What is a PFD? A PFD is a “Personal Flotation Device.” The device is designed to prevent drowning. Every year, over 500 recreational boaters drown in U.S. waters. The United States Coast Guard reports that of the 500 drowning deaths, 400 of these drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket. If it’s a device that can save lives, why do so many people choose not to wear them? In this article, we present and debunk four myths about PFDs.

Myth #1: “It’s a sunny day. There is no danger out on the water.”
Most boaters underestimate the unpredictability of weather on the water. This is especially true in the summer. Nice days can quickly turn stormy. Winds can pick up at any time, and add a substantial chop to calm waters. Even the most experienced boaters underestimate how quickly a boat can swamp, with the passengers left stranded, swimming in the water. Avoid disaster by wearing a life jacket at all times. You will be better prepared to handle any instant change the weather has in store.

Myth #2: PFDs are hot and uncomfortable.
This complaint may have been true a decade ago. However, today, most life jackets aren’t actually “jackets.” Many companies have created versions of life jackets that are inflatable vests, with belts that are thin and lightweight. These PFDs are easy to carry, store, and wear, even in the summer heat. Explore your options. Many brands have redesigned jackets to fit a variety of tastes. But, as you’re shopping, make sure that the jackets are coast guard approved. When you purchase the jacket, be sure the jacket fits properly. You should not be able to lift the jacket up over your head when it is buckled.

Myth #3: “Good swimmers don’t need life vests.”
Yes, being able to swim is helpful, but it is no substitute for a PFD. This is true for two reasons. First, people underestimate distance and overestimate their abilities. In a boating accident, don’t be deceived by the distance from the scene of the accident to shore. A swim that looks like it may be close to the shoreline, could really be a mile away, or more. Further, a person can tire easily from a swim that’s a mile or more, particularly if there is a strong current. Second, if you are knocked unconscious during a boating accident, it is unlikely that you will be able to swim and stay afloat once in the water. A life jacket can keep you afloat until help arrives, even if you are not able to swim.

Myth #4: “Only wimps wear a life jacket.”
I actually had a fellow boater tell me this at a gas dock. Our culture has developed a stigma around wearing life jackets. The stigma is, that if you wear a life jacket, you look weak and inexperienced. Most people think that you only need a life jacket if you are racing a boat or are experiencing severe weather out on the water. But, you never know when you may need a life jacket. As pointed out in the previous debunked myths, a perfectly clear day can cause problems for boaters. Wearing a life jacket isn’t wimpy; it’s a security measure. A life jacket is the equivalent of a seatbelt in a car. You wouldn’t leave the driveway without buckling your seatbelt in your car, would you? So, why  take the chance of leaving the dock without a life saving device? Safety should always come first.

Pennsylvania law requires that people in kayaks, canoes, and boats less than 16 ft. in length wear life jackets. While people operating boats larger than 16 feet are not required to wear life jackets, as mentioned previously, it is strongly recommended. Don’t become the next drowning statistic. As we’ve illustrated in the debunked myths, why take the unnecessary risk of not wearing a life jacket? Change the stigma. Make safety stylish again.

Source: PropTalk Magazine, Upper Bay Boating, June 2018,”Why Do So Few Boaters Wear PFDs?” By: L. Alan Keene
This article is not legal advice. For legal advice, call Graham & Mauer, P.C. today.