaughter, Anderson says. What they didn’t do however, was teach the child how to use her arms and legs in the water – something Anderson says is crucial.
“Life jackets are not actually designed for young children,” Anderson clarifies. “There are two sizes of life jackets: those who are over 90 pounds and those who are under 90 pounds, but there is nothing for children under the weight of 20 pounds.”
Anderson says Transport Canada recommends that parents not take their children out on the water until they are 20 pounds anyway.
“So there are PFDs for children but if they have active parental supervision they’ll be absolutely fine,” she says. “So in that video, that family was doing all the right things – there were adults looking after her which should always be the case – but PFDs are supposed to teach children how to use their arms and legs which will help keep their face out of the water.”
And when a child is big enough, that’s when they can graduate to a life jacket. Parents not only need to make sure that it fits the child but that it does not have any rips and tears in it, Anderson advises.
“There is no flotation device that should ever be put on a young child and then assume that the child is water-safe,” Anderson says.
But in the end, there is no wrong decision to make with either one of these, Anderson says. The important thing is that the child has a flotation device on them, but that parents also keep an active eye when children are around a pool, lake or any other type of body of water.
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