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Skill Builder: Floating to Safety

Boaters should wear life jackets on Texas waters.

By Tim Spice

Like seat belts, life jackets really aren’t sexy or fun. But in that one moment when your life depends on a personal flotation device, a life jacket is your best friend.

Seventy percent of all boating fatalities result from drowning and happen in calm conditions near shore. Nearly 85 percent of those who drown were not wearing a life jacket.

Here’s the law for boat operators in Texas: All life jackets must be of the appropriate size for the intended user, in serviceable condition, readily accessible and Coast Guard approved. For most of us, that’s a mouthful. Let’s break it down.

Does your life jacket fit properly? Manufacturers size life jackets according to a person’s height and weight, so when fitted properly they will help keep your head above water. If it’s too big, the life jacket will ride up around your face when you’re in the water. If it’s too small, it will not have enough flotation to keep you above water.

Life jackets

Life jackets are appropriate for all ages and all boating activities.

Take these three steps to ensure that your life jacket fits properly.

1. Choose the best type for your activity. There are many different types of life jackets, some designed for water sports, some for fishing and some for other activities. Beyond the standard orange horse-­collar, there are many different designs such as high impact, belt packs, float coats, inflatables and hybrids. Gender-specific life jackets are available for some sports.

2. Try it on for size. Once you choose the style of your life jacket, check the label for your height and weight and try it on. Make sure it is fastened properly. Some children’s life jackets have straps that go underneath for added stability. Tighten all straps firmly; they should not be loose.

3. Test it. Hold your arms straight up over your head and have someone gently pull up on the tops of the arm openings. If the jacket rides up over your face or chin, it is too large. Get the next smaller size and try it. Next, try sitting down with the life jacket on. Again, if it rides up, it is too large. This procedure is particularly important when choosing a child’s life jacket. If it is too large, the child could slip out of it. The jacket should fit snugly but not be too tight.

Now that we have a properly fitted life jacket, we can talk about the last three considerations of the law.

A “readily accessible life jacket” means that in an emergency, everyone on board your boat can find and physically put one on in five seconds or less. That sounds like a short amount of time, but in an emergency you will not have a lot of time to react.

“Serviceable” means no rips or tears, no broken straps or buckles. If your old life jacket is faded and worn, maybe it’s time for a new one.

“Coast Guard approved” means there is an approval statement on the label of the life jacket.
All vessels must have a life jacket for each person on board, and children under 13 must wear a life jacket on boats under 26 feet in length when the boat is underway.

For your safety, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recommends that in addition to having the proper life jackets, everyone should also wear one when boating on the waters of Texas.

To watch TPWD’s “The Eternal Instant: When Life Jackets Matter,” go to http://youtu.be/H8WBkBoYJNg.


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