Last time, we focused on why more people don’t wear life vests, lifejackets, or inflatable PFDs. Now, let’s talk about who should wear one, when and why. The obvious answer is everyone, all the time, because it is the number one safety tool on the boat. After all, you wear your seatbelt all the time, don’t you? Ok, that is a law, but you understand the importance of wearing one even if not required to do so.
However, few of us regularly wear a PFD, and some never do. Full disclosure, I don’t always wear one myself. It is a matter of risk assessment, depending on the weather and other factors. Let’s look at some of the conditions where it is advisable.
- It should be obvious that boating in heavy weather greatly increases the chance of ending up in the water. Add cold water and there is a heightened risk of hypothermia. When the weather is cold and the sea rough, you will be wearing heavy clothes. Falling in without a PFD when wrapped up in foul weather gear and other layers of clothing is especially hazardous. My personal rule is to always wear a PFD whenever it is cold or rough and I am dressed for those conditions.
- Sailing alone presents another opportunity for trouble if you end up in the drink, who is going to pull you out? What if you slipped and injured yourself, or worse, got knocked unconscious? The same goes for boating with others when you are the only person on board who is capable of operating the vessel should you end up in the drink.
- On the water at night is another time where wearing a PFD is a good idea. It might take longer to be rescued and if so, your chances are much better if you are floating in a life vest.
- If you see bad weather approaching, the time to put on a PFD is now. Once the poop hits the fan it may be too late put on your vest or go below to find it.
- Have you ever been swimming, gotten tired, and then unsure of being able to pull yourself out or get back to the boat? Wearing a lifevest, the modern well-fitting type, is a good way to enjoy the water if you simply want to float around, maybe wash the waterline, or cool off.
- Kayaks, canoes, jetskis, paddleboards and other types of personal watercraft normally warrant wearing a PFD, as do sailing dinghies.
- When less experienced guests come aboard it is a good idea to offer a PFD for them to wear. They may be afraid to ask. Tell them they are welcome to bring their own PFD when you first invite them. They will feel more comfortable knowing it is OK.
Boating is an expression of freedom, and we don’t want to lose that. Like anything else, common sense is the best guideline. Keep in mind that drownings happen in all weather, in shallow water, and for many reasons. Most of us don’t like to be told to do something, we prefer to make our own decisions. The more often accidents occur, the closer we will get to the government making the wearing of PFDs mandatory, all the time. Let’s not get to that point.