Life Jackets Save Lives…Period

February 2, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Catch and Release fishing is becoming common in the ethics of many fishermen

Catch and Release fishing is becoming common in the ethics of many fishermen

 I  subscribe to the theory that the only sure-fire guarantee to enjoying your time outdoors is to stay legal and safe. Didn’t bag a deer? No fish in the live well? Returning safely from your outing, and yearning for the next trip outdoors, should ease your mind to some degree.

On the flip side, no limit of walleye or trophy elk will erase the bad memories of an outing marred by an accident. With summer water recreation building to the Independence Day and other celebrations and vacations, please take a moment to highlight safety.

When all is well with boating, fishing and water recreation you’ll hardly notice the safety precautions. When something goes woefully wrong, who wants to be sitting on shore shaking their head wondering “why didn’t’ I…?”

I’ve spent my share of time on the water, as a game warden and a recreational boater, and witnessed first-hand some of the tragedies that can happen when safety is compromised in the name of a little fun. Understand this: every year in the United States nearly 700 people die in water recreation accidents. Nearly three-fourths of those deaths are from drowning and 80 percent of those drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket or personal floatation device.

What that all adds up to is that well over half the people who die in boating or other water recreation accidents each year would likely still be alive if they had bee wearing a life jacket.

I’m not advocating reckless behavior as long as a PFD is worn. Wearing a PFD is similar to clicking your seat belt. It will not eliminate the possibility of drowning, but will certainly increase your odds of survival should you end up in the water in a situation where you could not otherwise get to safety.

North Dakota law requires that each vessel have a Coast Guard approved PFD on board for all occupants. Children ages 10 and younger are required to wear the PFD.

Likewise, anyone riding or operating a personal water craft, or anyone being towed by a watercraft on tubes, skis, wakeboards, etc., must be wearing a life jacket.

I can see people nodding their heads in agreement, but agreeing with the rules and regulations doesn’t solve the problem of wearing a PFD. It’s where the seat belt comparison gets a little wet, if you may.

While front seat occupants are required to wear seat belts in vehicles in North Dakota, state law does not require those over age 10 to actually wear a PFD. It’s the person’s choice, but you’d be hard pressed to find a game warden who would agree that not wearing a PFD is a safer choice than wearing it.

One example I’ve used in teaching boat and water safety courses is taking a PFD and putting it under a chair. Then I’ll time the student on how long it takes to pull out the PFD and put it on. This lesson is usually an eye-opener, especially when I emphasize that boating or water recreation accidents don’t usually allow someone to find a life jacket and put it on before you end up in the water.

Finding and then putting on a life jacket on when you’re already in the water is much more difficult, and if you’re injured or unconscious, you might never get the opportunity to look for the floatation device.
The best PFD is the one you wear, and we no longer have the excuse that they’re big, bulky, hot and uncomfortable. The 1970s’ orange life jackets have been replaced by contemporary models that fit just about anyone. When shopping for a PFD always make sure it’s carrying the Coast Guard approval stamp. This certification ensures the PFD meets stringent safety requirements, and is also required by law.

I’ll be spending as much time as possible in and on the water this summer. Wearing my PFD will not guarantee my safety, but not wearing it –that’s out of the question.


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