Proper life jacket style, fit key to safe boating
April is a deceptive month.
It feels warm, especially in comparison to the cold days just past. It’s sometimes, if not always, sunny, and the days are longer.
But don’t be fooled, not if you are a boater or angler.
Water temperatures in April can still be downright cold, to the point of being dangerous. It’s why the ratio of boating fatalities to boating accidents is, in most places, significantly higher in April than in even May, let alone June, July and August.
There’s one simple thing all boaters can do to up their odds of surviving any mishap, though. Wear a life jacket, or PFD, for personal floatation device.
Boaters who wear their PFD are statistically far more likely to survive a boating accident than those who don’t. Just be sure to get the right one for you and your style of boating.
According to the Boat U.S. Foundation, life jackets are classified as:
Type I: These are meant for commercial boaters who are cruising, racing and fishing offshore, or when boating alone, or in stormy conditions. They’re best for open, rough or remote water where rescue may be slow to arrive. They won’t turn unconscious wearers face-up in the water.
Type II: You know the old “horse collar” life jackets every summer camp and livery provides you with? That’s these. Meant for inland day cruising, fishing and sailing, they’re good for boating in light craft, but not overly comfortable.
Type III: These are the life jackets probably worn by most recreational boaters. They’re good for sailing, water skiing, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and during personal watercraft operation. They’re generally pretty comfortable and, in certain models, will turn an unconscious boater face up.
Type IV: These aren’t life jackets per se. They’re actually cushions, or “throwable devices,” meant to be tossed to those who have gone overboard. They might be square, round or even horseshoe shaped.
Type V: This is a catch-all, meant to cover everything not included in the four above categories. This includes whitewater vests, paddling vests, float coats and the like.
Some life Type II and III vests made of a type of foam; they’re called “inherently floatable,” meaning they work with no additional tweaking. They’re sometimes bulky, but dependable and require little maintenance other than keeping them dry and out of the sun.
Others are inflatable. They keep you afloat only after you pull a ripcord attached to a CO2 canister. They’re lighter and cooler, but more expensive and need to be checked regularly to make sure the canister is full.
No matter what kind you get, make sure it fits.
To test that, put the life jacket on, secure it, then have someone lift it at the shoulders. If it slides up over your chin, it’s too big.
And finally, when buying a life jacket for very small children, look for one with a grab strap – so that you can lift them out of the water – behind the head floatation and crotch straps.
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