When it Comes to Boating Safety Equipment,
Your Life Jacket (PFD) is Just the Start
Additional Equipment Can Help Save Your Life
by Wayne Spivak, National Press
Corps, United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
Federal, State and Local laws
require that every vessel should have a Personnel Flotation Device (PFD) or life
jacket for each person on board a vessel. These laws go on to say that these
PFD's must be readily accessible, in case they are needed in an emergency.
The concept of "readily
accessible" confuses many boaters. We in the Coast Guard Auxiliary know this to
be true, because we find life jackets in the strangest of places when we conduct
a Vessel Safety Check (VSC). Readily accessible means that you can instantly
locate, remove, distribute and don your PFD's in the fastest time possible.
I think everyone would agree
that if you run out of gas, your powerboat's engine wouldn't run. And, if you
have no source of electrical power, your boat's electronics won't work.
So if we continue on with
these comparisons, if you are not wearing a life jacket already, and you can't
get to your PFD's quickly, and put them on before your vessel sinks, then when
your vessel does sink, and/or you fall overboard and you end up in the water,
you're not going to have a PFD on.
Obviously the Coast Guard
Auxiliary, as well as the Coast Guard and most of the major recreational boating
safety organizations, would prefer everyone to wear the PFD at all times while
you are underway, thus eliminating the need fro this entire discussion. But,
since less than one out of four adult boaters actually wear their PFDs while
underway, the law requires that your life jacket be readily accessible, in order
to comply with the regulations.
What is considered readily
accessible? That concept is often best explained by looking at examples of what
is considered not readily accessible. A PFD is not considered readily accessible
when stored in the bottom of a locker, or kept in its original plastic bag, or
left down in the bilge, where it can become partially destroyed by lack of
Remember, without a PFD, your
chances of survival decrease dramatically. Drowning remains the number one cause
of death in boating fatalities, and approximately 90 percent of those who drown
did not have a PFD on.
Like having your seat belt on
before a collision, having your PFD on before you are thrown into the water can
mean the difference between life and death.
Additional Safety Equipment
A PFD by itself is just the
beginning. Members of the Coast Guard and Auxiliary are required to carry
additional safety equipment on their PFD's. This equipment, although not legally
required, has and does save lives every day. Let's take a look at some of this
additional equipment, and how it works.
The first item we'll discuss
is a signal mirror, which can be seen over 10 miles away. Recently, three
boaters were rescued when they used a signal mirror to attract a NYPD
Helicopter. What is clear is that without the mirror, our "hapless sailors" as
the Daily News called them, would have spent a great deal more time waiting for
help, and one of the three might have died from exposure.
So, the first item we
recommend you attaching to your PFD is a signal mirror. Either purchase a PFD
with a pocket, or sew a pocket on, and place the mirror in your pocket. Make
sure you tie the lanyard that attaches to mirror to another part of your PFD.
This way, if you take out your mirror to use, and drop it, you won't loose it!
The second item of additional
equipment that we suggest you have on your PFD is a whistle. Marine whistles
have no peas (the ball you'll find for instance in a police whistle), which
allow them to work, even when slightly submerged. Why a whistle? Because they
typically have a range of a half mile or greater, and your voice will never be
heard over the waves and the wind should you go overboard. Again, use a lanyard
for the whistle so if you drop it while in the water you won't loose it. The
Coast Guard requires its members to carry a whistle attached to their PFD's with
The third item we suggest is a
strobe light. The Coast Guard requires its members to carry a strobe that you
can turn on, when and if you go overboard during the night. A strobe can be seen
for miles in the dark.
The fourth item is reflective
tape. That's the same type of tape that is worn on firefighter jump suits,
police rain coats, buoys and other items that need to reflect light at night.
Affix the reflective tape to your PFD on the top of the back and in front. This
way, should a light be shown in your direction, a reflection will be seen. My
Coast Guard/Auxiliary PFD has reflective tape.
The fifth item is personal
flares. These small flares, which are carried in the pocket of your PFD, are
used when you find yourself in need to attract attention, while in the water.
Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel are required to carry flares if we are going
into non-protected waters (i.e., the ocean).
The last item we in the Coast
Guard are required to carry, and suggest that you have access to as well, is a
safety knife. This knife, which has a straight 6 – 8" blade with a blunt tip and
serrated edge for cutting and ripping, is also attached to our PFD.
All these items add to our
safety, and they can add to your safety. The overall cost is small; especially
when you consider that they can save your life.
If I had to limit myself to
the two most important items to attach to every PFD on board, I would choose the
2 items that are easiest to learn to use, and lightweight – the signal mirror
and signal whistle. Your children can use them, your grandparents can use them,
they take very little energy, and as our "hapless sailors" found out, they work.
This year, why not invest a
few dollars on safety; by making sure all your PFD's are in good condition and
purchasing some extra equipment that the Coast Guard family and I hope you never
have to use.