Graco introduced the Nautilus 3-in-1 forward facing only combination harness to booster car seat in 2007. The Nautilus quickly became a trusted, well-priced staple in that category of seats.
The Nautilus harnesses from 20-65 pounds, then converts to a high-back booster, then to a backless booster.
Since it was introduced, the Nautilus was joined by two other Graco combination seats: the Argos 65 and the Argos 80 Elite. All of these seats have a lot to offer the Littles who are forward facing — Littles who require a well-fitting harnessed seat that converts to booster mode to grow with the child.
There are a few varieties of the Nautilus, each with slightly different comfort or safety features. This review peeks under the hood of the Target exclusive model: Graco Nautilus with Safety Surround.
CSFTL Quick Stats
- Forward facing weight range: 20-65 pounds
- Forward facing height range: 27-49 inches tall
- High back booster weight range: 30-100 pounds
- High back booster height range: 38-57 inches tall
- Backless booster weight range: 40-100 pounds
- Backless booster height range: 40-57 inches tall
- Lowest harness position: 12 inches
- Highest harness position: 18 inches
- Highest booster belt guide position: 19.5 inches
- 10 year expiration (early 2011 & older models have a 6 year harness/high-back booster, 9 year no back booster expiration)
- Lower anchor weight limit: 45 pounds.
- 2014 IIHS Best Bet in high back mode only
- Two position recline
- Two position crotch strap
- Can use LATCH in high back booster mode (but not in backless mode)
We’ll be taking a close look at the Nautilus with Safety Surround. This model offers the same basic features and shape as the Nautilus, but adds some extra padding around the head area of the child.
The Nautilus can cause some head slump when passengers fall sleep; it has a bit less padding in the headrest. We’d suggest the Nautilus with Safety Surround for children who often fall asleep in the car.
Assembling the Seat
The Nautilus arrived in two pieces — the base and back of the seat, with the harness attached and the headrest.
Use of the headrest is required.
To assemble the Nautilus, line each post on the headrest up with the holes in the top of the seat’s shell and push down. The headrest clicks into the top of the seat.
Over the years, I’ve owned a Graco Nautilus and the Argos 65 featured in this review. I found that the neither the Nautilus nor the Argos installed in my 2009 Mazda 5 very well so when this Nautilus with Safety Surround arrived, I was pretty hesitant about starting to install the seat in my car’s second row.
I used all the installation tricks up my sleeve and after more trial and error than I care to admit, discovered the method that worked!
Recline the vehicle’s seat back about two clicks, install the Nautilus with the seat belt. When all slack is removed from the seat belt, I returned the vehicle seat back to the upright position that my car’s manual requires. Lo and behold, the seat was installed with less than an inch of movement at the belt path in any direction!
The Nautilus installs fairly easily in my Mazda 5’s third row — a spot that’s typically a huge challenge to get car seats installed. By moving the recline block on the Nautilus to the most reclined position, a little sweat equity helped get the Nautilus installed there. The Nautilus also installed without issue in our 2014 Prius V, in a variety of rental cars over the years, and on the flat bench-style seats in the 2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor that we used to have.
The 45 pound lower anchor weight limit only applies to seats manufactured after February 2015. Nautilus seats made between February 2014-2015 is 42 lb. Older Nautilus seats have varying lower anchor limits, please consult your manual.
Crotch Buckle Adjustment
On both my 2010 Graco Nautilus and my 2011 Graco Argos, moving the crotch buckle between positions was quite difficult. The webbing was slightly too thick to slide the buckle comfortably out of either position, the task required a lot of finesse, lining the webbing up just right, and often, some grunting and cursing.
I’m pleased to tell you that the 2015 Graco Nautilus with Safety Surround used in this review was quite easy to move between positions!
It can be placed in either position, the only restriction is that the buckle portion not be below the child — the child sitting on top of the webbing is fine, the child sitting on the buckle indicates that the crotch buckle needs to be moved to the outer slot.
Harness Height Adjustment
To adjust the harness height on the Nautilus, the seat must be uninstalled from the car. This can be a disadvantage if the seat doesn’t install particularly easily in your vehicle. This can be no problem if the seat installs easily in your vehicle.
In both harnessed and booster mode, the manual states that: “The shoulder belt guides must be even with or just above the shoulders.” The headrest can be adjusted without uninstalling the seat so it’s just a matter of squeezing the red handle at the top of the seat, then moving it up or down to achieve the proper fit. The headrest should not cover the top of the shoulder straps in harnessed mode.
The seat includes a pretty robust extra pad. Since it’s only designed to be used with children who are using the lowest harness slot, it’s of no use to us. The lowest slot is a mere 12″, which is a setting that’s more for a child who’s about 1-year-old.
Since the Nautilus is a forward facing only car seat, we don’t consider the Nautilus an option for children small enough to require the padding — we’d suggest that children that young and that small ride rear facing, then switch to a forward facing seat when they’ve outgrown their rear facing car seat.
Harness Mode: Fit to Child
4 Years Old
This model is 4 years old. She’s 56 pounds and 44 inches tall. Not only did the harness fit her well, she had plenty of room left in the harness. This is great news — not all harnesses include enough length to fit children on the larger end of the growth curve so it’s nice to know that the Nautilus is an excellent option for children in this size range.
One caution: it’s likely that this model would outgrow the seat by weight before height. However, the Graco Argos Elite 80 would offer her the same great harness fit and would likely last until the end of her need for a harnessed seat.
4 Years Old
Here we see a 4 year old model who weighs 45 pounds and is 41 inches tall. The Nautilus fits her well and she’s got plenty of room to grow in the seat.
5 Years Old
This model is 5 years old. She’s 45 pounds and 45 inches tall. She’s able to climb into the seat and buckle herself in without issue. The seat fits her well — my only complaint is that the strap tends to twist a bit if I’m not keeping an eye on it when she buckles herself in and out.
She’s roughly 17 inches at the shoulders so she has about an inch of harness height left in this seat. That could equate to about a year left of use in harnessed mode.
This model is especially fond of the cupholder and the two cubbies. They’re already home to a few stuffed friends.
Headrest Position: Harnessed Mode
The manual states that: “The shoulder belt guides must be even with
or just above the shoulders as shown by dotted line.”
Harness Height Adjustment
Adjusting the harness is a two-step process:
1. Adjust the harness height by doing the following:
Unthread the harness by removing the loops from the splitter plate on the back of the seat, thread the harness through the next slot up while ensuring that each side of the harness goes over the red rollers on the seat. Attach the harness straps to each side of the splitter plate, then pull the slack out of the harness to confirm that everything is attached correctly.
2. Adjust the headrest so that shoulder belt guides are even with,
or just above the child’s shoulders. This may mean that the harness is coming from below the headrest in some instances.
Switching Between Harness and High-Back Booster Modes
Removing the harness and switching the seat to high-back booster mode takes a bit of effort, though it’s not as difficult as the manual’s 13 step process might seem. Here’s a streamlined summary of the process:
Remove the Harness
3. With the seat’s bottom facing you, remove the crotch strap by pushing the strap retainer through the slot on the bottom of the seat. Flip the seat over and pull the buckle from the top of the seat pan, to pull it completely out of the seat.
Slide the buttons to release the back support from the base and lower it into a flat position.
Pro tip: Hold the back support or sit near a wall while doing this step to avoid having the back of the seat falling back and hitting something when the seat back releases.
Pro tip: Once you’ve removed the harness, store the harness straps, crotch buckle and any pillows in a safe place for future use. I put mine into the seat’s original box.9. To convert the seat to high-back booster mode, at this point, move the seat pad fabric out-of-the-way, then raise the seat back so that both arms LOCK into the gutters. You should hear a CLICK when the arms lock into the gutters.
Converting to Backless Booster Mode
If you’d like your Nautilus to be in no back booster mode, simply leave the back off at this point and reattach the fabric loops at the base of the cover behind the seat.
High back Booster Mode: Reattach Seat Pad and Attach Back
Lower Anchors: Booster Mode
The lower anchors can be used to secure the Nautilus in the car while in high-back booster mode.
Fit to Child: Booster Mode
5 years old
Here’s our model from earlier, she’s 5 years, 4 months old, stands 44 inches tall and weighs 45 pounds. This was her maiden voyage in booster mode! The open shoulder belt guides made setting the seat up for her a snap. Like so many combination seats, accessing the belt guides was much easier once the headrest was above the shell of the seat, confirming that making the switch to booster mode is best started when the child has outgrown the combination seat in harnessed mode first. Otherwise, the headrest would be below the shell, making the shoulder belt guide hard to access.
Apparently, all the times I’ve reminded her sister to sit properly paid off because more than once, I heard her gasp because she’d started to slouch a bit, then she would remember to sit in an upright position. She’s not quite ready for full-time booster use but with this seat, she’s got all of the help she needs to start the process.
The Safety Surround headwings absolutely helped with reminding her to sit properly. In my opinion, and for my youngest kiddo, the Nautilus with Safety Surround would be an excellent option for booster training!
8 years old
At 8 years, 10 months old, 55 pounds and 50 inches tall, this model is at the top end of the size range for the Nautilus in high-back booster mode. It still provides an excellent belt fit — the shoulder belt sits squarely across her shoulder, and the lap belt is on her upper thighs.
She reports that while the padding is comfortable behind her, the sides and headwings made her feel a bit cramped in the seat, at least in high-back mode.
Fit to Child: No Back Booster Mode
Here we see the our same 8-year-old, 55 pound and 50 inches tall model from the high-back booster section. She’s much more comfortable using the Nautilus in no back mode. The belt fit across her shoulders and across her lap is excellent and she also enjoyed the cubbies/cupholder!
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
Manual Storage — The manual stores in a handy compartment on the bottom of the seat. Just tuck your manual into the slot and it will stay with your seat in case you need it during your travels.
The Nautilus is a mainstay of the combination seat category — and with good reason! It fits children of most body types and sizes well, in both harnessed and booster mode. The Safety Surround padding on the headrest plus open shoulder belt guides made it an excellent option for both booster training and extended booster use for older Littles.
Coming in at a reasonable price point, the Nautilus has a lot to offer. We issue a small word of caution that it’s not compatible in harnessed mode in every seating position we tried, but it was compatible with every other position in every other car, so it’s a safe bet that the Nautilus would work well in most cars.
Graco advertises that the forward facing Nautilus is the last car seat a child needs and we’d have to concur. Once your Little has outgrown their convertible car seat in rear facing mode, the Nautilus is an excellent option to take them to the very end of their car seat-using days!
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