Proper attire for safe boaters

Life jackets: Flotation devices should be worn by all aboard, for safety's sake.

May 05, 1999

A LIFE preserver may save your life, but only if you wear it. It's deadly serious advice: Perhaps 80 percent of drowning victims in boating accidents could have survived had they worn a life vest or personal flotation device.

The law does not require that life jackets be worn. It only requires that an approved flotation jacket and proper throwable device (ring or cushion) be available for every person on the craft. (Water skiers, whitewater runners and Jet Ski-type riders must wear a vest, by state law.)

Even children are not required, by law, to wear a life vest. But Natural Resources police officers find that more children than adults are wearing life preservers in state waters, and they reinforce the message by giving fast-food coupons to children seen wearing life vests. Perhaps, as with seat belt usage, parents will learn from their children to buckle up their flotation jackets.

"Boat Smart from the Start -- Wear Your Life Jacket" is the slogan for National Safe Boating Week, which begins May 22. It's an important reminder. Legislation to require wearing vests has failed at the Maryland and federal levels because of objections to the inconvenience and practical problems of enforcement.

The boating tragedy in Hot Springs, Ark., last week focused renewed attention on the issue of wearing life jackets. Thirteen of 21 passengers drowned when the tourist excursion boat swiftly sank in Lake Hamilton. Virtually no one was wearing a life jacket; passengers scrambled for jackets as the boat was sinking.

Other factors were involved: a cloth canopy that may have trapped victims in the wreckage, sudden strong winds, a recent serious leak that was repaired, the 50-year age of the amphibious boats. But had passengers been wearing life vests on board, more lives would likely have been saved. Vests can keep an unconscious person's head above water, their natural buoyancy reduces human struggling to get to the surface, the bright orange color is easier for rescuers to spot. This summer, put 'em on.

Pub Date: 5/05/99

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