Part Two of my series for “May is National Water Safety Month” covers information on life jackets.
Any activity in and around water has potential for risk. As a former swim lesson instructor, I constantly taught children (and adults!) about water safety. I am always incredulous as to why parents send their young child out into a body of water without a life jacket. I smile as I see these two young children enjoying a day at the beach in their life jackets in this photo below.
Thankfully, Sacramento County has beaches with the “Kids Don’t Float” life jacket loan program. Adults don’t float either, especially if they have had a few too many adult beverages.
Not long ago, I heard the local news person interviewing people on the beaches of the Sacramento River. One gentleman said he always made sure there was a life jacket available…for his dog! He claimed he didn’t need one for himself. Hmmm, I wonder how he would hold up swimming under the influence of those adult beverages?
Life Jacket Safety
The US Coast Guard is the authority in determining safety of lifejackets. Other terms for these are life vests and PFDs or Personal Flotation Devices. Life jackets come in a variety of forms. The Coast Guard recognizes five types. Look for the wording “Coast Guard-Approved Type I,II, (etc).
Type I (Off-Shore)
This is the full life jacket intended for boating, racing, rough waters and stormy conditions. This PFD will turn most unconscious wearers face-up in the water. This style tends to be bulky and uncomfortable, but will keep a victim afloat indefinitely.
Type II (Near-Shore)
A popular style, these PFDs can be purchased for as little as $10. These are worn for day cruising, fishing and sailing, and for swimming in open water or swimming pools. This type is less buoyant and requires wearers to tread water to keep their head above water. This type will turn some unconscious wearers face-up in the water.
Type III (Flotation Aid)
This style of life jacket is the most popular and seen everywhere. These are recommended for boating, water skiing, fishing, paddle sports such canoeing, kayaking and SUP. More comfortable than either Type I or II, it will NOT turn an unconscious victim face-up in the water.
Type IV (Throw-able Devices)
These are throw-able devices such as a seat cushion or ring buoy and are not to be worn. These should be immediately available to throw over the side of a boat in case of an emergency. Not intended for unconscious, weak or non-swimmers.
Type V (Special Use Device)
The US Coast Guard recognizes several styles in this category, most notably the self-inflatable belt/vest popularly worn by boaters and paddlers to meet federal requirements. This type is also modified for windsurfing and other board sports to wear with wetsuits and harnesses.
With all life jackets except Type I, an adult should be within arm’s length of weak or non-swimmers who wear these.
Life jackets are also available for dogs and come in all shapes and sizes. Dogs can instinctively swim (dog-paddle), therefore a PFD is not required. However, when our dogs accompany us on our SUPs or kayaks at the river, their life jackets have a convenient handle in which to grab them when they decide to jump off!
Years ago, I heard a tragic story of a three-year old girl whose parents let her play on the shore of a lake. She happily splashed around in shallow water wearing her bright yellow water wings. Her parents got distracted and took their eyes off their daughter thinking she was protected. A passing boat stirred up a wake which surged onto shore, knocking the child off balance. Just minutes later, the parents found their daughter drowned, face down with her water wings firmly attached to her upper arms.
California Department of Boating and Waterways regulations require the following:
- If you are operating a boat, canoe or kayak of any length, you must carry a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board. If stored, they should be readily accessible.
- In California, children under 13 years of age must wear a properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while underway in a boat.
- The law also says any person on board a personal watercraft (like a Jet Ski) or any person being towed behind a vessel (as in water skiing or wake- or knee-boarding) must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
For example, if I go out on my stand-up paddle board or kayak without a visible life jacket, and the Department of Fish & Game or Coast Guard vessel approaches me, I can be fined!
When visiting beaches, swimming pools, or taking a boat cruise, if you are going to be on or near the water, please protect yourself and your family.
Here are several helpful links about life jackets.
Info-graphic from BoatUS Foundation: Different Life Jackets
Life Jackets aren’t just for boats— Red Cross.org
Children aren’t waterproof–APSP.org