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Safe at Sea: Life Jackets 101

By Staff | Jun 27, 2018

This article should serve as a primer on Personal Flotation Devices or PFDs – life jackets.

First, the law:

– All recreational boats must carry one wearable PFD for each person aboard.

– Any boat 16 feet or longer must also carry one throwable PFD.

– Further, the PFDs must be U.S. Coast Guard approved, in good and serviceable condition and the appropriate size for the intended user.

– Wearable PFDs must be readily accessible and throwable devices must be immediately available for use.

– U.S. Coast Guard rule requires children under the age of 13 to wear a USCG-approved life jacket while aboard a recreational vessel underway, except when children are below decks or in an enclosed cabin.

– Each person on a personal watercraft, such as a WaveRunner or Jet Ski, must wear a USCG-approved life jacket.

An often over-looked aspect of owning life jackets is their “right fit.” It is commonly accepted that most adults only need an extra 7-12 pounds of buoyancy to keep their heads above water, which is the designed purpose of life jackets: keep people afloat until help arrives.

Common sense tells us that a person’s weight is a determining factor in selecting the appropriate jacket. However, there are a few other contributing factors: body fat, clothing, rough seas, et cetera. Reading the label on the jacket will help make sure it’s a match for the person wearing it.

The following are a couple tips about selecting the right PFD:

– The jacket should fit comfortably, but snugly.

– Check its buoyancy by floating in shallow water to make sure it keeps your chin above the water while you’re leaning back.

U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that approximately 70 percent of the victims of fatal boating accidents die because they end up in the water without warning or preparation. An estimated 75 percent of the people who drown might have been saved if they had been wearing a life jacket.

Nine out of 10 drownings occur in inland waters, most within a few feet of safety.

Most of the drowning victims own life jackets but died not wearing them.

So remember: A life jacket can save your life – only if you wear it!

P.S. Do not forget the Life Jacket Loaner program through the Sanibel Fire and Rescue District’s Station 171, at 2351 Palm Ridge Road, Sanibel.

For more information, contact 239-985-9472 or Commander@SanibelCaptivaSPS.org.

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva.