Life jackets: They Only Work if You Wear Them | Sports & Recreation

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Life jackets: They Only Work if You Wear Them

Last year, 79 people died in boating accidents in Florida; 49 of them drowned.

“If people would simply wear life jackets, many lives would be saved each year,” said Maj. Paul Ouellette, regional commander for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Northeast Region.

The law states that there must be one properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board the vessel, and that children under the age of 6 must be wearing theirs.

Simply having life jackets on board is not enough. FWC officers who perform safety checks on vessels often find them in compliance in the strict sense of the word, but many times the life jackets are not easily accessible. Instead, they are stowed in a compartment and require several steps to retrieve. In fact, sometimes they are still neatly wrapped in the original plastic wrap from the manufacturer.

“In an emergency, there is usually no time to go digging around for a life jacket, let alone unwrapping it and then trying to adjust it so it doesn’t fall off in the water,” said Joy Hill, public information coordinator for the FWC’s Northeast Region. “Sinking boats usually go down fast, and people who have been ejected often end up unconscious, so it’s extremely important that people wear the life jacket or, at the very least, have it readily accessible.”

Many people complain that wearing a life jacket is hot and cumbersome, but with the U.S. Coast Guard-approved inflatable life jackets, that argument is no longer valid.
“Some of the life jackets in the past were bulky and uncomfortable but with the inflatable life jackets available today, that’s not the situation,” said Ouellette. “The lightweight harness fits around your neck and upper body and you don’t even know it’s there. Some newly approved life jackets are in the form of a belt pack, and both types are available in manual and/or automatic inflatable models.”

If a person goes overboard, the automatic inflatable types inflate instantly without the wearer having to do anything. The manual-inflate types have an easy access cord that the wearer must pull for it to inflate.

Prices for the new generation inflatable life jackets begin around $69, which is a bit more costly than the older, collar styles, but a small price to pay to save a life.

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