What Are Water Wings?

Water wings are inflatable armbands, often worn by young children learning to swim. The cushions of air in the armbands provide the swimmer with extra buoyancy, making it easier to keep afloat. The dictionary publishers Merriam-Webster trace the earliest use of the term "water wings" to the year 1907.


Water wings were reportedly invented by a man named Bernard Markwitz, in response to the near-drowning of this three-year-old daughter. In 1929, a design patent was filed by Frank Fenton of the Miller Rubber Company for water wings made of rubber rather than the previously used cloth. Fenton's design was yoked across the chest, with air bladders going under the arms rather than around them, unlike the water wings we know today.


Water wings are inexpensive, durable and easy to use. They provide good support in the water and can help boost a novice's confidence when he enters the pool. You can gradually reduce the amount of air in the water wings and finally discard them, as the learner becomes more confident. Unlike hand-held floats, water wings leave swimmers' arms free to move, allowing them to develop better coordination and to practice strokes.


Nervous learners might become overly dependent on water wings and reluctant to give them up. This reluctance can in turn hold a learner back from becoming truly independent in the water. A very small child might find the fully inflated water wings so large they make arm movements awkward. An older child or an adult might find the water wings too small to provide enough buoyancy.


Slip the uninflated water wings over the learner's hands and onto her upper arms. Blow into the air valves, inflating each water wing until it fits snugly in place. Press down on the air valve stopper until it closes and sits flush with the air cushion of the water wings. When learners are in the water, their water wings should hold their shoulders just above the surface. If not, adjust the amount of air in the armbands. Remove the stopper and squeeze the base of the valve to deflate the armbands after


The American Red Cross advises that you should not rely on water wings to keep your child safe. Anybody who needs a buoyancy aid to keep afloat should be supervised while in the water, and you should always keep children within arm's reach. Instead of water wings, the Red Cross advocates the use of a life jacket with a "U.S. Coast Guard approved" label for any children who are non-swimmers.

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About the Author

British writer Martin Malcolm specializes in children's nonfiction. His books include "A Giant in Ancient Egypt" and "Poetry By Numbers." His schoolkids' campaign for the Red Cross won the 2008 Charity Award. A qualified teacher, he has written for the BBC and MTV. He holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of London.