Pros: tall harness, high weight limit, cupholder, easy to install, mostly easy to use.
Cons: buckle sticks, heavy, wide.
We originally purchased this seat to keep in my mom’s car for our four year old. When the baby outgrew his infant seat, we passed down our older son's Radian and moved him to the Sunshine Kids’ Monterey booster. We soon learned that he wasn’t mature enough for a booster so we moved the Nautilus to our car for him.
Weight and height limits
The Nautilus is a FF only seat. The limits on the harness are 20-65 lbs, however, the AAP recommends RF to at least 2 years and 30 lbs. Most kids are not ready to FF until at least 2 years old. To see a great website about why to keep children rear facing after a year, visit http://www.cpsafety.com/articles/stayrearfacing.aspx . At the bottom of the page are three videos showing crash test footage: one forward facing and two rear facing.
Harness slot heights are 12”, 14.5”, 16.5”, and 18.5”.
Buckle slots are 5” and 6.5”.
To measure torso height, sit your child against the wall and measure from the floor to the top of their shoulders.
The harness is outgrown when they pass 65 lbs, their shoulders pass the top harness slots, or the tips of their ears pass the top of the hard shell. Most kids make it to 6 or 7 years before they outgrow the harness on the Nautilus. When they do, you can remove the harness and use it as a high-back-booster. The manual and car seat safety experts recommend keeping children harnessed to the limits of their seat. Remember that every step forward in car seats (RF to FF, harness to booster, booster to just seatbelt) is a step down in safety so don’t make the switch until it is necessary.
The weight limits for use as a booster are 40-100 lbs. The top position for the seatbelt guides is 21”. The guides should be at or above your child’s shoulders. It also converts to a no-back booster.
Make sure when finished installing it to test the installation by pushing with your non-dominant hand at the belt-path. You should have less than 1" of movement. Check out this article for more installation advice, and read the manual!
I’ve installed this in several vehicles and have yet to have difficulty using either the LATCH system or the seatbelt. I get easily get a rock solid install every time.
One feature of the LATCH anchorage system is the tether strap on the top of the car seat, for use in the forward facing position. In Canada, it is mandatory to use the top tether strap when FF. If your vehicle does not have top tether anchors, take it into your dealership and they will install one or more for you. Most dealerships will install them for free.
The manual states that the bottom of the seat must be fully on the vehicle seat, it cannot hang over the edge. It is about 17” from back to front when installed so if your vehicle seat is narrower than this, it will not work.
It is about 19” wide at the widest point, where the cupholder is. It is more narrow at the back.
The Nautilus has 3 recline positions: upright and then 2 reclined positions. I have it fully reclined and reclined the vehicle seat a little to match the recline of the seat. We just got back from a 10 hour (each way) drive to visit family and not once did he complain about sitting in his seat, he even fell asleep for part of the drive.
It is easy to adjust the length of the straps using the lever on the front of the seat. The weather where I live keeps changing, but it is easy to adjust whether he had a fleece jacket on or just a t-shirt.
To change the harness height requires rethreading the harness. Consult your manual for detailed directions.
The harness is easy to buckle. The straps are thick so they do not twist easily, although they sometimes do so I just twist it back the right way. My son could buckle himself into it at about 4.5 years old.
The buckle can be difficult to open. I have little difficulty, but my husband does not like it. It helps to make sure not to pull up on the straps when unbuckling it. If the child is arching his back, this will pull on the straps so get him to sit all the way back and not arch his back. Also, push straight down on the button; do not push to the side at all. Doing it this way gives me no trouble at all. I prefer that it is tricky because it means that my child is not able to open it.
I have not used this as a booster yet, but have played around with it.
You must remove the harness to use the seat as a booster.
It is easy to adjust the height of the belt guides. The belt guides are the open type which is safer than the closed type guides like on the Alpha Omega seats – if the child leans forward, it allows the seatbelt to retract as the child sits back. With the closed guides, the seatbelt stays loose when the child leans back.
The lap belt guides position the lap belt very low on the child’s hips which is safest. The lap belt should not be across the child’s stomach as this can cause severe internal injuries (“seatbelt syndrome”).
The manual states that LATCH cannot be used when in booster mode, however, some people have contacted Graco and been told that it is okay to use the lower LATCH tethers to keep the seat in place. This does nothing to keep the child safe in an accident, however, it will keep the seat from flying around the interior of the vehicle when unoccupied. If it is not LATCHed, it must be belted in with the seatbelt when unoccupied so that it does not injure other passengers.
There is EPS foam completely surrounding the child’s torso and head for safety and comfort.
It comes with additional padding for infants which I did not use because he was 4 years old by the time we purchased this seat. I probably won’t use this seat for my youngest until he outgrows the Radian so I will not use the padding for him either. (If a child is small enough to need the extra padding, then they are probably too small to be forward-facing anyways!) The padding can only be used on the lowest harness setting. Once the child's shoulders pass the bottom slots with the padding, it must be removed.
This seat weighs 25.4 lbs. It is awkward to carry for long distances. The armrests make it difficult to climb in from the side so my son has to climb in from the front. This may be important if you have a narrow backseat.
This seat was purchased from Babies R US for about $230. It now retails for $260 but goes on sale occasionally. It is also available at Walmart and other stores.
There is a 6 year expiration on the harness and 8 years on the booster. Go here for a great article on the expiration dates of car seats.
This seat has one cupholder, on the child’s right side. It is big enough to fit the chubbier sippy cups.
There are cubbyholes in each armrest for toys. My son loves to stash his cars, transformers, and other toys in there.
The cover removes very easily for cleaning, although I have not had to remove it yet. I just turn the seat over and knock crumbs out of it occasionally.
I would definitely recommend this seat. It is good for a child who is old enough to FF. If bought when the child is 2 years old, then it should last until they are out of carseats altogether (although some 10 year olds still do not pass the 5-step test and need to continue to use a booster seat.)
It may not work well for you if you need to fit three seats across or if you have a very narrow (from front to back) backseat, such as in the Jeep Wrangler where I tested this out.
My other car seat reviews:
Evenflo Embrace infant bucket seat
Cosco Alpha Omega Elite "All-in-1" convertible seat
Sunshine Kids Radian80/Premier convertible seat
Sunshine Kids Monterey booster seat