They're called life preservers and life jackets for a good reason - they save lives.
I'm a single father with four boys, and we live aboard full time.
We all wear our life jackets, unless we're below decks or on dry land. It's one of those rules on our boats that the children don't dare breach. I lead by example, and wear mine all the time as well. We don't just do it when we're under way, but at the dock as well. To me it's not an issue of whether one of us might go for an unplanned swim, but when it will happen next.
I've been questioned and criticized repeatedly for this policy of mine. I don't ever get tired of answerring for it, hoping that maybe I'll change an attitude and save a life while I'm at it. Maybe by taking the time to write this I'll be able to change a few more minds on this issue...
There's a marina rule here that children 13 and under must wear a life preserver at all times on the docks, but I still see kids regularly around here without them. I'll often offer their parents to loan them one of ours, and here a reply that they have one already, it's on the boat. We keep our's in the cars, as well as on the boat. A life preserver on the boat isn't going to do much good if the kid takes a dive while heading down the dock. Often I'll see the kid ten minutes later running around, and they still don't have a life jacket on.
Can't your kids swim ? Yes, mine all can. Most boaters I know can swim. But falling off a dock or a boat isn't the same as going to take a dip in the hotel pool. There is often some injury involved in one of these accidents. It doesn't take splitting a skull on a cement dock to disable a victim. More often there's a twisted leg or arm involved as they go into the water. In many places there's instant shock caused caused by chilly waters. Even if the waters are nice and warm, there's a mental shock of surprise that affects judgement.
A factor that too few boaters consider before an unplanned dip is how they're going to get back out of the water. Most of the docks I've been to are covered with oysters and barnacles. I've seen many instances of torn up legs, feet, and bodies on folks who tried to climb out of the water onto the dock.
There have been many instances over the years where I've fished my neighbors out of the water, not just members of my own family/crew. Just last month we had a dock party here at Bayland Marina, and one of the neighbors didn't make it back home to his boat before walking off the dock. Drinking was a contributing factor. Fortunately, he managed to swim over to a nearby boat with the a swim ladder, and climb out on his own. He's a large man and not in the best shape.
Another incident we were witness to had a much worse consequence, death. We used to call Curtin's Marina on the Deleware River in Burlington, NJ our home port. Sailboats there use a floating dock across from the marina, and us blow boaters had to dinghy across to our boats. One of my neighbors was an older gentleman who'd been sailing out of there for about twenty years. One late summer evening he was stepping into his dinghy after a day sail, and he slipped. It's only about six feet of water there, but it was the last his wife ever saw of him. The allarm went up quickly, and the New Jersey State Police Deleware Marine Patrol headquarters is next door to Curtin's Marina, as well as the Burlington Marine Rescue Squad located at Curtin's Marina. The search went on for hours into the evening, with a net deployed across the channel, divers searching the water, and the river being dragged for the body, but he was never found. Hindsight is always 20/20, and I'm willing to bet he would have been wearing a life jacket if he could have seen his future.
Comfort is the objection I most often hear cited for not wearing a life jacket. We most often use very comfortable water sports style jackets on our boats, and we're all very comfortable in them. When wearing modern self inflating life preservers you can barely feel them at all. Appearances, maybe ? As I wrote earlier, I don't ever mind sticking out in the crowd as the guy wearing a life jacket.
Other steps to help insure against a bad happening around the boat are to keep a swim ladder or two ready for use, both on the boat, as well as on the dock. Keep boat poles handy for fishing a victim out, and let folks know where they are. Keep float rings and other throwable flotation devices around, and remind yourself and crew that those cushions aren't just for sitting on. Man overboard drills are a good idea at the dock, as well as under way.
I'll hope at least some readers will have their minds changed by this article, and wish you all safe boating. God Bless.
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(c)Copyright 2006 by Eugene Kashpureff