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"My child can swim with floaties" - So can they swim?

articles of interest swim safety


In short, No!

Many parents love floaties because they allow their child to be a little more independent in the water without an adult directly holding them. Many kids love floaties because they can feel free in the water to jump in from the side and easily float to the surface by themselves or roam around independently.

For parents supervising multiple children in or around the water, often parents use a flotation device of some kind to ease the load and afford some peace of mind when their attention is being pulled in different directions.

While floatation devices certainly have their place and their use is appropriate and even regulated at times, we believe that they can also have the adverse effect on your child’s progression in swimming if they are depended on or used too frequently.


So what is a floatie? 


‘Floaties’, not to be confused with ‘floatation devices’ can take many forms, from ‘water wings’, to pool noodles, to Puddle Jumpers and are usually worn around the upper arms to support buoyancy in the water for younger swimmers.

Floatation devices, such as the more secure Lifejacket which are designed to turn an unconscious person onto their back to allow for breathing, or PFDs (personal flotation devices), which are slightly more comfortable and designed for more continuous wear, are more common in open water settings such as boating, canoeing and kayaking.

Unless a floatie has specific teaching benefits for use by swim teachers or is classed as a ‘flotation device’ or Lifejacket as mentioned above, Seal Swimming does not endorse their use.


Will floaties help my child learn to swim?


In some cases floaties can be used to aid the learn to swim process, though this is generally in much younger children or toddlers and only with specific goals in mind. For example, Swim Fins are designed to keep the wearer in a horizontal position in the water, which allows for focus on arm and leg movement.

Other floaties tend to keep the wearer in a vertical position in the water, which defeats the purpose of swimming lessons, where we focus on teaching swimmers to move through the water horizontally. This often leads to a false sense of security among young swimmers and in particular among parents, who believe their child can swim.

We field many calls from parents stating that their child “can swim” a certain distance as long as they have their floaties on. Does this mean that they can swim? Of course not.

Once swimmers reach the age of three to five years and are able to stand in the shallow end of a typical pool, floaties often become a hindrance to learning.


Lifejackets and “Cottage Swimmers”


From a comfort standpoint, when young swimmers rely on a flotation device, they will be less likely to progress as smoothly when learning to swim. The flotation device becomes a support both physically and mentally.

Swim teachers spend a great deal of time teaching comfort in the water to aid with breathing and stability. Children who have come to rely on their floatation device also have to contend with the anxiety of entering the water without it, which means having to relearn how to be comfortable in the water.

When confident swimmers who have access to a pool at home or perhaps a cottage and have come to rely on their flotation device, we can also notice a physical difference in their swimming. We call these “Cottage Swimmers”. 

Used to being supported in a vertical position with their head above the water and with restrictions to movement in their upper arms, when Cottage Swimmers remove the floatation device, they tend to wriggle their way through the water with their head up and their arms swinging. 

These habits that form from a reliance on floatation devices often take a lot of time and relearning basic movement skills in the water to overcome.


So how can I support my child at home or the cottage?


By doing just that - support them - keep the following tips in mind.

  1. Keep your child in swimming lessons all year round until they are competent and confident swimmers, or better still, on their way to becoming a lifeguard.
  2. If you have access to a pool or waterfront for your child to practice skills learned during their swim class, make sure that they spend time swimming without the floatation device. Otherwise they will not be able to practice properly and may take two steps backwards for every step forward.
  3. Make sure that your child understands their actual swimming ability so that they are aware of their own safety and limitations in and around the water. 
  4. If you have more than one child and you must use a flotation device when you are at a pool or cottage, make sure that each child is able to practice for a time without, to really get the benefits of their time in the water.
  5. Floatation devices should never be used as a substitute for appropriate adult supervision. Children should be supervised at all times when they are in, on or around water.


Your child will learn basic swimming and safety skills from a young age, given the right learning environment. But the last thing you want to do is spend hundreds of dollars on swimming lessons and then hinder their progression by taking the wrong steps when swimming with them outside of their class.