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Don't Boat Without Number Two

Let’s talk about the second most important safety item you should have on when you go boating. That’s your life jacket, or Personal Flotation Device (PFD).
This piece was inspired by photo submissions from you. We got some really good ones; some with boaters in NRS gear…but they weren’t wearing PFDs! Our decision is that we won’t use any photos of adults on the water or kids on the water or playing near the water who aren’t wearing life jackets.

Always wear your lifejacket.
That’s not because we sell PFDs, it’s because we firmly believe in the life-saving ability of PFDs. There’s a reason they’re called Life Jackets.

The 2004 U.S. Coast Guard accident statistics bear that out. They cataloged 484 drownings; 431 of them (89%) were not wearing life jackets. Numerous studies show that up to 90% of drowning victims could have been saved had they been wearing a life jacket.
The Oregon State Marine Board has gathered statistics for that state that are more clearly broken down by type of craft involved. From 1997 to 2005, they tabulated 71 fatalities of boaters in non-motorized craft (kayaks, rafts, canoes). 76% of them were either not wearing a PFD or didn’t have it properly fastened.

Those are the statistics. The cold-hard fact is that most of these people didn’t have to die. A life jacket would have saved their lives and saved their family and friends the grief of their loss.

What’s the best type of life jacket to have? It’s the one you have on. PFDs are available in such a wide array of types, models and sizes that there’s a comfortable fit for everyone. Most boaters use Coast Guard Approved Type III, III/V and V models that have a minimum 15.5 pounds of buoyancy. Most adults only need an extra seven to 12 pounds of buoyancy to keep their heads above water. So choose a model that’s comfortable and you’ll be able to wear it all the time you’re on the water.

Keep kids safe with a PFD.
And don’t forget your children. They’re depending on you for their safety. A couple of our Associates were recently at a local lake and shuddered to see little toddlers without life jackets walking around on the docks while their parents fished in the icy water. Kid’s young growing bodies require extra care in fitting them. To work right, a PFD must fit snugly on a child. After adjusting, check for a good fit by picking the child up by the shoulders of the jacket. If the fit is right, the child’s chin and ears won’t slip through. See the Kids PFD Reference Guide for some extra help in finding the best jacket for your youngster.

Oh, are you wondering what the MOST important safety item you should have on when you go boating? It’s your brain…switched on, thinking about your safety and the safety of those you boat with. If it’s working properly, you’ll be wearing your PFD…your Life Jacket.

Editor's Note:

While working for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, I helped recover four drowning victims. A dear friend of mine and his son drowned while canoeing. They weren’t wearing their life jackets.

Handling those lifeless bodies and mourning the loss of my friends has left a powerful impression on me and made me a passionate believer in wearing PFDs.

I often walk at lunch, looking out over the rolling Palouse hills. After writing this piece, one day on my walk I thought once again of Dr. Hobart Landreth and his young son, Patrick. It’s been over 30 years since they died; I was totally surprised by the powerful emotions that hit me. Once again I felt the grief and tears…for my friends, for my loss, for all the times we didn’t get to spend together.

Please wear your life jacket. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for those you’d leave behind.

Boat Safe,