NOTE: I’m sharing my thoughts on life jackets with the kayak fishing/kayaking community. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment below this article!
The subject on life jackets and whether small craft anglers should wear it or not becomes a very sensitive topic in the kayak fishing/kayaking community. It’s not ignorance that refrains an angler from wearing their life jacket nor is it lack of experience that encourages an angler to wear their life jacket; it’s a matter of choice. In most states, it’s legal to not wear your life jacket, as long as it’s in your vessel and in a reachable distance in case of capsize/emergency. Of course, there are anglers who promote and advocate for kayak safety by encouraging others to wear their life jackets; but that’s all it is: encouragement. Nothing is being forced onto anyone as long as it’s within legal regulation.
I wear a life jacket not because I’m an inexperienced swimmer or fear capsizing. I can swim just fine and I know how to re-enter my kayak if I ever do capsize. I even have a kayak re-entering video for proof! Click Here. There are many reasons why I wear a life jacket, but here’s a few…
…Because anything can happen. The water is unpredictable and proactiveness is key in preventing accidents. Modern technology is great when it comes to predicting weather forecast the next day or even the next week, but there’s a reason why water forecast is not a thing… I’ve seen and have helped rescue groups from river floats on beautiful days. No matter how great of a swimmer you are, you cannot outswim a river current, also adding the factor that river sweepers, rocks, and fallen trees below the water surface can easily entrap an arm or leg. Wearing your life jacket will not change the water condition, but it will make you visible to rescuers if anything was to go wrong.
…Because life jacket floats and I don’t. I’ve heard excuses from larger individuals claiming PFDs will not work properly due to their physique. That is why there are so many life jackets in the watercraft business! If you haven’t purchased a life jacket beyond a Type II life jacket, then you may want to do more research. And if you don’t know what a Type II life jacket is, then definitely do research! There are tons of articles and sites sharing knowledge and information about what PFD to wear (I may potentially write one in the future). There is a life jacket for you; it’s a matter of going that extra mile to find it. Life jacket’s purpose is to make the wearer stay afloat. Eventually, a body will stay afloat, after they’ve drowned… If you are ever unsure if your life jacket will support you, test it out at the beach or pool.
…Because it reinforces positive PFD wear rate. Take the time to view the following article by the JSI Research and Training Institute, Inc. on the life jacket wear rate from 1999-2017 and analyze the trend of paddle craft PFD wear rate: http://uscgboating.org/library/national-live-jacket-wear-study/2017-Life-Jacket-Wear-Rate-Observation-Study-Report.pdf. I have also attached two tables from the article below this paragraph. It’s interesting to see the differences between adult PFD wear rate versus youth PFD wear rate. It’s clear that youth are wearing PFD more than adults, but does the title “Adult” push individuals away from wearing life jackets? If you’ve read the article, you’ll see that within Figure G under the kayak section, the wear rate is actually lower than what’s shown below (which is the average for all paddle craft); same goes to canoers. Youth PFD wear rate has increased in the past six years, but why have adults’ PFD wear rate still relatively the same since 1999? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this…
…Because I may save a life. If wearing my life jacket encourages others to wear theirs as well, I will continue to do so. All the photos and videos that I post on social media will show me wearing a life jacket on the water (if you do see a photo of me without one on, scold me!). I’d like to model positive life jacket wear and the best way to influence action is if I do so. I’m not calling myself an influencer, but an advocate for life jacket wear. I would hate to hear a victim of drowning on a paddle craft say, “I did not wear my life jacket because so-and-so didn’t wear theirs either.” I’ve been kayaking for six years [and counting] and have capsized on my kayak; I know the struggle of re-entering a kayak while simultaneously trying to gather all my personal belonging; it never goes as planned, because you never plan to capsize in the first place. Now, add to that struggle trying to reach for your life jacket in your kayak as you try to shuffle all your personal belonging on and below the water surface. Your life should always be your top priority; wearing your life jacket will reduce that negative mindset because you’ll know that you’ll stay afloat. Others need to see that as well; that wearing a life jacket can reduce the foreshadowing of capsizing.
Just know there’s no harm in wearing your life jacket. Wear it like a clothing attire. If it’s uncomfortable, purchase a more comfortable one. I wear mine so often (every time I’m out) that it’s now part of my kayak fishing routine. If I don’t wear it, I don’t venture out onto the waterways.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts on life jackets. Do you usually wear yours? Vote below!