The Graco Nautilus 65 LX 3-in-1 car seat is a forward facing only combination car seat that functions as a 5 point harness, high back booster, and backless booster. Other, similar versions of this seat include the Nautilus 65 DLX and Nautilus 80 Elite.
In the past, we have reviewed the Graco Nautilus, and the Graco Nautilus with Safety Surround. Graco has revamped the Nautilus into the Nautilus 65 LX/65 DLX/80 Elite. Instead of having the Nautilus and the Graco Argos, Graco has merged the two different seats into this flavor of the seat, let’s take a closer look.
CSFTL Quick Stats
- Forward facing weight range: 22-65 pounds (22-80 pounds for the Nautilus 80 Elite)
- Forward facing height range: 27-49″ (27-52″ for the Nautilus 80 Elite)
- High back booster weight range: 30-100 pounds
- High back booster height range: 38-57″
- Backless booster weight range: 40-120 pounds
- Backless booster height range: 40-57″
- Highest harness position: 18.25″
- Highest belt guide position: 19.5″
- 10 year expiration
- Lower anchor weight limit: 45 pounds
- Three position crotch strap
- Can use LATCH in high back booster mode only
- The DLX version has a built in seat belt lockoff
- Widest point: 20″ wide at the base, measured cupholder to armrest, outside edge of seat to outside edge of seat
- Seat pan: 12.5″ deep, 12.5″ wide
The Nautilus is not a new seat to the market, but Graco has combined the best features of the Nautilus and Argos into one seat. There was nothing wrong individually with either seat, but Graco has new combination seats coming to the market, and they didn’t need two very similar seats sitting side by side on store shelves.
So, what has changed from the Nautilus we’ve loved since 2007?
The main change is that the Nautilus now has a no-rethread harness. The simple readjustment from the Argos has been integrated into this version of the seat.
In addition, the Argos had a headrest restriction, meaning you could only use the lower four headrest positions in harnessed mode. The Nautilus 65 LX allows use of the headrest in any position for harnessed mode. That means less confusion and misuse for the parent. A good thing.
The Nautilus continues to be a three mode seat, allowing children who are of a safe forward facing age (at least 2 years old) and over 22 pounds to sit in a harness. Then it becomes a high back booster for older children, then a backless booster to finish out the hat trick.
This seat does NOT rear face.
The “three in one” terminology on the Nautilus boxes has confused many parents in the past, but Graco has heard the comments and now marks far more clearly that this seat is forward facing only, the Graco Nautilus does not rear face.
Another common complaint in past years with the Nautilus, and touched on in our 2013 review of the seat, was the short crotch strap depth and the challenge in moving the strap. Graco has listened to consumers and made the crotch strap adjustment much easier. In the 2013 review, and until this version of the seat, there were two crotch strap positions at 5.5″ and 7″ deep. Now, in the updated Nautilus there are three crotch strap positions. They still have the 5.5″ and 7″ deep slots, but they’ve added a third at 8″ out.
Graco has also added a third recline position for the Nautilus. Any recline position can be used at any age, weight, or mode of seat. However, they really don’t do a lot in terms of comfort for the child. The distance between them is just not great enough for it to be more than an aid in installation, or perhaps a small change for the child. For the parent hoping to recline the seat on the fly for a comfortable sleeping position, this won’t do it. Nor will any combination seat on the market, to be fair to Graco.
Another change to the Nautilus from previous versions is now the backless mode goes to 120 pounds, rather than 100 pounds. It’s a direct merge from the Argos.
New to this version of the Nautilus, the harness now has little pockets on the cover. The tongues of the buckle tuck in so the harness stays out of the way as the child gets in and out of the seat. I found them to be a little annoying to use (a little high and a little hard to shove in to the point where they’d stay), but I think that is something that will get much easier with habit and time. It’s a great idea. Because they’re pockets the tongues are also covered and away from bright sunlight, so less chance of burning the child or the parent buckling them. Graco calls it their Fuss Free Harness.
Installation and Usage
Installing the Nautilus is generally very easy in harnessed mode. The belt path is open behind the child, and the lower anchor connector strap comes routed in the belt path already.
When installing the Nautilus with lower anchors, simply make sure the strap is not twisted, attach the lower anchor connectors on the seat to the lower anchors in the vehicle, add weight, and pull the tail tight. If you cannot pull the tail tight enough using this method, pull the seat’s cover aside to access the belt path, then continue to add weight to the seat and pull the tail again. Pulling the cover aside changes the angle at which you’re pulling, and often makes it far easier to continue to tighten.
To install the Nautilus with the seat belt, store the lower anchors in their dedicated storage positions and route the seat belt through the belt path. Lock the belt as required by your car, or use the included locking clip, add weight, and pull tight.
The Nautilus DLX and Nautilus 80 Elite have a built in lockoff. Graco states to use the lockoff when installing with a lap and shoulder belt instead of locking the retractor. The lockoff is easy to use, and it’s familiar to parents who have used most Graco lockoffs for the past eight years or so. A gray and red arm that clamp down in opposite directions from one another.
The Nautilus allows LATCH to be used while in high back booster mode. Since the LATCH strap is straight through the belt path on the high back portion, this cannot be used while the seat is backless. The child’s weight has no impact on the lower anchor use while in booster mode, as the lower anchors are only holding in the seat, not the seat and the child.
The Nautilus 80 Elite has strap covers that are required any time the seat is used in harness mode. With the Nautilus 65 LX and 65 DLX, the harness covers are optional.
Switching between modes
Switching between modes on the Nautilus is not particularly difficult, but it does take a few minutes. This is not a seat that you can use easily harnessed for a 4 year old for one ride, boostered for a 7 year old for the next, as a backless for a 10 year old, and then reversed without spending time making changes. But those changes are not difficult.
To convert the Nautilus from harnessed mode to high back mode, you first remove the harness from the splitter plate in the back, then pull the harness out at the shoulders. Protip: Buckle up the chest clip and crotch buckle. That’ll make it easier to keep everything together after you’ve pulled it apart. Next, undo the cover at the hips of the seat and pull up the back. You’ll push back on the two red buttons so that they release and the back of the seat hinges back. That will expose the arms and the connections for the hip end of the straps. Remove them from these arms, and then put the arms back in by setting the back upright again and pushing back on the buttons as necessary. Unthread the crotch strap and remove it from the seat. The harness adjuster strap gets pulled tight so the splitter plate is against the plastic along the bottom.
To convert the seat back to harnessed mode, reverse this process. Put the hip parts back on the arms, rethread the crotch strap, rethread the shoulder straps and reattach to the splitter plate.
To go from high back to backless mode on the Nautilus, once again hinge the seat back with the red buttons pushed back at the hips. When those are sticking up, at the very back of the backless portion there are two more red buttons. Squeeze them together and pull the backless portion away from the high back portion.
Going from backless to high back booster mode, reverse this process.
Fit to Child
The fit in all modes is generally good in the Nautilus. Graco has traditionally has good belt fits for nearly all size kids. The Nautilus is a little more hit and miss, but with this model (newly turned 6 years old, 45″, 48 pounds) the belt fit was ideal. It is still a slimmer seat through the shoulders, so while it’s not a safety issue, if you have a child with broader shoulders you may find they’re uncomfortable sooner than a more slender child through the shoulders. I have used a Nautilus with my older daughter (I bought it in 2008, she was 6 at the time) and the fit was great on her. My younger daughter, the current model, is a little broader through the shoulders and fits well. This is purely a comfort issue, but with broader shouldered kids who cannot understand the details of safety, they will try to make themselves comfortable by twisting their bodies, moving the seat belt, or otherwise moving themselves out of position. As with any seat, fit to child is important. The Nautilus will fit most children well, but broader children may not be as comfortable as children with a different build.
Our model is six years old, 45 inches tall, and 48 pounds. For an easier reference, she’s just coming into size 6 shirts, size 5s often still fit. The Nautilus was on the second to highest position, much to my surprise. The seat would last her in harness mode for probably another year, until she’s moving from a size 6 to about a size 7.
High Back Booster Mode
The high back mode often provides a proper belt fit for most children. The lap belt goes low enough along the hips, the shoulder belt is nicely adjustable and centers along the collarbone well. In this mode our model was still on the second to highest position, since the belt guides are above the slots for the harness. She would have had probably another two years, maybe a little longer in high back mode.
Here the fit is a little more hit and miss and is very much dependent on the fit of the booster to the car. This is true for all backless boosters, though. The Nautilus comes with a belt adjuster to adjust the height and hold the shoulder belt more toward the body if necessary. It’s added to the backless portion, though is not required if the belt fit is good.
On this model, the belt fit in backless mode was good in multiple cars, though I might have wanted to use the belt adjuster guide in one car. Overall, though, the belt fit was good, with the lap belt low on her hips and the shoulder belt on her collarbone. Because there is no headrest or slots, she could continue to use this until 57″, 120 pounds, or the belt fit was no longer good.
The belt adjuster guide for this seat, like all Graco boosters, comes in the baggie with the manual (in this case, two manuals. Graco has separated English and Spanish to two, rather than two halves of one).
When this car seat is installed on the plus one or jump seat of a minivan, Graco has confirmed up to 20% of the base can overhang the edge of the vehicle seat while in harness mode. In booster mode the entire base must be in contact with the vehicle seat.
Important Information: Where to Find
The model number for the Nautilus is on the bottom of the seat. A suggestion for parents: When you first get the seat, take a picture of that model number and date. Get it in your photo stream. That way if you’re at your computer and wondering about something for your seat, you can contact Graco or google it using the actual model number and date for your seat, you won’t need to go to the car and uninstall the seat. Also on the bottom is the FAA approval in a red sentence. This seat is NOT approved for airplane use in booster mode. Boosters require a shoulder belt, and airplanes don’t have shoulder belts. However, in harnessed mode this seat can and should be used on board if it is your child’s harnessed seat.
This seat, like all Graco combination, multi-mode, and booster seats has a 10 year lifespan from the date on the sticker. It is both in the manual as well as stamped on the seat.
However, it is a simple embossment, so it’s not highlighted in any way, and it’s also on the underside of the seat, so it cannot be seen while the seat is installed. It’s even difficult in the picture to the left (which is why I’m pointing to it).
* The manual does have a few errors we noticed. The high back booster goes to 100 pounds, but one page of the manual says 120 pounds. Part of the instructions for putting the seat in booster mode state to use LATCH and then check for movement. That’s fine, but the picture shows the seat belt used through the belt path, which then makes it physically impossible to use the seat belt for the booster. Graco is aware of these issues, and I’m sure is working to resolve them.
- Easy to install
- One recline setting
- Can use LATCH in booster mode
- Doesn’t have great head support for sleeping which can be uncomfortable for some kids
The Nautilus has generally been an easy seat to install and use since it was released in 2007. It fits most kids well in all modes, and installs well in most vehicles. I had a problem with the seat belt installation in a 2015 BMW M235i. Because my model is over the weight limit for the lower anchors, I did not attempt a lower anchor install. In a 2015 Toyota Camry and a 2011 Mercedes E350 wagon the installs were nearly instantaneous and very easy, which is how the Nautilus has installed since it was released. The cubbies and cupholder that have been on the seat since it first came out are still there, and still a child favorite.
This beautiful Graco Nautilus 65 LX in the Raquel cover was generously supplied by Graco. However, they did not sponsor this review, and all opinions are my own.
The older version of the Nautilus with the rethread harness is still available at many retailers. You can find the new Nautilus 65 LX on Amazon.com.