Do Life Jackets Right
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the authority on boating safety, drowning prevention begins with requiring all boat operators to have wearable life jackets for each person aboard. Choosing the proper life jacket takes a bit of knowledge and effort, but it really comes down to remembering three simple rights: the jacket must be the right type for the activity, the right size for the wearer, and in the right place to save lives.
Kayakers who stick to calm waters may not need the type of jacket designed for ocean-going boaters, but it’s certainly OK to invest in one. On the other hand, someone venturing out on rough waters shouldn’t buy a life jacket suitable for water skiing on a lake. Check the manufacturer’s designations and speak to a knowledgeable salesperson about the type of boating you do. What’s most important is having a jacket that withstands the impact and offers maximum protection for your chosen activity. Then check out modified designs such as an integrated harness to keep you tethered to a sailboat or a high-cut waist that won’t ride up while sitting in a kayak.
We’d never buy shoes without trying them on, and we wouldn’t purchase a life jacket that way, either. Look at the manufacturer’s recommended height and weight range for a jacket that appeals to you. When you find your size, put it on, adjust it correctly, and fasten it properly. Hold your arms up over your head and ask a shopping companion or salesperson to tug upwards gently from the tops of the arm openings. Despite what the label may proclaim, the jacket is just not the proper fit if rises up over your chin or higher when pulled. Try another size or move on, starting the process again with a different style.
Today’s life jackets are not all unisex blocks of foam wrapped in orange material. Depending on who’s boating, seek out the displays of jackets contoured for women, customized for kids, crafted for physical limitations, and comfortable enough for companion animals.
Life jackets for children and pets should allow for easy movement. If they can’t walk in it without it chafing or flapping about, they can’t swim in it, either. In addition to proper fit, buy jackets with handles that facilitate grabbing and hanging on for easier retrieval. Never introduce a small child or furry family member to a life jacket for the first time on a boat. Let them get used to wearing these unfamiliar items in familiar places, preferably at home.
Be a savvy shopper: Before purchasing any life jacket, look at the manufacturer’s warranty and the store’s policy on returns. We recommend re-checking fit in shallow water before heading out for a day of boating.
The proper type and size scenes are different when it comes to inflatable life jackets or belts. Regulated inflatables may only be worn by adults weighing at least 80 pounds. If you can’t swim, avoid them. (They are also unsuitable for active watersports.) Follow manufacturer’s directions for replacement of cartridges or pills that activate inflation.
Though it’s highly unlikely someone will grab Fido’s life vest by mistake in an emergency, it’s a good idea to mark names boldly on the outside of those designated for your boat’s regular passengers and crewmembers. (That’s why you went to the trouble of ensuring the proper fit.) Have more life jackets than you need in various sizes for new passengers. When they board the boat, help them select which available jackets would be best for them.
State requirements vary for who must continuously wear a life jacket on a vessel (except in an enclosed cabin or below deck), but here’s the right rule of thumb: No life jacket can do its job while hanging on a hook. As the majority of boating-related fatalities are drownings, increase the effectiveness of a life jacket by wearing it.
Short of everyone wearing their life jackets, the captain must ensure jackets are readily accessible (not stowed away) — everyone aboard must know the exact location. Unwrap plastic from newly purchased jackets, remove the price tags, and, whether new or old, check jackets before each outing to ensure that straps aren’t twisted or tied. Life jackets aren’t puzzles to be solved. They must go on easily and fast if the situation arises.
Videos on choosing life jackets for kids and dogs