Life Jackets Float, You Don’t!

After the winter we had everyone is looking forward to warmer weather and outdoor activities. This week, May 17-23, also marks National Safe Boating Week. With that in mind I’d like to deviate from workplace safety to recreational safety, specifically enjoying Wisconsin’s fantastic lakes, rivers and streams.

Boating, fishing, kayaking and canoeing, are activities anyone can participate in, but please do so safely. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recorded 13 deaths resulting from boating accidents on Wisconsin waters in 2013. There was no specific pattern in the type of watercraft involved; they included rowboats, pontoon boats and open power boats. There was one common theme however; in 12 of the 13 fatalities, the victim was not wearing a life jacket and drowned.

Life Jackets

Life jackets have come a long way. They don’t have to be big, bulky and uncomfortable like those I wore as a kid. There are specialty life vests for most activities, such as fishing and kayaking that allow freedom of movement and relative comfort. For those over 16 years of age the newer automatic inflatable life jackets can be a very comfortable option – learn more in this video.

National Safe Boating Council, Inc.

National Safe Boating Council, Inc.

Along with wearing life jackets, it is important to have enough personal flotation devices of the correct type. For boats less than 16’ in length, including canoes and kayaks, you must have one Coast Guard Approved life jacket for each person on the boat. If you have a mix of adults and children on board you need child-sized life jackets that will fit each child. If you are boating on a Federal waterway, such as Lake Michigan, then children under 13-years of age must wear a life jacket if the vessel is underway and they are not below deck or in a cabin. You can view or download a copy of the Federal Boating Safety regulations from the Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Resource Center here. A copy of the State of Wisconsin Boating Safety regulations can be obtained from the DNR here.

You can purchase lifejackets most anywhere; I have seen the traditional horse collar type for less than $10.00. But when it comes to comfort, to a great degree you get what you pay for. If it isn’t comfortable neither you nor your family members will want to wear it. Make the purchase a family event – in this way the kids can help choose the life jacket they like and you can make sure it fits them properly.

Boater Education

As long as we are talking about boating safety, how about taking a boating safety course? Take the time to learn boating safety regulations first hand, which include the rules of the water roadway.  Believe it or not, you can’t always just head out onto a lake and go – there are regulations governing both speed and right-of-way, along with how your boat must be equipped.  Operating at night or in poor weather also adds another level of complexity and risk.

In Wisconsin if you were born after January 1st, 1989 you MUST complete a boating safety course to operate a power boat. Many boat owners have their children take a DNR Boating Safety class so that at age 12 they can operate a Personal Water Craft (PWC). Most DNR courses are relatively inexpensive – take the class with your children and make it a family affair! You don’t want to be embarrassed when the kids know more about safe boating than Mom and Dad! Boating safety courses are offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadron and Wisconsin DNR instructors. Most classes can be found by searching the DNR boating safety class website or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary website.

Does your company have a wellness program? Consider kicking it up a notch and including information in company newsletters and websites on boating safety. You can include web links to make it easy for employees to sign up for a boating safety classes. Safe boating materials are available from the North American Safe Boating Campaign administered by The National Safety Boating Council, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Consider these resources for a safe and fun year on the water!

-Tim Hoffmann

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