Among the many misconceptions concerning causes of boating accidents is the thought that a vessel must be traveling at a high rate of speed for a serious accident to occur. While speed can certainly be a factor in many vessel accidents, a large number of accidents occur on vessels that do not even have an engine. Nationwide in 2008, there were 157 reported deaths to operators and passengers of canoes, kayaks, and row-boats. During the same year, there were 45 reported deaths to operators and passengers of personal watercraft (jet-ski-type craft). In most states personal watercraft operators and passengers are required to wear PFDs.
Another common misconception is that in cold water, hypothermia will kill a person quickly, regardless of whether the person is wearing a PFD. While hypothermia is a serious threat to life, most people would survive sudden immersion into cold water, and ultimately be rescued, if they were wearing a properly fitted US Coast Guard approved PFD when the accident occurred.
When a person is suddenly immersed in cold water, they will experience an “Involuntary Gasp Reflex” during which the person will immediately exhale, this will be followed immediately by an uncontrollable “gasping” for air. As this occurs the person will generally panic, and, lacking a floatation aid, may begin to involuntarily “breath” water and drown. In many cases, drowning occurs long before the effects of hypothermia are experienced. Again, the best defense is to wear a PFD. While the PFD will not eliminate the gasp reflex, or the associated discomfort, the PFD will immediately float the person to the surface, thus allowing the person to be rescued. Some PFDs, specifically a Type I, will even turn an unconscious wearer face-up, allowing badly injured or exhausted individuals to be rescued.
Always wear a life jacket. Life jackets are an essential component to safe boating. There are many styles of life jackets available for a multitude of purposes including both extreme heat and cold. With the new inflatable style life jackets which are comfortable yet functional, there is no excuse not to wear a life jacket at all times when underway.
Life Jackets Must Be:
- US Coast Guard approved
- In good and serviceable condition
- Of the appropriate size for the intended user.
- Wearable life jackets must be readily accessible.
- You must be able to put them on in a reasonable amount of time in an emergency (vessel sinking, on fire, etc.).
- They should not be stowed in plastic bags, in locked or closed compartments or have other gear stowed on top of them.
- The best life jacket is the one you will wear.
- Throwable devices must be immediately available for use