May 21-27 may be National Safe Boating Week, but we encourage all boaters to boat safe year-round. Follow along this week as we provide tips to help you stay safe while out on the water.
Written by Paul Newman, Coast Guard 11th District Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
On May 1, 2016, a 28-year old woman, on her first date with a friend, drowned when she fell off her stand-up paddleboard.
Witnesses saw her fall off, struggle to get to the paddleboard that was being blown away by the wind, and then she went underwater. The air temperature was 80 degrees but the water was only 51 degrees. She may have drowned due to cold shock or cold incapacitation.
Her date, and her life, ended tragically because she wasn’t wearing a life jacket.
Cold-water shock and cold incapacitation kill hundreds of people every year in the U.S., even in warm weather. Cold shock is that instantaneous gasp and hyperventilation you get when plunging into water less than 70 degrees. If you survive that and try to swim – because you’re a “good swimmer”– your arms and legs will soon stop working due to cold incapacitation.
This is why a life jacket is so crucial.
A life jacket buys you time to catch your breath when you fall in the water. It buys you time to try to rescue yourself and get back on your boat or personal watercraft. If your boat has drifted away and you’ve used up your energy trying to get back to the boat or swim to shore (it’s farther than it looks) then the life jacket buys you time to float and wait to be rescued.
Recently, a man and wife were enjoying a spring day of boating on a lake in Arizona. They anchored for a while, but when they tried to pull up the anchor, it was stuck. The man took off his life jacket to jump in the water and free the anchor. He drowned quickly in the 55-degree water.
These stories repeat themselves hundreds of times each year; the deaths are preventable.
Of course, the usual arguments for not wearing a life jacket haven’t changed in decades: “It’s uncomfortable.” “It’s too hot.” “I’m a good swimmer.”
None of those arguments hold up in today’s world. Life jackets come in all shapes, sizes and colors to fit whatever water activity you‘re doing, from paddling to wakeboarding, from whitewater kayaking to slowly cruising on a stand-up paddleboard.
Inflatable life jackets come in belt pack and over-the-shoulder styles. They come in manual and automatic modes so you can decide when you want the life jacket to inflate.
Simply put, there are no more excuses for not wearing your life jacket. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor. Wear your life jacket and live to love them another day.
The 2015 Recreational Boating Statics show that 85 percent of boaters who drowned were not wearing a life jacket. Of the 22 children who died while boating in 2015, 10 of them were not wearing life jackets.
To learn more about Coast Guard boating safety, visit the Coast Guard boating safety website. You can also download the Coast Guard mobile app for boating safety to help stay safe during all your water activities.