Swimming is an essential life skill that stays with children well into adulthood, but learning takes time and perseverance – so anything that makes the process more enjoyable is a huge plus. And introducing the right swimming aid to a child who is just learning to swim or a baby who is testing the water for the first time, will boost both your confidence and theirs.
Buoyancy aids are the most popular swimming supports for children, and these range from swim vests and float suits for babies and toddlers to armbands and float belts for older or more confident swimmers. These types of devices are designed to help little ones stay afloat (not provide life-saving support), so are great for extra peace of mind when you’re in or by the pool with a non-swimmer.
Just make sure you choose the right-sized buoyancy aid, as each one will provide a level of support that’s usually determined by the wearer’s weight. And don’t be tempted to size up to get more wear out of it, or you’ll end up with a suit or a vest that rides up in the water.
Beyond simply staying afloat, there’s a raft of fun accessories designed to encourage further development in the water – from kickboards that allow little swimmers to focus on technique, to diving toys that encourage them to hone their skills underwater.
Whatever swimming aid you choose, always supervise children when they’re in or near the water – even if they’re strong swimmers.
How we tested
We tested a range of swimming aids in the pool, both in lessons and during family swims. We looked for products that got the thumbs-up from our testers – one non-swimmer and one confident swimmer – for things like comfort in the case of buoyancy aids, and fun in the case of swim toys. We also looked closely at price and durability to find our shortlist of the best swimming aids and these ones really made a splash.
The best swimming aids for 2022 are:
- Best overall – Splashabout UV floatsuit owl and the pussycat: £27, Splashabout.com
- Best for budding divers – Zoggs dive sticks, pack of 3: £11, Argos.co.uk
- Best for speedy swimming – Liewood gustav swim fins, whale blue: £33, Scandiborn.co.uk
- Best for building leg strength – Speedo elite kickboard: £15, Argos.co.uk
- Best for family pool games – Waboba pro ball: £13, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for child-friendly fun – SwimFin swimfloat equipment: £31.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for comfy floating – Nabaiji Armbands with fabric interior: £7.99, Decathlon.co.uk
- Best for flexible buoyancy – Konfidence swim vest: £24.99, Konfidence.co.uk
Splash About UV floatsuit owl and the pussycat
Curious toddlers and holiday swimming pools are an exhausting mix, so this UV float suit is a bit of a godsend for frazzled parents. It’s basically a sun suit with a built-in swim belt, so you get UV protection and buoyancy in one.
Crucially, kids can’t take it off or deflate it – the zip is on the back and the foam inserts fit neatly into the suit – so it’s a good option for tots who hate wearing armbands. It also means their arms are totally free to splash around, and our fussy tester took to wearing hers very quickly both at the pool and on the beach.
This suit isn’t a life-saving device, but it does give you the confidence to let your little one roam a bit more freely when they’re near water. It’s available in ages one to six, and comes in five very cute designs.
Zoggs dive sticks, pack of 3
Best: For budding divers
Our confident-swimmer tester loved these clever sinkers, which are a great way to get kids diving under water. Throw them into the pool and let your water baby retrieve them one by one, or even all at once if they fancy a challenge.
The dive sticks sink to the bottom as they gradually fill with water, creating a fun underwater game while teaching little ones to swim – or at least be confident – beneath the water.
While most sinkers are weighted by design to help them sink, these sticks are lightweight until they’re soaked in the water. That means they’re a great option for travel if you want to add an element of play in the holiday swimming pool.
Liewood gustav swim fins, whale blue
Best: For speedy swimming
Swimming with fins is a great way to learn proper kicking technique and build up strength in the legs and lower body. They also make for a far speedier swim, so a great tool for kids who already have a reasonable degree of swimming ability.
These gustav swim fins manage to be both practical and stylish, available in this whale blue or a Tuscany rose. They’re 100 per cent silicone, with enough flex to make them comfortable on little feet. We particularly liked the little embossed figures on the sole of the flippers, which left a trail of pictures in the sand as our testers padded across the beach.
Speedo elite kickboard
Best: For building leg strength
A kickboard allows little swimmers to focus on their legwork without worrying about sinking, and we found this elite kickboard did everything well. While some floats we tested were only suitable for young children, this one’s big enough for older kids to use.
The handles and ergonomic shape make it easier to hold on to than a simple rectangular float, and it’s pleasingly buoyant. It’s also a lot more robust than other floats we tested and feels like it’s been built to last – and all at a very reasonable price.
Waboba pro ball
Best: For family pool games
The pro ball isn’t strictly a swim aid – it’s a very cool ball that bounces on water. It kept our testers busy for hours in the pool, where they swam to retrieve it again and again without realising they were swimming at all.
An update on the original and extreme water balls before it, the pro ball has a bigger gel core for a better bounce, and a Lycra cover for added buoyancy. It floats on water, of course, but it’s the way it bounces on the surface that’s totally brilliant and adds an entirely new element to a game of catch.
Provided you’ve got plenty of space to throw it about, this is a great way to get kids building up confidence and burning off energy in the water.
SwimFin swimfloat equipment
Best: For child-friendly fun
Our testers fought over this very cool shark-style SwimFin, which got lots of smiles in the pool. It’s worn on the back and sits vertically, with two elasticated straps that wrap around your child’s torso. It takes a bit of time to get the right fit, but once it’s on properly, it allows them total freedom to move their arms and legs while keeping them afloat in the water.
We found our non-swimmer tester’s confidence improved most quickly in this buoyancy aid, perhaps because she found it brilliant fun to wear while pretending to be a shark. It only missed out on a higher spot because she found it annoying not to be able to lie on her back when splashing about in shallow water, and kept having to take it off.
Nabaiji swimming armbands with fabric interior
Best: For comfy floating
These Nabaiji armbands from Decathlon are a step up from standard armbands, thanks to a fabric lining on the inside that makes them comfier – and a whole lot less squeaky – to pull on and off. There are no scratchy plastic seams, so they feel much nicer to wear than normal armbands. The patterns are super cute, too.
These armbands are designed for kids weighing from 15kg to 30kg, and they fit our seven-year-old tester well. Two inflation chambers and one-way valves make these a welcome upgrade from traditional armbands.
Konfidence Swim Vest
Best: For flexible buoyancy
This swim vest is a good option for young children who are learning to swim but aren’t yet confident in the water. It’s a zip-up buoyancy jacket made from wetsuit material, with eight removable floats. You can start to remove floats as your child’s swimming ability increases, which means you get lots of wear out of it.
The 3mm-thick neoprene gives 100 per cent UV protection, so it offers both warmth in cold water and protection from the sun.
There are lots of bright and bold designs to choose from, and we like the fact that each one has the same bright-yellow back to make it easier to spot your little person in the water or on a crowded beach.
The verdict: Swimming aids
When it comes to buoyancy aids for young children, Splashabout’s UV floatsuit is a great purchase that gives your little one a bit more freedom in the water, along with protection from the sun. For older, more confident swimmers, we love Zoggs dive sticks. They’re super simple, great for travel, and ideal for encouraging diving and underwater skills.
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