Memorial Day weekend marked the unofficial start of summer fun, including more angling and boating opportunities. But in an effort to prevent those activities from becoming deadly, a North American boating safety campaign, known as ‘Wear It!’ is encouraging more boaters to keep their heads above water.
According to US Coast Guard Recreational Boating Safety Statistics, 626 fatalities occurred last year as a result of recreational boating accidents nation-wide. Drowning was reported as the cause of death in three-fourths of those fatalities, while approximately 85-percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.
Unfortunately, the national percentage matches up with Pennsylvania, where four boaters died as a result of recreational boating accidents last year, and only one of the victims was wearing a life jacket. Perhaps some of these untimely deaths could have been prevented by the simple use of a flotation device.
“People tend to think of boating accidents in terms of collisions,” said Colonel Corey Britcher, Director of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission ‘s Bureau of Law Enforcement. “However capsizing and falls overboard are the most common type of reportable boating accident in Pennsylvania.”
“Accidents where fatalities occur usually are the ones where somebody falls overboard or is swamped in a small boat and drowns. Those are precisely the accidents where a life jacket can make all the difference,” Britcher explained.
“We are reminding boaters to practice safe and responsible boating, always wear your life jacket, and be alert while on the water. By practicing these simple steps, you can save your life as well as the lives of the people boating with you,” he said.
Wearing a life jacket is not only a good idea in general, but it’s also a law in certain situations, PFBC South-Central Region Outreach & Education Coordinator, Dee Fisher explained.
“Pennsylvania law states that all children 12 years of age and younger on all commonwealth waters must wear a life jacket while underway on any boat 20-feet or less in length, and on all canoes and kayaks,” Fisher said.
“In addition, all boats must have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable life jacket on board for each person over the age of 12. Wearable life jackets must be “readily accessible,” meaning easily reached and ready to wear, and the right size for the person wearing it. All life jackets must also be in good, serviceable condition, with no rips or tears, nor with any belts or buckles missing.”
Fortunately, life jackets are lighter, more comfortable and convenient than ever. They come in a variety of styles and sizes to fit every person and recreational opportunity.
Recently, inflatable life jackets are becoming a popular choice because they fit easily over any type of clothing, can be worn as a vest or belt-pack and are less restrictive than traditional buoyant life jackets.
“A life jacket is designed to hold your head above water, so you can breathe; it won’t work if you don’t wear it,” Fisher said. “While it’s tempting to boat without wearing a life jacket, especially on nice days, the decision NOT to wear a life jacket may be the worst, and last, decision you ever make.”
The ‘Wear It!’ campaign is a yearlong effort in the U.S. and Canada focused on spreading the message of boating safety and the critical importance of always wearing a life jacket each and every time on the water.
In addition, the campaign also reminds boaters of the importance of boating safely, such as taking a boating safety course, never boating under the influence and knowing navigational rules.
‘Wear It!’ offers the following tips for selecting the proper life jacket:
Select the Right Style
Life jackets are designed for a boater’s recreational water activity. A life jacket may be inherently buoyant – using foam or other buoyant materials to stay afloat – or inflatable – providing buoyancy when inflated by relying on CO2 cylinders.
Be sure each life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard-approved and appropriate for the water activity by checking the label printed on the inside of the life jacket.
Make Sure It Fits
You don’t want your life jacket too large or too small. A snug fit is a proper fit. Remember, life jackets for adults do not work for children. Make sure the life jacket is properly fastened and that all straps, buckles or zippers are secure. Hold your arms straight up over your head, and ask a friend to grasp the tops of the arm openings and gently pull up. If it slides off, it is too loose. The proper size fits snugly.