Monday, June 03, 2013

Life Jacket Changes

Busy week, but I thought I'd post tonight to share some interesting changes to the categorization of life jackets and possible changes to what types kids are allowed to wear. Facebook may be a ridiculously annoying thing at times but boy, sometimes you really do find out some interesting stuff. This one was thanks to Pat Byrne at Desert Sea. Pat is very active in the leadership of the Rio Grande Yacht Club in New Mexico, including being heavily involved in Race Committee activities. He does a fair amount of musing on his blog about safety issues - much more thoughtful posts, in many ways, than my usual parrotings of commonsense safe boating practices, and he keeps close tabs on boating regulation developments.

The life jacket discussion that a few of us had on my wall today started with my posting the photo above, grumbling, "Oh, West Marine, West Marine, why aren't your happy paddlers wearing life jackets?"

West Marine is a large and fairly well-regarded marine supply company - I shop at the Manhattan one fairly often and the staff there are very well-informed, know what they're talking about. I would expect this kind of omission from WalMart but I expect a better example from West Marine. In fact this bothered me enough that I passed it along to a friend who's professionally involved in boating safety in the tri-state area, thinking he might know somebody there who could do something about it, if not this time, than in the future. Well, at first he was similarly concerned but about five minutes later he came back and said that if you looked at the full-sized web version of the ad (click here), you could see that the couple actually were wearing belt pack inflatable life jackets. Oops. 

He was right, of course. It takes sharp eyes and knowledge that such things exist to realize that that's the case, and I think the message that kayakers should wear our life jackets would be better conveyed with a more visible device, but in a way the picture is spot-on - sitatop paddlers in a warm area with placid blue water are just the folks who might wear a beltpack where they'd be reluctant to wear anything bulkier, and as the saying goes, "The best lifejacket is the one you'll wear".The comments then went off into a discussion about the relative merits of the various types.

Through the whole thread, I was using the word "life jacket" and Joe from The Horse's Mouth mentioned that he'd been taught to say "PFD". I responded I had too but recently the ACA has been going back to "life jacket" because it includes the word "life", which is what the things can and do save if used properly.

That was when Pat came in with the information that that change had actually started with the Coast Guard and that that was only going to be the first of a number of changes that we could be seeing in terms and in labelling as the CG works to harmonize US standards with international ones. An additional legislative change involves the possibility of youth wearing inflatables - at this point they are not allowed to but that's apparently the subject of a lot of discussion. Got a youngster who doesn't like their conventional life jacket? Stay tuned, things might change.

Pat gave 2 links for further reading and they're both pretty interesting: 

1. slideshow describing the planning involved and showing some of the new labelling:

2. USCG boating safety page showing "life jacket" totally taking the place of "pfd" (although there is still a .pdf!)

Thanks again, Pat, I'm glad to be aware of it - it's good to know when these kinds of changes are in the pipeline.


Pandabonium said...

By all means, get folks to wear pfds or life jackets.

But guess what? 21% of all fatalities involved alcohol, and the leading single cause of improper vessel operation was alcohol. Sobering thought!

bonnie said...

Actually one of my closer encounters was alcohol-related - but not like you'd think. I was paddling past a motorboat anchored out near Breezy Point when one of the occupants threw a beer bottle out of one on the cabin windows. There was no one actually visible in the window so I think it was just a careless toss by someone who didn't realize that there could be someone six feet away from their boat, not a malicious one - the bottle splashed down within a foot or two of my boat, though.

Now there's a situation where the fact that I was wearing a lifejacket that keeps you afloat when knocked silly would have come in handy.

As it was, I sat there for a minute looking at the bottle, and at the window, and thinking how much I wanted to chuck the bottle right back in.

If it had been plastic instead of glass, I think I would have - that would've been funny and harmless. Glass bottle could've hurt somebody and would have smashed all over the floor. I left it alone.

bonnie said...

Do have to add - this post wasn't really about wearing lifejackets - I rambled around a lot getting to the point but the main reason for posting was to share the information about some of the other changes we'll be seeing to lifejacket categorization and labeling sometime in the near future. That was down at the end. Also only relevant to US boaters, really...

Frustrating part for me is that I had JUST finally gotten it planted in my number-resistant long-term memory that type 1 is the most super-serious type and as the numbers go up, the conditions for which the vest is suitable get tamer. Sigh.

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