Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 Car Seat – Full Review & Comparison

Graco is one of the best known makers of products for children. Moms and dads know that Graco makes top quality and well-designed car seats, strollers, and other accessories for babies and toddlers.

For decades, Graco has been setting the standard for safe and smart products for kids. The Graco Nautilus is a great example of Graco’s commitment to bringing new innovative designs to the market.

With the introduction of the Nautilus Safety Surround, Graco has added yet another product to its impressive collection of combination car seats. Parents love these seats because they’re so versatile. They can seat kids who are preschool to grade-school age. That means lots of use out of one car seat.

nautilus-forward-facing-childThis new Nautilus/Argos line of car seats is called “3-in-1” because the seats have three distinct modes. They can be used as forward-facing car seats, booster seats with backs, and backless booster seats.

Most 3-in-1 car seats can be used in a rear-facing position for babies and small toddlers. But these are different: the Nautilus/Argos combination car seats are not to be used in the rear-facing position!

This review will cover everything you need to know about the Nautilus Safety Surround so you can decide if it’s the right car seat for your family.

Click here for guidelines on choosing the right type of car seat for your child.

You can choose a topic from the Table of Contents below, or keep scrolling down to read the full review.


Overview of the Graco Nautilus Safety Surround

Here are some of this car seat’s great features:

  • EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) foam in the headrest provides extra protection
  • There are 3 reclining positions to make your child comfortable & achieve optimum seat angle
  • It meets rigorous side-impact testing standards (exceeds US minimum standards)
  • The headrest can be adjusted to 5 different positions with only one hand
  • The armrests are tall and have a cup holder and storage compartments
  • Steel rods strengthen the whole structure and make it strong and sturdy
  • The life span is 9 years, so your child won’t need another car seat
  • The seat is covered with comfortable fabric that comes in several colors
  • It’s affordable, retailing at about $200 (check current price)

What’s the Difference Between Safety Surround and Regular Nautilus?

The Safety Surround has an extra layer of EPS foam in the headrest. This adds extra side impact protection for your child’s head in the event of an accident.

Unfortunately, there is no US side impact safety standard at this time. However, Graco has set its own stringent standard. This car seat meets Graco’s Side Impact Testing Standard and the European Side Impact Standard.

The headrest and harness are not connected, so you can adjust each one separately to get the perfect fit for your child. Getting the correct fit is important for your child’s safety, so please take the time to make those adjustments. You’ll be glad you did!

Fit to Child

The Graco Nautilus with Safety Surround is an amazing car seat that can hold a wide range of children of different sizes.

Small kids weighing as little as 22 pounds, bigger toddlers, and older kids weighing up to 120 pounds can all use these seat. Just be aware that sometimes the biggest kids (especially boys) might have a bit of trouble with the crotch strap and feel like it’s too tight.

Remember, for their safety, children need to stay in rear-facing car seats until they’re 2 years old. Kids younger than 2 should not be using the Nautilus combination car seat! Graco has plenty of other options for the littlest guys.


Installation with Seat Belt

Installing the Nautilus Safety Surround using your car’s seat belt is simple and straightforward. However, if the car seat slopes downward very much, the headrest might touch the ceiling on the highest setting. But, this isn’t going to happen in most cars.

Installation with LATCH

LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) installation shouldn’t be used for kids that weigh more than 45 pounds*. Check your car’s user manual to see what it says the weight limit is. You should go by the lower of the two weight limits.

You’ll find the LATCH straps and connectors in a compartment on the side of the car seat.

Using the LATCH to install the car seat is isn’t hard at all. Just follow the directions in the user manual and you’ll be set up in no time.

By the way, it’s fine to use LATCH when you’re using the Nautilus as a booster seat as long as it doesn’t get in the way of buckling the seat belt.

Once your child reaches 45 pounds, you should switch to the seat belt and tether.

*Lower anchor weight limit is 45 lbs for manufactured after Feb 2015.  Older Nautilus seats have varying lower anchor limits, please refer the manual for your seat for specific details.

Non-standard Spacing LATCH Installation

You can install the car seat in the center position using LATCH as long as the lower anchor spacing is more than 11 inches. You should also consult your vehicle user manual to see if it’s safe to install it this way.


It’s important that you use the top tether to secure this car seat. It will reduce the distance your child’s head can move if you’re in a wreck. The less movement, the less likely he’ll be injured.

The tether runs from the top of the car seat to an anchor behind the back seat of the vehicle. It’s easy to do, and it will keep your child from serious harm.

Don’t neglect this step!

Inflatable Seat Belts

If your vehicle has inflatable seat belts, you shouldn’t use them to install the car seat if it’s being used in the harness mode. Instead, use the LATCH to install it. Once you switch to booster mode, it’s fine to use the inflatable seat belts.

Recline System

Adjusting the recline system is easy to do using the handle on the car seat’s front panel. There isn’t a huge difference between the three positions, and it might not make much difference to your child. But it will help you to get the car seat at the right angle for installation.

Ease of Use

The Nautilus doesn’t come fully assembled. There are a few things you’re going to have to put together, but it’s not hard to do. Just make sure that you follow the instructions, and you shouldn’t have any trouble. It’s only going to take you about 5 minutes.

Using the Nautilus is about as simple as it can get. The new improved buckle makes it easy to get your little one in and out of the car seat. Adjusting the harness front is simple, and the chest clip opens and closes easily.

Over the last few years, Graco has made a lot of improvements in the design of the harness and buckle. It may have been awkward and tricky to use in the past, but now you’ll find the Nautilus is much easier to operate.

Now let’s talk about adjusting the height of the harness.

It’s not super easy like some other seats where the harness just slides along when you raise the headrest. But, it’s not super hard, either.

Here’s how it works:

First, you raise up the headrest and then loosen the harness straps a bit. Working one side at a time, take the strap off of the splitter and pull it through from the front. Stick the strap through the new slot, run it over the roller bar in the back, and put it back on the splitter. There you go. Simple.

Getting the cover on and off isn’t as easy as it might seem. Unfortunately, it’s not form-fitting and it uses a lot of elastic straps to hold it in place. It’s hard to get the elastics through the holes and into the right place. Here’s hoping that Graco will improve this design in the near future.

Converting to Booster Mode


Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 booster mode

When your child is big enough, you can switch the Nautilus Safety Surround from harness mode to booster mode.

The first step is to detach the harness and crotch straps. Then you’ll put the back of the seat down and remove it. Or, if you like, you can leave the back attached and use it as a booster with a back. You just won’t be using the harness anymore.

You can find all the instructions in the user manual. Or, you can always find videos online demonstrating how to make the conversion to booster mode.

Instruction Manual

The instruction manual is laid out well and easy to follow. There are plenty of illustrations to help you, too.

There is some important information missing in the manual, though.

First, it doesn’t say that you can use LATCH with the booster mode as long as it doesn’t interfere with the seat belt buckle. This is important to know.

Also, it doesn’t mention Graco’s recommendation regarding inflatable seatbelts (see the section in this review).

We did mention these items already in this review. So please take special note if you’re planning to buy one of these car seats.  Here is a link to the Nautilus manual – but be sure to check it matches your seat manufacture date.


  • Can be easily installed in most vehicles.
  • High weight limit (65 lbs) can accommodate children for longer
  • Can be used as either a highback or backless booster seat
  • Safety Surround technology uses strong EPS foam in the headrest.
  • Wide age and size range of children can use it.
  • Integrated steel rods strengthen the structure and provide excellent protection.
  • Comfortable seat with thick padding.
  • Easy to clean — seat cover is machine washable.
  • Built-in cubbies and cup holder.
  • One-hand adjustable headrest with 5 positions.
  • Comfortable tall armrests.
  • Goes from harness to a high back booster or backless booster.
  • Has a lifespan of 9 years.


  • Changing the harness height is time-consuming and tricky to do.
  • A heavy and bulky seat (20 lbs)
  • The base of the seat is wide — may be difficult with smaller/narrow vehicle seats
  • Crotch strap can be uncomfortable for big kids.
  • The cover is not easy to take off or put back on.
  • Does not come fully assembled.
  • The manual is missing some important information about installation.


The Nautilus by Graco has been available for 9 years now. It’s been tried and tested and has proven to be a reliable combination car seat. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

It can accommodate older toddlers to grade school age kids. So once your child starts using it, they will be able to use it all the way through booster mode and graduate onto a regular seat-belt.

The harness is easy to use, so getting your child into the seat is quick and easy. And it’s simple to adjust the incline position and headrest position to fit your child.

Now that Graco has added the extra Safety Surround feature, you can be sure that your child will be as safe, secure and comfortable as can be.

There are different places where you can buy this car seat. We always recommend Amazon because it’s a trusted and reliable online retailer. They almost always have the lowest prices and free shipping, too. And returns are never a problem.

This might just be the car seat you’ve been looking for. Your kid will love it because it’s comfortable, and you’ll love it because it’s easy to use, and it’s affordable.

You can get a great price on a Graco Nautilus Safety Surround today. Just click below to see the current price at Amazon.


Additional Recall Information

If you already own the Graco Nautilus seat, be aware that some of these seats are part of a recall (Spring 2014) for difficulty in dis-engaging the buckle.  Check if your specific seat is part of the recall by visiting Graco Recall 2014 website.

Note that the Spring 2014 recall does not affect more recent products available for purchase

Comments 3

  1. baby grotto September 21, 2016
  2. Linda September 23, 2016
  3. GalenaB September 26, 2016

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