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Life Jackets Save Lives – Yours!

By Vincent Pica

Assistant National Commodore, Recreational Boating Safety, United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

For many years, we referred to life jackets as “PFDs” – Personal Flotation Devices. Jeesh, can the lawyers get over it? OK, not everyone in a life jacket survives. Roughly only 14 out of 16. Conversely, for every 16 boaters that go into the water without a life jacket, only one comes out. The other 15 died. Life jackets save lives. This column is about that.

The Statistics

Boaters end up in the water for a variety of reasons but the two largest – capsizes and falls overboard – comprise nearly 60% of all fatalities. Let me rephrase that. A fatality is a death – let’s not mince words like “PFDs.” 

But you are experienced. Well, another statistic I’ve seen is this: Boaters who have over 100 hours of boating experience – and are 35 or older – and who have NOT taken a formal boating safety class – account for over half of all boating accidents. Oh, they are also responsible for over half the fatalities – deaths – too. If you haven’t taken a boating safety class yet, or haven’t taken one in a long time, email me below and I will help you find one in your neighborhood. And, if you have been smart enough to take a boating safety class, remember this: You’re not alone out there.

Unless You Had Your Life Jacket On When You Went Into The “Drink,” you’re not getting it on. Unless you try this idea, which I thank friend and colleague CAPT John Konrad for detailing.

Learn this 30-Second Lifesaving Skill!

It’s easy to don (put on) a life jacket or inflatable vest in the cabin or cockpit. Just like a coat, you stick one arm through a hole; swing the jacket around your back; then stick your other arm through the other hole.


However, this sequence of actions will be impossible to duplicate in the water. Most of your body will be submerged with just your head and shoulders exposed above the sea surface. You must use a simple, little-known method to don any life jacket in the water.

Practice this important skill in the comfort of your home. Train your crew. After two to three minutes of practice, most folks can do this in less than 30 seconds.   

Follow these five easy steps.

1.  Grab the collar of the life jacket. Pull the life jacket close to you. Turn the jacket so that it floats with the front pointed toward the sky. Unclip all snaps and straps.

2.  Open the life jacket all the way so that it lies almost flat on the water surface. Keep the collar close to you.

3.  Thrust each arm as far as possible through each arm hole.

4.  Raise both arms in a smooth, fast motion above your head and slightly back.

5.  Fasten all snaps and straps.


Practice this at home:

✔ Kneel down next to a table about chin height.
✔ Place the life jacket on top of the table.
✔ Follow steps 1 – 5 above.
✔ Practice until you can complete all steps within 30 seconds.
✔ Train your sailing crew.  

What to Wear by Whom?

USCG regulations require a life jacket aboard for very boater aboard unless they are under 13 years old. Then they have to be on. But didn’t I make the point above that if you do fall overboard and you don’t have one on, it is pretty unlikely you’ll be able to get into one? Isn’t it too late then? Yes, yes, yes! So why only have the kids wear it? And all those kids, seeing dad not wearing one, are saying to themselves, “I can’t wait until I’m old enough not to wear one…” What a lesson you’re teaching, skipper. 

I’ll tell you a story that ought to bring the point home. One fine day while patrolling Moriches Bay, we came upon a family fishing in an open boat. It looked like there were children aboard and further we couldn’t see any with life jackets on. As we approached, I heard the grandfather say to one of the kids, “Get down, the Coast Guard is coming!” Unfortunately for grandpa, sound travels well over the water and I heard it at the helm. As we came alongside, I gave the wheel to one of my crew and walked up to where our boats were closest together. All I said to grandpa was, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”  We watched, without another word, as all the children put their life jackets on.

Oh, They Are So Bulky!

Come on, bunky, are you still using the ones from the Titanic? Modern life jackets come in many sizes and many colors, and are as light as a feather. You can get them in “camo” mode for hunting; you can ones that self-inflate if you do fall in; you can get them in matching colors! You can even get children’s style that have a loop at the collar so you can scoop them up, one-two-three, if the tyke falls in!  And don’t forget one for the old sea dog – and his pet.

If you are interested in being part of USCG Forces, email me at JoinUSCGAux@aol.com or go direct to the D1SR Human Resources department, who are in charge of new members matters, at d1south.org/StaffPages/DSO-HR.php and we will help you “get in this thing.”

Captain Ed Cubanski is the Captain of the Port and Sector Commander for US Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound. Captain Cubanski is responsible for all active-duty, reservist and auxiliary Coast Guard personnel within the Sector. Vin Pica, Assistant National Commodore for recreational boating safety nationally, works closely with Captain Cubanski and his staff to promote boating safety in the waters between Connecticut, Long Island and 200 nautical miles offshore. Sector Long Island Sound Command Center can be reached 24 hours a day at 203-468-4401.


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