A life jacket is a life saver

By Sarah Hippensteel Hall, Ph.D., manager of watershed partnerships

Some people have plenty of excuses why they don’t wear a life jacket when paddling or boating, but there’s not a single good reason.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Coast Guard:

• Drowning was reported as the cause of death in 79 percent of all boating fatalities.
• Approximately 86 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

Graphic of the Wear It life jacket

Life jacket excuses

I don’t need a lifejacket; I’m a good swimmer.
The fact is that two-thirds of drowning victims are good swimmers.

I don’t need to wear one in my kayak–only when I am in a big boat.
In a kayak or canoe you may run into low-hanging branches or submerged objects, which can cause you to turn over and fall in. You don’t want to be without a lifejacket if that happens.

I have life jackets on board the boat.
That’s nice, but have you ever tried to put a life jacket on as your boat capsizes or overturns? That’s like trying to put on your seatbelt during a car accident. 

Life jackets get in the way. They are too hot and too uncomfortable.
That’s not true anymore! Today, they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and materials. They are much more comfortable and light weight. There are even inflatable life jackets which offer a comfortable alternative to traditional life jackets. They provide range of motion and are cooler to wear in warmer weather.

Nothing is ever going to happen to me.
We hope not. Please don’t risk the pain and grief you would cause your family and friends because you were too stubborn/lazy/cool to #WearIt?

Graphic showing which life jacket is right for you

Life jacket tips
Keep these tips in mind when buying and using your life jacket.

  • Make sure your life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard approved.
  • Double check that your life jacket is appropriate for your favorite water activities. Read the label!
  • Take the time to ensure a proper fit. A life jacket that is too large or too small can cause problems.
  • Check that your life jacket is in good condition, with no tears or holes.
  • If you are boating with children, make sure they are wearing properly fitted, child-sized life jackets based on their weight. Life jackets meant for adult-sized people do not work for children. Do not buy a life jacket for your child to “grow into.”

Boating safety tips
Wearing a life jacket is one of the best ways to ensure a fun and safe day on the water. Here are a few others:

  • Check the weather, including the water temperature. Know the latest marine weather forecast prior to going out, and keep a regular check for changing conditions.
  • Dress properly. Always dress for the weather, wearing layers if cooler weather, and bring an extra set of clothes in case you get wet.
  • Always file a float plan. File a float plan with someone you trust that includes details about the trip, boat, persons, towing or trailer vehicle, communication equipment and emergency contacts. Find out more at floatplancentral.org.
  • Don’t drink while you boat. Where the primary cause was known, alcohol was listed as a leading factor in boating-related deaths. Find out more at operationdrywater.org.

The Great Miami, Stillwater, and Mad rivers offer many paddling, rowing, and power boating opportunities. Our water trail maps take you to public access sites. And be sure to review the safety tips on the back of our maps.

A little preparation can go a long way in creating paddling adventures and memories.

National Safe Boating Week is May 22-28

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