Inflatable arm bands, also called water wings, are one of the most commonly used aids to help children stay afloat while swimming. However, these apparent safety devices can actually be quite dangerous, especially when not used properly, and should be avoided for young children while swimming.
In this article, we’ll discuss the hidden dangers of using inflatable armbands and provide some safer alternatives for keeping your child safe in the water.
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What are Water Wings?
Water wings, also known as inflatable arm bands or floaties, are a type of flotation device that is used to help people stay afloat in water. They are typically made of rubber or plastic and consist of two inflated tubes or “wings” that wrap around the arms. They can be used by both adults and children, and are often recommended for use by young kids and babies.
The Appeal of Inflatable Arm Bands
We completely understand why they are one of the most commonly used floatation aids for kids. The biggest reason – they’re inexpensive and readily available. Any shop aisle you walk down that sells swimming items for kids will have a large selection of inflatable armbands on display. Not only that, they come in a multitude of designs and characters that are designed to appeal to young kids.
They are also lightweight and portable, making them convenient to take with you on trips to the pool, beach, or holiday. Additionally, water wings are not as restrictive as other types of flotation devices, such as life jackets, which can make them more comfortable for kids to wear.
Top 8 Risks of Water Wings
However, despite their appeal and widespread use, there are several risks associated with the use of water wings which is why we generally do not recommend their use.
More children ages 1-4 die from drowning than from any other cause of death except birth defects, and the majority of these deaths occur in swimming pools. In addition, according to the Red Cross, 90% of drowning deaths occur within 30 feet of safety.
This goes to show that drowning is a real risk, and it’s important for parents and guardians to be as careful as possible when our little ones are in the water. This includes making sure they are using the best floatation devices possible.
There are several reasons why inflatable armbands should be avoided for your child.
- False sense of security for parents. Perhaps the most significant danger is that they provide a false sense of security, for both parents and child. Many parents believe that if their child is wearing arm bands, they will be safe in the water and fail to watch them properly. Above all else, a guardian’s watchful eye is the best safety tool any child can have in the water.
- False sense of security for kids. Children may believe that they are safe in the water without proper supervision. They may become overconfident and quickly find themselves in water that is too deep for them.
- They can leak air, pop, or fall off unexpectedly. If this happens while your child is in the water, it could lead to a disastrous outcome.
- Restrict a child’s movement. Arm bands can restrict a child’s movement, making it difficult for them to move their arms and swim to safety if they find themselves in trouble.
- Prevent children from learning proper swim techniques. If they constantly use armbands, your child won’t learn essential safety skills like keeping their heads out of the water unassisted. Also, arm bands position the child vertically in the water, instead of the correct horizontal position. This builds incorrect habits which will be more difficult to correct later.
- Children can become dependent on armbands. The swimmer may then find it difficult to switch to a different swimming aid or remove them altogether, which will make it harder to progress their swimming.
- In the United States, water wings are not approved as a swimming device by the US Coast Guard. In short, because they can be blown up and easily deflate, they are seen more like a toy and not a safety item. And I don’t think any parent would put their child’s life in the hands of a toy?
- They may not actually prevent drowning. Inflatable arm bands only provide buoyancy around the arms, which does very little to keep the child’s head and face out of the water. They also do nothing to prevent the child from going underwater, which can be extremely dangerous.
Alternatives to Armbands
So, what can you do to keep your child safe in the water if arm bands are not an option? If you are keen to use some sort of flotation device, you need to look for one that stops your child from going underwater, and keeps their face out of the water and their head upright.
In short, this really means using a life jacket or personal floatation device. Anything else, like pool noodles, kickboards or floating rafts, will not keep them safe in deeper water. They can let go or fall off and then be put into danger. Similar to water wings, these should only be used in shallow water with a guardian within an arms length and supervising at all times.
Options for Babies
For swimming with babies and very young children, you can purchase swim diapers and swimsuits that have built-in floatation devices. These provide extra support for little ones who are just learning to splash around in the water, while reducing the strain on the parent holding them.
Alternatively, especially for the youngest babies, a seat float is a nice way for them to enjoy being in the water. Plus, the added canopy provides important UV protection. Always keep in mind that nothing replaces the guardian’s responsibility to watch their child at all times.
Life Jackets, Swim Vests and Puddle Jumpers
Older children and beginner swimmers can try out swim vests, life jackets or puddle jumpers. These have more buoyancy than arm bands and also provide extra support around the chest and back. They will give your child more freedom to move their arms and legs, which is important for learning how to swim. However, these all still primarily keep the child upright vertically in the water.
Life jackets are designed to provide buoyancy in the water and have crotch straps so that they stay in place. They also generally will have a head support pillow to provide support for their head and help them face up in the water. These are generally used for water activities, not necessarily swimming, and are required on most boats.
Puddle jumpers, similar to water wings, provide support to the arms. However, they are not inflatable and attach to a chest belt so that they can not be removed or fall off. The design means that if a child falls in the water then the puddle jumper will keep them afloat and their face above water. Some of these are approved by the US Coast Guard as a life-saving personal floatation device.
Swim vests are a type of life jacket specifically designed for swimming, but are more as a swim aid as opposed to a life-saving device. They are made of buoyant and water-resistant material, and often have straps or ties that help keep them in place. Swim vests come in a variety of sizes and are a popular choice for swimmers who want extra buoyancy and support while swimming, but who do not want to be restricted by a traditional life jacket.
Both swim vests and puddle jumpers are designed to keep the wearer afloat and provide some level of support while swimming. However, they are not intended to be used as a life-saving device (unless the puddle jumper is Coast Guard approved), and should not be used in place of a life jacket or other flotation device in dangerous or potentially hazardous situations.
Supervision and Learning to Swim are Key
Always supervise children while they are wearing swim vests or puddle jumpers, and make sure they are within arm’s reach at all times. In addition, be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before using any flotation device.
The best solution at the end of the day is to enroll your child in swimming lessons. It’s estimated that formal swim instruction reduces the risk of drowning by 88%. Until your child is a confident and competent swimmer, it is best to use the support of the mentioned floatation aids, and to always ALWAYS closely supervise your child when they are in the water.
Most parents would never dream of taking their child to the pool without some sort of floatation device, but what many don’t realize is that not all flotation devices are created equal. Inflatable arm bands are a popular floatation device for kids, but they come with several risks.
If you are looking for a safer alternative, consider using a life jacket, swim vest, or puddle jumper. These options will provide your child with the support they need without the dangers of water wings.
Most importantly, always watch your child while in the water, and be sure to teach them to swim.