Take a step to save a life: Wear life jackets properly when on the water

Published on Wed, Apr 24, 2013
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Boating season has arrived and, as always, boaters are hoping for a memorable boating summer. Part of spring commissioning has to include safety issues, including life jackets.

No one plans to fall into the water, but being prepared and wearing your life jacket can save your life. Even good swimmers 
will tire quickly in the cold 50-degree waters surrounding the San Juan and Gulf islands. Life jackets and personal floatation devices (PFD) are designed to keep you afloat while you wait for rescue or work on rescuing yourself. 

Life jackets work best when properly worn. They should not be used as a seat cushion or stored away under a seat. According to “Adventures in Boating Handbook,” provided by the Washington State Parks boating division, all vessels (including non-motorized watercraft such as kayaks, canoes and sailboats) are required to have at least one U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)-approved type I, II, or III life jacket for each person on board. 

Washington state law also requires that children 12 years old and younger wear a USCG-approved life jacket at all times when underway in a vessel less than 19 feet in length, unless in a fully enclosed area. Children’s life jackets should be properly fitted based on their size in order to prevent it from slipping off over their heads. 

Copies of the handbook and U.S. Coast Guard’s safety tips for recreational boaters are available for free at the Blaine Harbor office located at 235 Marine Drive. 

The handbooks and other boating related information can also be viewed online at the Washington State Parks website (parks.wa.gov/boating) and at the Coast Guard Auxiliary website.

Blaine Harbor office participates in Boat U.S. Foundation’s life jacket loaner program for children. Life jackets are available to families who do not have enough life jackets aboard their boat. Only a limited number of life jackets are available, so borrowers are asked to return them to the office as soon as possible. 

Boaters should remember that Washington state requires boat operators ages 12 years and older to pass a boating safety course and obtain a boater education card before operating a motorized vessel of 15 horsepower or greater. 

More information on the boater education card can be found at parks.wa.gov/boating/boatered.