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"Boat Smart from the Start.
Wear Your Life Jacket."

Life jacketsEach year approximately 700 people die in boating-related accidents - nine out of ten victims were not wearing a life jacket. In an effort to combat these alarming statistics, the 1999 Boat Smart From The Start National Safe Boating Campaign during National Safe Boating Week (May 22-28, 1999) will help raise consumer awareness. The campaign is designed to reach more than 80 million boaters around the country and communicate this year's message: "Wear Your Life Jacket! Boat Smart from the Start".

Americans are increasingly heading to the water for recreation and relaxation as the opportunities for on-the-water activities increase each year. With this growth comes additional responsibility. It is essential that both novice and experienced boaters alike practice safe boating habits, such as wearing a life jacket. This year's theme "Boat Smart From the Start. Wear Your Life Jacket." recognizes that boating safety begins long before the boat leaves the dock. Recent year averages indicate approximately 88 percent of the people who died in boat accidents were not wearing life jackets.

The Right Life Jacket for You!

Life jackets are personal flotation devices (PFDs) and come in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes and materials. Some are made to be more rugged and last longer while others are made to protect you from cold water. No matter which life jacket you choose, be sure to get the one that is right for you. Select a PFD based on your planned activities, and the water conditions you expect to encounter. Remember, spending a little time now can save your life later. United States Coast Guard (USCG) approval means that the PFD has passed rigorous testing. So, always look for the USCG approval number on any life jacket you buy. Be sure to read the manufacturer's label and the "Think Safe" pamphlet that is attached to the device. Valuable information is contained within these resources.

A special note regarding inflatables:

Inflatable PFDs are available in adult sizes only, are comfortable for continuous wear in hot weather and provide high flotation when inflated. They are good for adult swimmers involved in general boating activities. Because inflatable PFDs will not float without first being inflated, they are not considered appropriate for use by non-swimmers or weak swimmers, unless worn inflated. They are not for use by children younger than 16 years of age or by persons weighing less than 80 pounds.

Inflatable PFDs use a replaceable CO2 gas cylinder as the primary means for inflating the PFD. They can also be inflated by blowing into an oral inflation tube. There are two types of inflation systems being offered on inflatable PFDs. One is called a manual inflation and requires the user to jerk on a pull-tab (lanyard) to inflate the PFD. The second is called manual-auto inflation and this type includes a back-up system designed to automatically inflate when the PFD is submerged. The manual-auto type PFD can also be inflated in the same manner as with the manual type. The CO2 gas cylinder is good for only one inflation.

To keep the PFD in a serviceable condition, a used CO2 cylinder must be replaced with a new one after each CO2 inflation. A PFD that is not properly rearmed can only be inflated using the oral inflation tube. Some users may need assistance to properly rearm their PFD's inflation system. The user must check the status of the inflator and cylinder before each outing. Inflatable PFDs must not be worn under restrictive clothing because automatic or accidental manual inflation could restrict breathing and cause injury or death. Inflatable PFDs are not suitable for use in whitewater, with personal watercraft or while water-skiing, tubing, knee boarding or other similar activities.

How Do You Test Your PFD?

Inherently Buoyant PFDs: Put your life jacket on. It should fit properly with all zippers, straps, ties and snaps correctly secured. Ease yourself into the water or walk into water up to your neck. Lift your legs and tilt your head back, in a relaxed floating position. Your mouth should be out of the water and you should float comfortably without any physical effort. If the life jacket rides up, try securing it tighter to your body. If it still rides up, you may need a different style. You should be comfortable and able to swim without significant restriction. You should have someone else to act as a lifeguard or assistant if you are uncomfortable with being in the water or are trying this activity for the first time.

Inflatable PFDs: If you do not wish to test the CO2 inflation system, remove the CO2 cylinder (and if the PFD has an automatic feature, remove the water-sensing element). Put your life jacket on and fully inflate it. Then test it like an inherently buoyant PFD.

Because of the design, ride-up is generally not an issue with inflatable PFDs. The amount of buoyancy provided with inflatable PFDs will probably require the user to swim using some form of side or backstroke, as it will be difficult to swim on your stomach when the PFD is properly secured.

Related Articles:
What kind of life jacket do I need?
How to read PFD labels
Care and maintenance of PFDs
BoatSafe Kids:
Do I have to wear my PFD?
How do life jackets work?
Why are life jackets orange?

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