Marco Island is paradise for boaters — with more than 100 miles of interior canals, six miles of beach and 6,000 registered boaters. As we approach the summer months, it is imperative to remember one of the most important and essential safety tools for boaters: the life jacket.
According to the National Safe Boating Council, close to 85 percent of those who drown in boating accidents every year are not wearing a life jacket, despite requirements to have U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets on board vessels for all passengers. Further, the 2013 Boating Accident Statistical Report released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reports that 62 people lost their lives in Florida last year in boating accidents, and there have already been 11 deaths so far this year. In these fatal accidents, drowning is the leading cause of death.
“There’s an easy fix. Wear a life jacket,” notes Lt. Seth Wagner with FWC. “There are several styles of life jackets available to boaters that won’t interfere with your boating experience and may save your life.”
Rachel Johnson, the National Safe Boating Council’s executive director, echoes this sentiment: “Boating safety advocates recommend that all boaters and passengers not only have a life jacket, but ‘Wear It!’ at all times while boating.”
Specifically, FWC requires children under the age of six to wear a U.S.Coast Guard-approved Type I, II or III personal flotation device while onboard a vessel under 26 feet in length while the vessel is underway. “Underway” is defined as anytime except when the vessel is anchored, moored, made fast to the shore or aground. In Federal waters (more than 9 miles offshore), each child under 13 years old must wear an appropriate USCG-approved personal flotation device while on a recreational vessel that is underway unless the child is below deck or in an enclosed cabin.
The good news is that today’s life jackets are much more comfortable, lightweight and stylish than the bulky orange-style most boaters know, and they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and materials. Life jackets that use inflatable technologies are cool and comfortable. Many resemble a pair of suspenders or a belt pack, and many inflate automatically when immersed in water. Other life jacket styles are available for almost any boating activity:
For fishing: Vest-style life jackets come with features such as pockets and clips to replace the fishing vest and keep the angler safe.
For personal watercraft and water sports: Inherently buoyant lighter-weight life jackets are rugged, with multiple buckles and clasps to keep them secure after impact with the water.
For hunting and cold weather: Full coats and suits are available in camouflage colors for waterfowl hunting and for those who boat when air and water temperatures are cool.
For paddling: Special life jackets are designed with large openings for arms to allow ease of movement.
For children: Virtually all styles available are sized especially for children — some with cartoon characters, straps for pulling children from the water, and high-visibility schemes.
For pets: Life jackets are even available for our four-legged friends. It’s helpful to purchase one with a handle on top to easily pull your pet out of the water, if needed.
No matter which life jacket you choose, be sure it’s right for the wearer, planned activities, and the expected water conditions. It is imperative that life jackets fit properly. Life jackets that are too big will cause the flotation device to push up around the wearer’s face, which could be dangerous, and life jackets that are too small will not be able to keep a body afloat.
Try it on. Check the manufacturer’s ratings for size and weight restrictions. Make sure the life jacket is properly zipped or buckled. To check the fit, raise the wearer’s arms straight up over his or her head while wearing the life jacket, and grasp the tops of the arm openings, gently pulling up. If there is excess room above the openings and the life jacket rides up over the wearer’s chin or face, it does NOT fit properly. A snug fit in these areas signals a properly fitting life jacket.
Remember that life jackets meant for adults do not work for children. Boating with children? Make sure they are wearing properly fitted, child-sized life jackets. Do not buy a life jacket for your child to “grow into.” If you need a child’s life jacket when recreating with children or grandchildren, they can be borrowed from the Marco Island Police Department.
To learn more about boating safety, take a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Safe Boating course by contacting Marian Harris of USCG Auxiliary Flotilla 95 at 239-384-7416. To learn more about our local Coast Guard Auxiliary, contact Doug Johnson at 239-642-8406.