Your Life Jacket Only Works If You Wear It
Going without a life jacket doesn’t make you look cool. It makes you look like a rookie.
By Steve Griffin
Thanks to the wide range of life-jacket designs and styles available to today’s boater, it’s possible to wear one that makes you look well-dressed, not hassle-clad.
You might remember the clunky, orange life preserver of long ago: sure to keep you afloat if you tumbled into the water or had a boat mishap, but almost as likely to make you clumsy, overheated and otherwise looking for an excuse to remove it.
Fast-forward to inflatable suspender-style or belt-pack life jackets so unobtrusive that bass pros fill livewells with fish while wearing them; inherently buoyant (foam) vests, some specifically designed for comfortable paddling or high-speed watersports; camouflage outerwear that houses USCG-approved flotation; children’s jackets with characters or color schemes kids love to wear.
In short, there’s an array of bright, stylish and comfortable life-preserving gear that every member of the family can enjoy wearing afloat. No matter the season—and boaters do stretch their season well beyond summer—there’s a life jacket that makes it easy and comfortable to stay safe.
After all, the US Coast Guard’s 2018 Recreational Boating Statistics Report indicates that where the cause of death could be determined, 77 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned—and of those whose life-jacket use could be determined, 84 percent were not wearing one.
How’d it happen? Almost half of those deaths resulted from falls overboard; next most numerous were deaths resulting from swamping or flooding. You might have an instant to grab a life jacket in the second category, but not the first. Having life jackets aboard isn’t enough—wear ’em!
Maybe you’re a strong swimmer, but those skills fade quickly amid fatigue, cold water and waves. Consider that two-thirds of drowning victims in 2018 were described as good swimmers.
As an outdoors writer often on the water, I find many charter captains are surprised when my first question coming aboard is the location of the life jackets. I want to know; they might be too busy dealing with a problem to direct me later, when the chips are down.
And when I’m a guest boarding a private boat, I take along my own life jacket, adjusted to fit, familiar to don and doff. It seems to remind others to locate life jackets—and sometimes, to put one on.
Boating can be—and nearly always is—a fun, safe and enjoyable activity. But if you’re elbowed when a fish is drawn near the net or clobbered by the boom of a sailboat or rocked by an unexpected wave, the jacket you’re wearing is the one that can save you.
And today, you can do it comfortably and even stylishly.
“Wear It” is the motto of the National Safe Boating Council (safeboatingcampaign.com), which adds: “A real boater is always ready for the water.”
One doesn’t look foolish in a life jacket. One looks responsible.