For years the messages about wearing your Personal Floatation Device or PFD have been delivered by the boating safety community. “Boat Safe, Boat Smart – Wear It” and “It’s Your Life….Preserve It” are familiar to all of us who enjoy time on the water. So why do we continue to ignore the message, putting ourselves, our loved ones and friends at risk?
Research tells us that while the majority of us insist that our children wear their PFDs, adults are not as careful about their own safety. The willingness to wear a PFD drops from 85 percent for children under 5, to a low of 37 percent by they time they reach their teen years. So what’s the result of all this complacency and unwillingness to wear a PFD?
Across Canada, 89 percent of recreational boaters who drown each and every year were not wearing a lifejacket or PFD. Most of these drownings occur in small open power boats, accounting for 60 percent of these preventable deaths. A majority of these victims were males between the ages of 19 and 35, out for a day of fishing. An average of 140 unnecessary drownings occur every year, but even more startling is the fact that this figure is estimated to be 43 percent below the estimated actual figure due to misclassification of drowning information when the statistics were compiled.
Many boaters who drown believed they are good swimmers, so having a PFD on board and within easy reach might seem good enough. But what good is a PFD that is stored under a seat or under the bow going to be when the unexpected happens? Most drownings happen when small boats capsize or someone falls overboard. The PFD that you leave behind is not much use, especially in cold water.
In Canada, many boaters like to extend their boating season as long as they can so the water temperatures at the beginning and end of season can be very chilly. There are also parts of this country where water temperatures remain cold all year around. We’ve all heard about hypothermia which can lead to many problems such as disorientation and rapid incapacitation, but the real shocker is found in the new research on sudden cold water immersion.
Death from sudden cold water immersion happens very, very quickly. Research by Dr. Michael Tipton, a leading expert in cold water immersion has shown that the “gasp reflex” from sudden immersion has led to more deaths than previously known. The reaction causes a sudden uncontrollable gasp, followed by 1-3 minutes of hyperventilation. The initial gasp can cause you to inhale up to 2 litres of water, causing drowning. This volume of water will cause an individual not wearing a PFD to sink and not re-appear. If the first gasp of water is not fatal, hyperventilation will lead to the rapid onset of severe hypothermia and death.
So if the “gasp reflex” doesn’t get you initially, you still face the effects of hypothermia. In cold water your extremities will quickly numb making it very difficult to swim or to don a lifejacket in the water and rescue yourself. The onset of the second set of symptoms leading to death by hypothermia can occur even if we end up in water as warm as 60 degrees. Being in cold water for an extended period of time can result in severe hypothermia, which causes your body to begin shutting down, resulting in death from cardiovascular failure.
So the message is clear. Having your PFD on before you end up in the water will greatly increase your chance of survival. But most boaters don’t. The common reasons stated for not wearing a PFD are: “they’re uncomfortable;” and “it’s not fashionable.” Well that doesn’t fly anymore. Things have changed and there is a new generation of PFDs and Inflatable PFDs that are much more comfortable than the old standard lifejackets, which puts these objections to rest.
In Canada there are three common types of approved flotation devices for use by recreational boaters: Lifejackets, Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) and Inflatable PFDs.
Lifejackets when worn properly will turn the user over face up, due to the use of frontal flotation and collars. All approved lifejackets are available in youth and adult sizes and must be red orange or yellow.
Approved PFDs are lightweight, comfortable and available in a wide range of styles and colours, designed for the type of boating you do and conditions you face. There are PFDs for paddling, sailing, fishing and high impact PFDs for water sports and personal water craft. Whatever your activity, there is a PFD suited for it.
The most comfortable lightweight approved PFD or lifejacket you can wear is one of the new Inflatable PFDs, available in vest or pouch styles. Both of these types are manual Inflation PFDs, but a few models are available with automatic inflation which instantly inflates the PFD when you hit the water. The pouch style requires the wearer to be conscious and to place the inflated vest over their head to be fully functional. To meet Canadian Small Vessel Regulations, inflatable PFDs must be worn at all times when aboard and underway and may not be worn by person under the age of 16, or weighing less than 36.3 kilograms.
When choosing a lifejacket of PFD follow these simple guidelines. Choose one that is suitable for the activity you are involved in and check the label to make sure that it is Canadian approved and is of the correct size. And lastly, make sure it fits snuggly and is comfortable.
So there you have it. No more excuses for not having the right lifejacket or PFD……. and no more excuses for not wearing it. Boat Safe – Return Safe. Enjoy your time on the water and “have many happy returns.”