Mandatory life jackets?

While at the marina recently, I overheard a couple of young guys having a conversation about wearing life jackets. Surprisingly, they were both named “Dude”.

Their discussion went something like this:
“Dude, are the life jackets in the boat?”

“Yeah, Dude, I don’t know why we gotta have’em. Life jackets are for the geeks that can’t swim.”

“I hear ya. They take up a lotta space, man, and they’re totally not comfortable, ya know, but they gotta be in the boat, Dude.”

“We don’t have to wear them, right? Like, they’re not mandatory.”

“No, Dude, they just gotta be in the boat.”

I’m a Geek
I got into my boat and put on my PFD, as I always do. While pulling away from the dock I waved to the two Dudes, and they politely waved back. I then continued my leisurely boat ride back to the cabin.

Along the way, I thought about their conversation and realized there must be a lot of Dudes and Dudettes out there, young and old, who think the same way.

Dogs are Geeks?
The long weekend arrived, and not surprisingly, I saw very few people wearing life jackets as they cruised by my dock. In fact, I would be comfortable saying that only one person in ten was wearing a PFD.

In one instance there were five people and a dog in the boat. The dog was the only passenger wearing a life jacket.

I’m still trying to get my head around that one, because the dog was probably the best swimmer on board, and according to the Dudes, wouldn’t really need to wear the life jacket.

My Rules are Draconian
Regarding my own boat, it is mandatory that everyone on board always wears a life jacket. I not only wear it while the boat is moving, I also wear it when I am fishing.

I don’t have a dog and I have to admit, ironically, that an animal in the boat would probably be the only situation where I would make an exception to the rule.
(Pet lovers can boo and hiss here.)

Most people would say that my rules are somewhat strict and unnecessary, especially if a person can swim. Whether they really think this way, or they truly don’t want to be seen as geeks, I’m not sure.

Personally, I wear the PFD because I simply don’t want to be one of the hundreds of people who drown in a boating accident each year. I actually swim very well, but I still always wear my life jacket.

You see, at some point, I probably will fall out of my boat. It may happen while I am fishing. It could happen in bad weather. More likely it will occur on a nice day when I am admiring the scenery and not paying attention to another boat’s wake, or a submerged rock or a floating log. Accidents do happen, and by their nature, they occur when we least expect them.

Am I a paranoid boater who takes life jacket wearing to an extreme?

I don’t think so.

But to be fair to the Dudes, I sat down and tried to see if there was any logic in their conversation, and I found none.

Good Swimmers Don’t Need to Wear a PFD
Being a good swimmer doesn’t help much in most accident situations. A slight knock on the head and a mouthful of water will place anyone in danger. At that point, it really doesn’t matter if you are a non-swimmer or an Olympic hopeful. Drowning can happen very quickly, and pulling a person who is in trouble out of the water isn’t an easy thing to do, especially if they are not wearing a PFD.

I’m not sure how the dog had planned to save the other members of it’s crew.

PFD’s Take Up a Lot of Space
The law requires there to be a PFD in the boat for every person on board. If the PFD’s take up too much space, then it would make more sense to actually wear them so that you would have more room in the boat, wouldn’t it?

PFD’s Are For Geeks
As for the geek factor, I can understand that younger people want to be cool, and their mortality doesn’t really factor into their decision making process. Trading safety for appearance isn’t logical, but I see why it happens with teenagers. I wasn’t any different.

Adults, on the other hand, should be beyond this sense of personal insecurity. Fashion and appearance really aren’t important points in deciding whether or not to wear the life jacket. Right?

For most people, the effects of an accident go way beyond their own lives, especially when they have a family. Aside from being somewhat irresponsible, they are also setting a bad example for their kids by not wearing a life jacket.

Based on the long weekend crowd, it seems that most older boaters are still in Dude mode.
(Senior Dudes can boo and hiss here.)

Life Jackets Aren’t Comfortable
Most of the PFDss now on the market are actually very comfortable. Not only do they keep you afloat if you fall overboard, they also provide warmth on a cool day and prevent bugs from biting your back on days that are warmer.

Ahead of the Times
At some point I suspect it will be a legal requirement to have the PFD in the boat and actually wear it. Unlike the seatbelt debate, where people often argue that wearing the seatbelt in some instances causes a death, it would be a bit of a stretch to apply the theory to a life jacket.

We all know that life jackets won’t prevent all boat accident deaths, but they certainly won’t cause more.

Years ago, my friends used to tease me for wearing a “hoodie”, and now everyone wears one. Let’s see if the same thing happens with wearing a life jacket.

Written by: Andrew Walker
@CottageTips

Go to the Boating Safety Tips page.

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