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#QuickTips- Why Boaters Need Their PFD

By: Bill Jennings

Boat at dock with life jackets
Miguel A Amutio / Unsplash

I've been dumped a lot -- and not just by women. I have made several sudden unscheduled departures from boats. The common denominator to every one of these incidents was, I did not expect it. Racing, accounted for most of my evictions, but it can easily happen while pleasure boating in good weather.

A boat can "hook" in a tight turn, snapping to a different direction and leaving you in the water before you notice any directional change. A boat can pop upwards on a wave, lifting passengers up and out the back of the boat. Sudden steering input to avoid an obstacle or because of a steering malfunction can instantly insert innocent passengers into the lake.

As with a car, any sudden course change leaves your body wanting to keep going straight ahead. When this happens, you will either get tossed out of the boat, or you will impact something inside the boat. Of the two, leaving the boat might be the least injurious option, providing you are wearing a life jacket.

For reasons like these, authorities will tell you to always wear a life jacket when boating. I am not going to tell you that, because I know you won't listen. Boaters are happy to share with me the good reasons why they believe a flotation device is not necessary. Refer to this list when people ask why you don’t wear one. To be fair, I have added my observations in response to boater’s comments.

1) A personal flotation device only provides 15 lbs of buoyancy, so why bother?

This is true, but that extra flotation is super helpful when you hit cold water and experience the "gasp reflex."

2) My boat has high sides, so I doubt that I will get thrown out.

A practical benefit of wearing a jacket is its ability to soften the impact you may be subjected to should you strike an object inside the boat. I will bet that most of you have had some experience with that.

3) I don't swim, so I would probably drown anyway.

Maybe there is someone who cares, and a type I jacket will turn you onto your back so that your mouth and nose are clear of the water, even if you are unconscious.

4) We boat close to shore and I can swim to a nearby dock.

Statistics show that you may not make that dock. Most drownings occur within 100 yards of shore.

5) PFD's are too bulky to be comfortable.

Buy an inflatable PFD. They are light and feel just like a towel around your neck while providing 34 lbs of flotation when inflated. Some inflate manually and some are automatic.

6) Wearing a life jacket is not cool.

You must be a teenager. Just remember, most people will think you are smart.

7) And the number one reason people don't wear a life jacket is:

"I won't need one today."

Wait -- Have you already forgotten that boaters never expect an accident.

Okay-- I've passed along some lifesaving facts. Give them some thought before you put on your favorite T-shirt to go boating.

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