Are Lifejackets Truly Important?

Family with lifejackets

To some people, lifejackets are an indispensable and mandatory piece of safety equipment. To others, lifejackets only need to be worn by kids and those inexperienced at sea. Just how important is it to wear a lifejacket when you’re on a boat? And do they really increase your safety?

The Lifesaving Power of Lifejackets

In case you aren’t familiar, lifejackets are specially designed floatation items that are placed around your torso during aquatic activities. There are many different types of lifejackets, but most of them work the same way.

If you fall in the water or lose the ability to control your body in the water, a lifejacket will serve to keep your head above water, keeping your airways open and allowing you to continue breathing until help arrives. Additionally, lifejackets are designed to keep you warm, so if you fall into cold water, you’ll have a better chance of maintaining a healthy body temperature until help arrives.

The lifesaving power of lifejackets isn’t an exaggeration, either. More than 90 percent of drowning victims are found not wearing a lifejacket.

Lifejacket Laws

If you’re not convinced about the safety impact of wearing a lifejacket, you should know that most areas have laws or regulations in place that require you to use lifejackets (or at least have them available). For example, the United States Coast Guard mandates that when a vessel is moving, all children under 13 years old must wear lifejackets; state laws vary on when lifejackets must be worn at other times and by other people. However, the USCG recommends that wearable lifejackets are readily accessible on every boating vessel – even when local laws don’t mandate this.

Laws and regulations in Europe vary significantly, so make sure you understand the laws in your chosen area before you go boating there.

Common Objections to Lifejackets (and Why They’re Wrong)

Despite the fact that it’s a legal requirement to wear a lifejacket in most areas, and the clear fact that lifejackets can save lives, some people still refuse to wear one. Usually, these people will use some combination of the following excuses:

  • Lifejackets are uncomfortable. Some people complain that lifejackets are uncomfortable – that they’re bloated and bulky, or that they get in the way of your mobility. For some lifejackets, this may very well be true. However, because there are so many different types of lifejackets available, you can likely find a type that’s more comfortable and accommodating. Even if you don’t, a bit of temporary discomfort is a reasonable price to pay for boating safety.
  • I’m a good swimmer. If you feel like you’re a competent swimmer, you might scoff at the idea of a lifejacket – but even good swimmers can drown. If you’re far from shore, if the currents are against you, or if you’re tired and disoriented, even the best swimmer isn’t going to survive without a lifejacket.
  • I’ve never fallen overboard. A long history of remaining on the boat should give you some confidence that you’re not going to fall overboard. But accidents can happen even without historical precedent. Sudden winds, a mechanical failure, a collision on the sea, and other sudden occurrences can send you overboard without warning.
  • It’s not illegal to go without wearing a lifejacket. Just because it’s not legally mandated in your area doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea, or that it’s not important. It’s not legally mandated to use an oven mitt when handling hot trays from the oven, but most people do it to keep themselves from getting burned; similarly, you shouldn’t use the law as the exclusive arbiter of what is or isn’t an important safety decision on your boat. 
  • As long as they’re nearby, we’re safe. Some laws dictate that while lifejackets don’t have to be worn, there does have to be a lifejacket for every passenger onboard – and those lifejackets need to be readily accessible. This leads people to think that if they can be grabbed during an emergency situation, that’s plenty safe enough. While this is certainly important, it’s not going to help you much if you fall overboard unexpectedly. For this reason, it’s often better to wear a lifejacket at all times.

How to Use Lifejackets Properly

There are several important things you’ll need to do to use lifejackets properly.

  • Buy reliable lifejackets. First, make sure you’re buying high-quality lifejackets. Not all lifejackets are made to the same standard, and not all lifejackets afford you the same degree of protection. Do your research before committing to a purchase.
  • Buy lifejackets you’re going to wear. With so many options available, it’s hard to choose the best lifejacket option. But if you’re on the fence, go with an option that’s more appealing to you. Any lifejacket you like to wear is going to be valuable, especially compared to a lifejacket that simply stays stowed away.
  • Use properly fitted lifejackets for all passengers. All passengers on your boat should have ready access to lifejackets that properly fit them. If the lifejacket is too big, it could easily slip off. If it’s too small, it can be constricting.
  • Inspect lifejackets before use. Before using lifejackets or heading out to the water, inspect your lifejackets. If they look worn or damaged, or if they’re leaking, discard them and replace them before venturing out again.
  • Be an example to others. Remember that wearing a lifejacket isn’t just about protecting yourself; it’s also about setting a good example for others.

You don’t always have to wear a lifejacket while boating or participating in aquatic activities; in some areas and in some conditions, it may not be a legal requirement. Even so, it’s a good idea to keep your lifejacket on whenever your boat is in motion – and possibly at all times. If you’re interested in upgrading your current vessel, or if you just want to see what other yachts and boats are out there, make sure you browse TheYachtMarket’s selection of new and used boats for sale today!

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