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VOL. 12 NO. 5
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A life jacket primer

Choosing the perfect life jacket

A life jacket primer

Federal and state regulations require that recreational boats carry a minimum of one readily accessible wearable life jacket of the proper type and size in serviceable condition for each person on board. Boats over 16 feet long must also carry an immediately accessible throwable flotation aid.

Nine out of 10 drownings occur in inland waters, most within a few feet of safety. Most of the victims owned life jackets but died without them. A life jacket can save your life if you wear it.

Get the right size lifejacket
Most adults only need an extra 7 to 12 pounds of buoyancy to keep their heads above water. A life jacket gives you that extra lift, and it’s made to keep you floating until help comes. It’s important to get the right size personal flotation device.

Your weight isn’t the only factor in finding out how much extra lift you need in water. Body fat, lung size, clothing and whether the water is rough or calm, all play a part. Read the label on your life jacket to make sure it’s made for someone your weight and size.

Try on and test out your life jacket
Try on your life jacket to see if it fits comfortably snug. Then test it in shallow water to see how it handles.

To check the buoyancy in the water, relax your body and let your head fall back. Make sure your life jacket keeps your chin above water and you can breathe easily.

Be aware: Your life jacket may not act the same in swift or rough water as in calm water. The clothes you wear and the items in your pockets may also change the way it works. If your mouth is not well above the water, get a new lifejacket with more buoyancy.

Before you shove off, make sure everyone on board is wearing a life jacket with all straps, zippers and ties fastened. Tuck in any loose strap ends to avoid getting hung-up.

Caring for your life jacket

  1. Don’t alter your life jacket. If yours doesn’t fit, get one that does.
  2. Don’t put heavy objects on your life jacket or use it as a kneeling pad or boat fender. They lose buoyancy when crushed.
  3. Let your life jacket drip dry thoroughly before stowing it in a well-ventilated place.
  4. Don’t leave it on board for long periods when the boat isn’t in use.
  5. Never dry your life jacket on a radiator, heater or other direct heat source.
  6. Put your name on it if you’re the only wearer.
  7. Practice throwing your Type IV personal flotation device. Cushions throw best underhanded.
To learn more, take one of our in-depth boating courses.
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