Kids Life Jackets in Costa Rica – Should You Bring Your Own Personal Flotation Device?
When we were planning our recent vacation, we had a hard time finding information about kids life jackets in Costa Rica. With a three year old and a five year old, neither of whom really know how to swim, we were pretty nervous about the idea of any swimming, snorkeling, or even boat tours. There doesn’t appear to be any law requiring personal flotation devices (PFD’s or life jackets) be worn in boats, and the little bit of information I could glean from a Google search suggested that they are not commonly worn or offered, even if they are available.
Having traveled in other Central American countries without kids, we were fairly aware that safety standards are frequently much different than we are used to in Canada. We had several hair-raising lancha (small boat) rides in Guatemala and Belize, and while they all turned out fine in the end, we weren’t sure we were willing to take similar risks with the kids. Given everyone’s swimming abilities (limited), it seemed like an unnecessary risk.
We ended up packing our own life jackets for the kids on our trip to Costa Rica, and we were glad we did. We only took one boat tour, and life jackets were available on the boat, but we didn’t see any that were child-sized, and the life jackets were not handed out; they were just on a shelf above the seating area. Having our own meant that we could just put them right on the kids, without feeling like we were delaying a tour or inconveniencing any of the other tourists.
The life jackets were also great at the beach. Coming from the Canadian prairies, our kids are not very familiar with with open water, and really don’t know how to swim yet. They do love the water, though, and aren’t as cautious as we would like – they have been known to charge right into the waves! Having life jackets on them helped us feel more confident about taking the kids to the beach, and letting them roam a bit away from Mom and Dad. The life jackets also added to everyone’s fun in the water, as the kids could float for themselves, rather than having to cling to a parent, so everyone had more fun in the water than we otherwise might have.
Packing the life jackets was not as big a deal as I thought it might be. We used a medium-sized suitcase for our trip, and even with the life jackets taking up almost half of the space in the luggage, the suitcase was still 45 pounds when we headed down – not a lot to spare, when the weight limit for luggage was 50 pounds! We had considered leaving the kids life jackets in Costa Rica when we came home, as both children are close to needing bigger sizes. In the end, we brought them back with us, as we had plenty of space in our suitcase, and they worked great as padding for some fragile purchases.
Overall, if you have infants or young children (toddlers or preschoolers) and are planning to spend any time in boats or near the ocean, I would strongly recommend taking your own life jackets to Costa Rica. While it appears that boat tours commonly have personal flotation devices on board, we didn’t see any child-sized options, and they were not actually handed out on the tour. As unlikely as an accident is, I would hate to be scrambling for a properly sized life jacket while a boat was actually sinking, and if your kids are as incautious as ours, there is always the possibility of a child falling overboard. We found ourselves using them all the time at the beach, as well, so they definitely got enough use to justify the suitcase space. Although we debated about it for a long time, in the end, we were happy we brought the kids life jackets to Costa Rica.
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