Let’s face it, boaters rarely put much thought into life jackets. Instead, they’d rather focus on boating’s “fun” features, like that cool, state-of-the-art fish finder, or the power of your monster outboards.
When it comes to life jackets, boaters will too often just grab anything that floats and meets basic requirements, and then stow it away.
But a good PFD (personal floatation device) might be your most important piece of boating equipment. Coast Guard statistics have shown that more than 80 percent of boaters who drown are not wearing life jackets. Half of those accidents happened when the water was calm. And most of those drowning victims could swim. It’s no wonder you hear frustration when speaking with Coast Guard officials, who often respond to fatal accidents that are entirely preventable if people did one simple thing: wore a life jacket.
Despite the statistics, boaters are still hesitant to wear life jackets, fueled by an attitude that “it won’t happen to me,” or thinking life jackets are uncomfortable, or thinking it is okay to stow away your PFD (where it remains when you suddenly need it).
But if you’ve avoided wearing a PFD because you thought it was too hot and uncomfortable, or you thought it would mess up your tan lines, new PFD designs and technology have made life jackets so comfortable and even stylish that there’s no excuse not to wear one.
If your image of a life jacket is a big, bulky plastic thing that makes you feel like you are suffocating, think again. Many of today’s PFDs feel like you’re not wearing one at all. They are lightweight and comfortable. They allow a full range of motion, and many are even inflatable.
For your PFD to work properly, it has to be the right match for you. Here’s a few tips for picking out and wearing a life jacket:
- Make sure your life jacket is Coast Guard-approved.
- Check the manufacturer’s label to make sure the jacket is a proper fit for you.
- Check that the jacket is appropriate for your activity. (Are you paddling near shore, or boating offshore?)
- Make sure your jacket is properly fastened and that it doesn’t ride up over your chin or face.
- Make sure children are wearing properly-fitted, child-sized life jackets.