The Coast Guard can’t STRESS this enough:

By Wayne Spivak
National Press Corps
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

Each year, needless lives are lost to boaters of all types of vessels, simply because they chose not to wear their life jacket!

There appears to be a “highest risk boating group,” with approximately 74%1 of all fatalities attributed to not wearing Personal Flotation Devices (PFD’s - more commonly referred to as a life jacket)/ This high-risk group are the participants in Paddlesports, which include kayakers, canoeists, and rafters.

Two Kayakers Drown on Martha's Vineyard October 14

A fishing trip on Sengekontacket Pond turned tragic when two men from Oak Bluffs drowned accidentally several hours after paddling a one-person kayak out to a sandbar and casting their lines. …. Although Massachusetts regulations require life vests be worn from September 15, neither man had a pfd with them.

Two years ago a police officer died on Tisbury Great Pond. He had been paddling on a rough day, using a recreational kayak and had no life vest. – From

Interestingly enough, with the exception of Massachusetts and California, most states don’t require any special equipment to be carried by Paddlesporters. Federal law does not require PFDs on racing shells, rowing sculls and racing kayaks; state laws vary.

For example, in New York State, all recreational pleasure crafts are required to have PFD’s, Since Paddleboats, by definition are not mechanically propelled, Visual Distress Signals are not required, nor an anchor or Sound Signals (one could debate this statement, as the language is not clear). The only other requirement would be a navigation and/or anchor light, should the vessel be out between sunset and sunrise or in reduced visibility.

The Massachusetts law is now amended to read:

Chapter 90B of the General Laws is hereby amended: Section 5C. Any person aboard a kayak shall wear at all times a Coast Guard approved personal flotation device of Type I, II, or III. Kayaks shall also be equipped with a compass and a whistle.

This is not to say that loss of life is only delegated to Paddlesports. The Federal government passed a law last year (2003) requiring all children under the age of 13 to wear a life jacket.

The Coast Guard requires that children under age 13 aboard recreational vessels wear personal flotation devices (PFDs), or lifejackets. During 1995–1998, 105 children under 13 died in the water, 66 of them by drowning. This rule should reduce the number of children who drown because they were not wearing lifejackets. - Federal Register / Vol. 67, No. 39

In 2002, the Coast Guard reports that 440 lives could have been saved, if boaters just wore PFD’s. One category of fatality is by drowning. 524 deaths were due to drowning. 6% of those people were wearing PFD’s, 84% were not. In the Paddlesports, 112 people drowned, with only 4% wearing PFD’s. Wearing PFD’s saves lives.

PFD’s come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and price points. PFD’s have been modified from the days of the horse-collar Type II vest (still available, and costing approximately $15) to the modern, form fitting (both male and female), colorful, Type III and Type V Personal Flotation Devices.

Adams County girl drowns when kayak flips in Yough -Victim is 3rd killed this summer at deadly rapid Monday, September 18, 2000

…Littlestown, near Gettysburg, had previous whitewater experience on the Yough and was wearing a life jacket and helmet when the accident occurred at about 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Dimple Rock Rapid, about four miles downstream from Ohiopyle in Fayette County.

The current had stripped off her life jacket. It had been recovered, still buckled, on Saturday, a short distance downstream. -

It is imperative that whenever you wear a PFD that it fits properly. Properly includes snugly with all straps cinched. An improperly fitted or worn PFD will not provide the appropriate buoyancy.

Type III and Type V PFD’s are made so that the jacket will keep your head above water, in a face up position (which requires the user to maneuver to a face-up position). Only Type I (off-shore) or Type II (near-shore) PFD’s are made to turn a person automatically face-up. In addition, Type III and Type V PFD’s are to be used in relatively calm, protected waters.

Paddlesporter’s who participate in their sport in either open-ocean, large bays and lakes, or white-water should strongly consider Type I or Type II designated PFD’s. In addition, it may also be advisable for Paddleboaters to use a crotch strap, should they paddle in areas that have strong currents. Use of a crotch strap could prevent having your PFD from being stripped off.

Many boating organizations, whether they be Kayaking or Canoeing, Power Boating or Sailing have catchy phrases to entice you to wear your PFD. The best one I’ve seen goes like this: Boating smart from the start – wear a life jacket. It floats…you don’t.

What’s nice about this is it’s easy to convey, in words, in actions, in life.

For more information about the Coast Guard or Coast Guard Auxiliary contact you local United States Coast Guard unit.

1) American Canoe Association: “Critical Judgment: Understanding and Preventing Canoe and Kayak Fatalities” ( issued in 2003