2008-05-23 / Top Stories

Foundation Urges Use Of Life Jackets

Small boats such as open runabouts, personal watercraft, Jon boats and paddle-powered craft are popular on U.S. waterways because they are affordable and easy to use. However, they can also be the most deadly. According to U.S. Coast Guard statistics, of the 474 drowning deaths in 2006, 42% (201) involved boats under 16 feet.

With National Safe Boating Week coming up May 17 - 23, the BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water has three tips that may help encourage boaters and anglers to don a life jacket every time they hit the water.

A 2007 BoatU.S. Foundation study of California boaters showed that about three out of every five say that they would wear a life jacket if it were more comfortable. However, while comfortable designs are here today, many boaters may not know what is available. Newer vest-style life jackets allow complete freedom of movement with broad arm cutouts and buoyancy pockets placed low on the body, allowing for unimpeded movement. Many of the newest inflatable life jackets are no larger than a fanny belt pack, and fit comfortably around the waist. Neither of these modern styles get in the way of driving a boat, casting a lure, or paddling.

The same California study showed that boaters understand the need to put a life jacket on when the weather goes bad. But that's not when most boaters or anglers get into trouble. U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that most boating accidents occurred when conditions were calm (waves less than six inches), winds light (less than six miles per hour) and visibility was good.

Remember the days when few motorists chose to wear a seat belt? In just a short time most American motorists have adjusted to using them - largely without complaint - and highway deaths have decreased dramatically. Boaters need to consider the fact that by making wearing a life jacket routine, waterway drownings would follow a similar trend.

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