Should Life Jackets be Mandatory for Teens Sailing?

Water sports are growing in popularity among teens and if you have a teen you already know how hard it is to get them to wear a PFD or lifejacket. They are deemed as uncool or the teen says they take away from their performance levels by hindering their mobility. Lifeshirt wants to change this. With out unique T-shirt design, instant inflation via ripcord our Lifeshirt is not only stylish but also protects them from the sun. I know my son forgets to reapply his sunscreen after it wears off and this shirt is nothing short of a blessing to me and his mother. Below are some more stories of teens and parental experiences in regards to lifejackets. If only they had a lifeshirt…

My son is in Sea Scouts. Most of the teens on the sailboat (about 40′ boat) don’t wear life jackets unless in bad weather. Here in Southern California the weather is usually nice and water temp not too cold. However, to me it seems like teens should wear them all the time when on the deck. Then again, I don’t have a lot of boating experience so maybe I am off base on this. My son pointed out how in sailing magazines most photos show people racing without life jackets. He appears to think that on a larger sailboat they are not necessary most of the time. However, I’ve read that statistically most drownings are not in bad or rough conditions. I’d appreciate comments from people with experience with similar sized sailboats on this topic either in support or opposition. Is it overkill to suggest that once you are outside the harbor you should always have your life jackets on? If you could give a little detail in your post about yourself such as how many years sailing / boating experience you have that would be great. Otherwise I’ll hear something like “That person probably doesn’t know what they are talking about.” or “They probably have only been on small boats.” etc…

It is never a bad idea to wear a PFD. Now speaking for my State, PFDs are only required for people being towed behind a boat (like when water skiing), riding on a jet ski, or for all children under the age of 6 if they are on a boat under 26 feet in length while underway. State laws vary, so I do not know what the law in California is.

I am kind of surprised that the Sea Scouts do not have their own requirements.

The most likely person to drown is an excellent swimmer in very good conditions. Why? Because the good swimmer thinks they can swim and therefore do not need the life jacket. This is what I have always heard, and it makes sense.

You may want to get him an auto inflatable life jacket. These things are lightweight and comfortable. I have an inflatable I wear all the time (or at least very frequently). In Florida (and maybe everywhere else) an inflatable does not count unless you are wearing it. So if I am stopped with 4 people and 4 inflatable life jackets – I still get a safety equipment violation ticket unless everyone is wearing one. You really do not even notice you are wearing an inflatable life jacket.

The cheap type II “horse collar” vests are very uncomfortable – and also the most common. The type III (ski vest type) can get hot and uncomfortable really fast. But the inflatables do not suffer from any of these traits.

Tell your son this. The USCG guys out on the 110 foot cutters are ALWAYS wearing a jacket while on deck. In smaller boats, the crew is always in a life jacket. Even the air crews wear life jackets. And if a 110 footer is still a “small boat” then you can also mention that everyone on the flight deck of a US Aircraft Carrier also wears a PFD. It is not about the size of the boat, or your abilities as a swimmer. It is about the fact that boats are on the water, and humans are land animals. On the water, we are out of our element.

On a sailboat, I think that it is even more important than a power boat to be in a jacket. I can turn my small boat around really fast. I can go from full speed to a dead stop and turn around to recover someone (or my hat) fast. I do not think a 40 footer under sail can just stop on a dime and turn around. Not with just a rudder to steer with.

You can also attach things to your life jacket. Like a signal mirror. If you ever do fall overboard, you are a coconut. Really. If your head is all that is above the water, you look like a coconut in a very big sea. It is very easy to loose sight on a man overboard. The PFD will be orange or yellow or some other bright color, which will make you easier to see.

I’m not sure what sea scouts is but in my teenage years I went to camps that catered to sailing, motorboating, and watersports for a total of 6 summers and am somewhat surprised to see that this program doesn’t have a policy where PFD’s are required. At these camps we sailed sunfish, 40’+ Catalina’s, and pretty much everything in between. No matter what the occasion, it was program policy for all campers to wear life preservers when in the water (besides swimming!).

On the recreational boating side, the option to dawn a life preserver is optional unless it is illegal as Iguana stated above. I personally choose not to wear one and regularly fish 40+ miles offshore in boats varying in size from 23′ to 58′. That doesn’t go to say that I don’t think about safety when on boats. I always make sure I know where all emergency gear is located (jackets, throw bag, flares, raft, etc..)in each vessel in case such an occasion should occur. Yes, some will say “You think about safety yet don’t think about wearing a PFD.” To certain people my reasoning may sound ridiculous, but I think a significant portion of the boating population does not elect to wear life jackets on their private vessel. Obviously their are staunch differences in opinion on this subject, and because it’s a personal decision, I would never dare to question somebody choosing to wear one when everybody else is not. Heck, on more than one occasion during nearshore charters this summer, the captain and myself would be the only ones NOT wearing PFD’s, but in no way was I uncomfortable and think that the choice to wear one is up to THAT person. Enough said.

“Is it overkill to suggest that once you are outside the harbor you should always have your life jackets on?”

IMO, yes it is overkill. For the time being, this is still a free country, and people still have a right to make their choices. The wearing of the PFD should be left to the discretion of the Captain and/or each individual crew member. I have sat in the middle of the ocean doing nothing more than drifting and all a PFD would have done is caused me to sweat even worse.

You asked about the responders sailing/boating experience.

Have been boating since I was born. Grew up sailing/fishing in RI waters, specifically racing J-35’s. Veteran of 3 Newport-Bermuda races, 2 Marion-Bermuda races, and 4 Marblehead – Halifax races. Have an additional more than half a dozen passages between RI and Bermuda.

I strongly suggest the Auto inflating suspender type PFD. It has a hydrostatic device that fires the inflator if it gets into 4 inches of water or more. This type of PFD allows freedom of movement and is more or less out of the way. If you get knocked into the drink it’ll pop open. If you’re moving around on deck it’s not too dorky. I actually think they’re pretty cool and high-tech.
There are also belt types that also are auto inflating, but aren’t effective at keeping an unconscious person upright.
I’m personally not too proud to think I’m not a klutz. To my thinking, going without a PFD is like riding a motorcycle without a helmet. You may go you entire lifetime without ever having an incident in which you’ll need it. It’s that one time that you do….

Just from a liability standpoint it’s hard to believe that a program like this wouldn’t have a PFD nazi on board. The first kid that drowns from not having a PFD will kill this deal forever. I’m sure whoever is underwriting the policy on this adventure would have a fit if they knew.

As RI points out, you can’t regulate away stupidity.

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