Boater Safety

February 4, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Boater safety starts with the proper PFD

Boater safety starts with the proper PFD

Summer outdoor safety is more than applying sunscreen before you head outdoors and wearing a seatbelt as you travel.

In this day and age it’s a habit for most of us to secure ourselves with a seatbelt after entering a vehicle. Sunscreen protection is routine.

So why is it that few people take a similar precaution and put on a life jacket after getting into a boat?

Sure, over the years legislation has mandated seatbelts and child safety restraints, but in the name of saving lives, seatbelts have also become a way of life for most people.

I remember as a teenager that it wasn’t cool to wear a seatbelt. My buddies would put the shoulder belt underneath their arm, so nobody outside the vehicle could see they were wearing a seatbelt. But they put it on.

I can’t help but think how dumb that was. And for some reason, wearing a personal floatation device or lifejacket was just as uncool. While attitudes toward seatbelts have shifted, the “it-won’t-happen-to-me” mindset still prevails among boaters, despite a new era of modern and comfortable PFDs.

Game wardens no doubt will always encounter PFD violations. The most prevalent violation these days is boat operators not having enough life jackets for each person on board. Even more troublesome are jet-skiiers, water-skiiers and tubers who are required to wear life jackets and sometimes don’t.

Boater safety includes being fully aware of your surroundings

Boater safety includes being fully aware of your surroundings

And even worse are youngsters age 10 and under who are not wearing their required PFD. Let’s be honest. If an 8-year-old is not in a life jacket, it’s not his or her fault. That responsibility lies squarely with the parent or guardian.

While only youngsters 10 and under must wear a Coast Guard approved PFD while in a boat, the common response from parents asking about PFD use range from, “I can’t find one that fits,” to “it’s too hot to put them in a PFD.”

It’s unfortunate that many adults who love and care for their children are all too willing to sacrifice safety for comfort. If you don’t have a PFD that fits your child, or it’s too hot for them to wear it, stay on shore.

As the peak of summer water recreation is upon us, I urge you to wear your PFD while on the water. And furthermore, take a moment to check over your PFDs to make sure all the snaps, buttons, ties and zippers are functional. Check to see they are stamped with the approval from the U.S. Coast Guard, and in good working condition.

Even if you have to spend a few extra dollars, buy a PFD that fits your activity. You may be surprised at the selection of PFDs made to include comfort with safety for all water recreation activities.

PFDs offer little assistance when stored in a bag, used as a cushion, or tucked away in a storage area. If you’re lucky, you’ll never have to depend on it, which goes the same for a seatbelts.

I’ve taught many boat and water safety courses over the years and a question I get time and again is, “Which is the best PFD to purchase?” My answer is always the same: Buy one that you’ll wear.


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