When I first sat down and thought about writing this article I wondered at what level should I pitch it at? What information do most of the readers have already and what information could I give out that the average reader might find new or useful.

Among the subjects for discussion would be the difference between Life Jackets and Buoyancy Aids, the different types of Life Jackets and the new legislation concerning the carrying and wearing of Personal Flotation Devices ( PFDs) on Leisure Craft.

There is no point I thought, in explaining why people should wear Life Jackets in the first place ……..Surely every one knows at this stage????   Apparently not!  Last Summer, I was working on one of the School Training Boats at Hodson Bay Pier for the afternoon.  Not counting larger boats (Cruisers etc.) I must have seen some 30 small craft ( RIBs, Speed Boats, Fishing Boats etc.) come and go at the pier. Each boat had from 2 to 6 people aboard about half of whom were children.  Approximately half of all these people were not wearing or carrying a PFD of any kind. All this within weeks of the Wexford tragedy!

I am sadly convinced that there will be a Wexford type tragedy on the Inland Waterways in the future. The simple truth is that Life Jackets save lives!  Life jackets should be worn at all times when on an open boat and when on deck on a larger boat or Cruiser. 

There has been since July 2001, an absolute legal obligation on any “skipper” (Including you, a leisure user on your 18 foot lake boat) to carry one lifejacket for every person aboard and to ensure that children under 16 are wearing them at all times!

The regulations on the wearing of lifejackets or PFDs came into force in June 2004.  Among other, it obliges:

  • the master of a non-mechanically propelled pleasure craft (e.g. a rowing boat) shall ensure the boat carries a suitable personal floatation device or lifejacket for each person on board;
  • the Master of an open non-mechanically propelled pleasure craft of less than 7.0 metres length overall, shall ensure that a suitable personal floatation device or lifejacket is worn by every person on board at all times, other than when the craft is made fast to the shore or anchored; 
  • The master of a non-mechanically propelled pleasure craft shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that a person who has not attained the age of 16 years shall, at all times, while on the deck of the craft, wear a suitable personal floatation device or lifejacket.

Putting on a lifejacket in the middle of a Marine accident is a bit like trying to fasten your seat belt in the middle of a car crash.  People say to me “ Sure, I can swim! I don’t need a Life Jacket” The fact is that if you swim, you halve your survival time in the water by burning up essential energy which could be keeping you warm, conscious and alive. If you go unconscious either from a knock or through Cold / Hypothermia, the chances are that you will lie face down in the water and drown. If you lose consciousness through Hypothermia, you may still have 30 to 60 minutes of life left in you. A life jacket will buy you that extra time.

Wearing a life jacket will keep you afloat with out having to use vital energy. It will keep your head and face out of the water so even if you do go unconscious you are not at as much risk of drowning.