Coast Guard News

Life Jackets Save Lives – Yours!

For many years, we referred to life jackets as “PFDs” — Personal Flotation Devices. Sheesh, can the lawyers get over it? OK, not everyone in a life jacket survives. Roughly only 15 out of 16. Conversely, if the same group goes into in the water without life jackets on, only one guy will come out. Life jackets save lives. This column is about that.

The Statistics

Boaters end up in the water for a variety of reasons but the two largest — capsizing and falling overboard — comprise nearly 60% of all fatalities. Let me rephrase that. A fatality is a death — let’s not mince words like “PFDs.” Remember, for every 16 boaters that go into the water without a life jacket, only one comes out. The other 15 died.

But you are experienced. Well, another statistic I’ve seen is this. Boaters who have over 100 hours of boating experience, and are 35 or older, and who have NOT taken a formal boating safety class, account for over half of all boating accidents. Oh, they are also responsible for over half the fatalities — deaths — too. If you haven’t taken a boating safety class yet, or haven’t taken one in a long time, email me below and I will help you find one in your neighborhood.

And, if you have been smart enough to take a boating safety class, remember this. You’re not alone out there.

Unless you had your life jacket on when you went into “the drink,” you’re not getting it on.

Unless you try this idea, which I thank friend and colleague Capt. John Konrad for detailing.

Learn this 30-Second Lifesaving Skill!

It’s easy to don (put on) a life jacket or inflatable vest in the cabin or cockpit. Just like a coat, you stick one arm through a hole, swing the jacket around your back, then stick your other arm through the other hole.

However, this sequence of actions will be impossible to duplicate in the water. Most of your body will be submerged with just your head and shoulders exposed above the sea surface.

Practice this important skill in the comfort of your home. Train your crew. After two to three minutes of practice, most folks can do this in less than 30 seconds.

Follow these five easy steps.

1. Grab the collar of the life jacket. Pull the life jacket close to you. Turn the jacket so that it floats with the front pointed toward the sky. Unclip all snaps and straps.

2. Open the life jacket all the way so that it lies almost flat on the water surface. Keep the collar close to you.

3. Thrust each arm as far as possible through each arm hole.

4. Raise both arms in a smooth, fast motion above your head and slightly back.

5. Fasten all snaps and straps.

Practice this at home:

Kneel down next to a table about chin height.

Place the life jacket on top of the table.

Follow steps one to five above.

Practice until you can complete all steps within 30 seconds.

Train your sailing crew.

What to Wear by Who?

USCG regulations require a life jacket aboard for very boater aboard unless they are under 13 years old. Then they must be on. But didn’t I make the point above that if you do fall overboard and you don’t have one on, it is pretty unlikely you’ll be able to get into one? Isn’t it too late then? Yes, yes, yes! So why only have the kids wear it? And all those kids seeing dad not wearing one are saying to themselves, “I can’t wait until I’m old enough not to wear one.”

What a lesson you’re teaching, skipper. I’ll tell you a story that ought to bring the point home. One fine day while patrolling Moriches Bay, we came upon a family fishing in an open boat. It looked like there were children aboard and further, we couldn’t see any with life jackets on. As we approached, I heard the grandfather say to one of the kids, “Get down, the Coast Guard is coming!”

Unfortunately for grandpa, sound travels well over the water and I heard it at the helm. As we came alongside, I gave the wheel to one of my crew and walked up to where our boats were closest together. All I said to grandpa was, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” We watched, without another word, as all the children out their life jackets on.

Oh, They Are So Bulky!

Come on, Bunky, are you still using the ones from the Titanic? Modern life jackets come in many sizes, many colors, and are as light as a feather. You can get them in “camo” mode for hunting. You can get ones that self-inflate if you do fall in. You can get them in matching colors.

You can even get children’s styles that have a loop at the collar so if tykes fall in, you can scoop them up, one-two-three. And don’t forget one for the old sea dog — and his pet.

BTW, if you are interested in being part of USCG Forces, email me at or go direct to the D1SR Human Resources department. The folks there are in charge of new members matters will help you “get in this thing.”