The Graco Nautilus with Safety Surround is the latest version in the Nautilus line of combination carseats. Since their debut, they’ve been highly popular carseats for preschoolers through grade-schoolers because of their versatility. Graco calls the Nautilus/Argos line “3-in-1” carseats because they perform three functions: forward-facing harness, high-back booster, and backless booster. Traditionally, 3-in-1 carseats have been rear-facing, forward-facing, then booster carseats, so it’s important to make the distinction that the Nautilus/Argos combination carseats do NOT rear-face.
Weight and Height Limits
- 20-65 lbs., 27-52” with harness
- 30-100 lbs., 38-57” without harness, used as a high-back booster
- 40 to 100 lbs., 40-57” without harness, used as a backless booster
Graco Nautilus with Safety Surround Overview:
- Thick (3”!) EPS foam in headrest
- 3-position front adjust recline
- Meets Graco’s side impact testing and Europe’s Side Impact testing standard
- One-hand 5-position adjustable headrest
- Tall armrests with cup holder and storage cubbies
- Integrated steel bars reinforce the shell
- 9-year lifespan
- MSRP $209.99
- Fashions include Atlas, Berri, and Lucky
- IIHS Best Bet when used as a booster in high-back mode
How is the Safety Surround different than the regular Nautilus?
Safety Surround is an added thickness of EPS foam to the headrest. Because of the lack of side impact testing in the U.S., Graco decided to use the European side impact testing standard (no longer in draft form). Since the headrest moves independently from the harness, you can adjust it to fit your child to provide optimum fit for safety purposes (the red shoulder belt guides should be even with or just above the child’s shoulders).
Because there are so many versions of the Nautilus and its sister seat, the Argos, we’ve come up with a chart to help you choose the seat that fits your needs:
- 4 harness height positions: 12”, 14”, 16”, 18”
- Highest shoulder belt guide (belt-positioning booster mode): 20”
- 2 crotch strap positions: 6” and 7”
- Hip room between arm rests: 12 ½”
- Head room at narrow part of head rest: around 11 ¼”
- Seat pan depth: 13”
- Inside shoulder width with harness at highest position: 12 ½”
- Width: (at widest part of restraint): 20”
- Width at cup holders: 20”
- Width at back of restraint (at bottom of base): 12”
Fit to Child
The Graco Nautilus with Safety Surround is a great carseat for fitting a wide range of child sizes. It fits small kids well as well as larger kids, though larger kids, especially boys, may find the crotch strap a bit confining. Remember, though, that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children rear-face to a *minimum* of age two in their convertible carseats and that the Nautilus is a combination carseat: it combines a forward-facing harness with a belt-positioning booster. It’s for older kids like preschoolers.
In many of these pictures, we left the headrest high deliberately so you can see the growth room and top harness slots. In Henry’s picture, if he settled into the seat, he could have used the 3rd set of slots. Sitting straight, he was slightly over them, so I set them on the top slots. Henry weighed 42 lbs. and was 43″ tall when this picture was taken just after his 4th birthday.
A, seen in the pink outfit with tulips, was 50 lbs., 48.5”, and 7 ¾ years old when these pictures were taken. You can see she still has room to grow in the harness and she also fits in the seat belt, though the lap belt fit could be lower. The Berri seat is her sister’s seat, but she loves to borrow it when she can. A could easily buckle and unbuckle herself in both harness and booster modes.
J, seen in the jeans, was 31 lbs., 38.5”, and so close to 4 years old she could nearly touch it when the pictures were taken. The Berri seat is hers and she has lots of growing room in the Nautilus. She’s on the 2nd slots from the bottom and this is her first forward-facing carseat; she quickly chose to switch to it when she turned 4. Her mom (Bookmama, a contributor to our blog) reports that she’s able to easily snug up her harness by herself (not quite tight enough, though, so mom finishes).
My kid graciously modeled the Nautilus with Safety Surround in backless mode. She’s 11.5 years old, 58.5″, and 66 lbs. Lap belt fit on her was very good, though as a booster, it was so tall that the angle of the shoulder belt on her wasn’t very good. Notice in the first picture how close the shoulder belt is to the outside of her shoulder. A better fit would be if the shoulder belt were closer to her neck so she couldn’t rotate out from under the belt in a crash.
Installation with the Seat belt
Installation in my 2011 Acura MDX was pretty easy. I wasn’t sure what to expect: I had read that the Nautilus was a generally easy carseat to install, but most carseats that I install are either infant seats or Britaxes—not a lot of variation. So I was pleasantly surprised! No fuss, no muss.
Installation in my dh’s Tesla Model S was similarly straightforward. However, due to the downward slope of the rear roof, parents and children won’t get full use of the Nautilus because the headrest hits the roof one stop below the top setting.
Installation with LATCH
LATCH is restricted to a child weight of 48 lbs. with the harness, but don’t forget to check your vehicle manual to see what the weight limit for your vehicle is and follow the lower limit of the two. The LATCH strap and connectors are stored on the sides of the seat and the connectors are the clip-on type, like the tether. It was similarly easy to install with LATCH: a pleasant experience.
LATCH may also be used to keep the restraint secure when it’s used in booster mode as long as it doesn’t interfere with the seat belt buckle and your vehicle allows it.
Center LATCH installations with Non-Standard Spacing:
Graco allows center LATCH installation if the lower anchor spacing is greater than 11” and if the vehicle manufacturer allows it.
The top tether should be used at all times because it can greatly reduce head excursion. It connects the top of the carseat to an anchor behind the vehicle seat. In the United States, we have a pathetic 22% rate of proper tether use, so if you have a tether anchor available, use it!
Inflatable Seat Belts
Graco does not recommend installation of the Nautilus with inflatable seat belts found in some Ford Explorer, Flex, Fusion, Taurus, and Lincoln vehicles when it’s used in harness mode; instead, use LATCH for installation. When the Nautilus is converted to belt-positioning booster mode, it can be used with the inflatable seat belts.
The Graco Nautilus with Safety Surround has 3 recline positions that are adjusted from the front of the seat using the red handle. The adjustments are pretty small and probably not too noticeable from the child’s point of view—more to help with installing to the contour of the vehicle seat.
Ease of Use
Out of the box, the Nautilus requires assembly. It’s not complicated, but if you don’t follow the directions, it won’t go together. And we’ve all seen Nautilus seats in the wild without the headrests, so we know some parents and caregivers are skipping steps (why?). Take the 5 minutes. Really, it’s just 5 minutes. If that. I know we all get super excited with new carseats. It’s that new carseat smell.
The Nautilus is a straightforward seat to use. With the improved buckle now shipping, getting a child in and out of the carseat is an easy task. The harness is easy to adjust from the front, and the chest clip is easy to open and close. Because the Nautilus has been on the market for several years now, the kinks have been worked out and it’s a smooth seat. Mostly.
Changing the harness height on the Nautilus is . . . different. It isn’t effortless, as it is on some seats, like the Argos, where you lift the headrest and the harness moves with the headrest (we call that a no re-thread harness). And it’s not exactly old school where you take the straps off the metal splitter plate on the back of the carseat, pull them through the front, thread them through the new slots, and re-attach them to the splitter plate. No, there are rollers that the harness straps must be routed over before being reattached to the splitter plate. It’s not hard, but it is an extra step and if you’re not diligent or you just don’t care, it can be done wrong. Let me show you in a video how it’s done.
Getting the cover off and on isn’t as smooth sailing as it could be. There are lots of elastics that keep it attached to the shell that give me pause. I live in a climate where elastic is pretty much unelasticized after a summer, which means that if a cover depends on those to keep it on, it’s going to be sliding around a lot. I haven’t heard any negative feedback about loose covers on older Nautilus seats, but I would prefer a little more fabric to give it a more form-fitted cover instead of relying on elastics. Besides, it’s hard to feed those buggers through cracks in the seat and try to figure out where they belong!
Conversion to Booster Mode
Converting the Graco Nautilus with Safety Surround requires a little bit of work. First you have to remove the harness and crotch strap, which involves removing some of those elastics I mentioned above ;). You have to flatten the seat back to gain access to where the harness is anchored, then reattach the cover and put the seat back upright again. Don’t worry, it’s all in the instructions and I hope you aren’t relying on my most excellent instructions to guide you, lol. Actually, watch Jennie’s video in her Graco Argos Elite review and you’ll be set.
The instruction manual is clearly written and contains nice drawings. It’s still missing some key pieces of information, though. First, it doesn’t state clearly that LATCH may be used to secure the seat when it’s used as a belt-positioning booster (when it doesn’t overlap the buckle). Second, it doesn’t state Graco’s policy on inflatable seat belts. Parents nearly always want to know the answer to the first question, so every manual of a combination carseat should state that answer clearly. And of the second question, parents may not know to ask yet but these seat belts are becoming more prevalent and for those parents who do read the carseat manual, it’s an important topic to include.
- Easy installation in most vehicles
- Safety Surround technology provides extra thick EPS foam in headrest
- Fits a wide range of children
- Integrated steel bars reinforce the shell
- Well-padded for comfort
- Cubbies that kids love plus a cup holder
- 5-position one-hand adjustable headrest
- Tall armrests
- Converts from harness to highback booster to backless booster
- IIHS Best Bet when used as a booster in highback mode
- 10-year lifespan
- Lack of no re-thread harness
- Crotch strap snug on big kids
- Cover has lots of elastics
- Have to assemble out of the box
- Manual missing LATCH info during booster use
The Graco Nautilus has been on the carseat market since 2007, so it’s a tried and true combination carseat. It fits a wide range of children to take them from harness to booster age. Graco added the Safety Surround feature, beefing up the headrest to make a reliable product more safe and comfortable for your child. The easy-to-use harness makes putting a child in the Nautilus effortless. The Nautilus with Safety Surround is pretty much what you want from a carseat: comfort and safety for your child with features they like and simple for you to use.
Thank you to Graco for providing the Nautilus with Safety Surround for our review.