Any paddling parent looking to get their kids into kayaking will have a Junior sized buoyancy aid (or life jacket) high up their shopping list. When my own son started showing an interest I opted for the Crewsaver Junior response buoyancy aid. Before I jump into the review of that though, let me just touch on a question I had to tackle on route.
BUOYANCY AID OR LIFE JACKET?
The two things, of-course, are not the same. A buoyancy aid will help you swim. A life jacket will help even when you can’t. For non-swimmers and poor swimmers a life-jacket is the only option. Although my eldest was becoming a competent swimmer by the time we bought him a buoyancy aid we’d never let him use that over a life jacket in anything but shallow, calm, warm water. Where we paddle together the major concern is keeping the kayak hull off of the bottom, so neither lifejacket nor buoyancy aid have much benefit beyond building good habits for the future.
Fit is always important and even more so for juniors who’s wet skinny toros can easily slip through a poorly fitting PFD. The Junior Response is a front fastening waistcoat style buoyancy aid with a wide strap and buckle clip on the front. Shoulder straps allow for plenty of adjustment. Leg/Crotch straps provide an improved fit and stop the buoyancy aid riding up and we’ve never had complaints of it being uncomfortable from any of the children who have used it.
The Junior version of the Response provides 35N of buoyancy making it suitable for children between 30 and 40kg in weight (76-86cm chest). Reflective decals are also technically a safety feature, but presumably more decorative in a Junior PFD.
Larger sizes are available in the same model, right up to adult XXL, but it is only the Junior that is fitted with crotch straps.
UPDATE – A YEAR ON
A year on and the Reponse is still going strong. Half of the kids in the neighbourhood have now used it at some time, its been leant out, thrown around and had pretty much every food known to man wiped on it at some point. It’s holding holding up well and not really showing signs of wear yet.
If it is a BA that you are after for the kids the Junior Response is a good choice. It provides a good level of buoyancy without being overly chunky and reducing mobility. Kids conscious of their appearance will also appreciated that it doesn’t look too dorky. The thigh/crotch straps make it a great choice for younger swimmers.