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From the Boathouse: Wear your lifejacket — when necessary

May 15, 2013|By Mike Whitehead

Ahoy, and welcome to National Safe Boating Week!

"Wear it! Always wear your lifejacket" is the nationwide theme for this year's National Safe Boating Council's Safe Boating Week that runs Saturday through May 24. The goal of Safe Boating Week is to educate boaters that it is not enough to just have a few lifejackets stuffed in a locker on board the boat, but you must wear a lifejacket to increase your chance of surviving serious accidents. Thus, the Council wants everyone on the water to enjoy safe and responsible boating.

A California survey revealed that 96% of active boaters know when a lifejacket should be worn, and 84% say they know who is required to wear a lifejacket while boating. The survey shows that almost all boaters think that children need to wear a lifejacket, yet just over half believe that adults should be required to don a personal flotation device (PFD), the technical term for a lifejacket.

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However, the overall wearing of lifejackets by boaters is on the increase, and this can be attributed to better boater education. Additionally, most organized races and programs require everyone to wear a lifejacket while underway.

This is a good campaign, but the question still remains, "How practical is it to always wear your lifejacket?" Both California and the Coast Guard have enacted laws for children to wear their lifejackets while underway on smaller boats, and the Army Corps of Engineers requires everyone to wear a lifejacket while boating on lakes and reservoirs in its jurisdictions. However, the statistics show that adults are most at risk and that makes sense, as adults are the majority of people on the water.

We do need to keep in mind that there were only 758 fatalities in 2011, 672 in 2010 and 736 in 2009, according to the Coast Guard's latest statistics. The National Marine Manufacturers Assn. reports that in 2011, 83 million people participated in boating. So, how safe is boating, and are boaters really at risk of drowning?

If we do the math, fatalities divided by the number of participants means only 0.00091% of boating participants died in 2011. Remember, this includes anyone who died boating, whether from a crash, falling down in a boat or even drowning while swimming off a moored boat that was not underway. Not all deaths can be attributed to the lack of wearing a lifejacket.

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