National Safe Boating week is celebrated year after year right before the Memorial Day weekend. It’s a kickoff promotion of not only safe boating, but also the use of personal floatation devices (PFDs). Many people call them life jackets.
This past holiday weekend was the season opener for boaters who got out for the first time this year. The Chicago lakefront, the Fox Chain ‘O Lakes, the Chicago, Illinois, Fox, and CalumetRivers all had hundreds if not thousands of boats out for a great weekend of boating and fishing fun.
Illinois requires that a PFD is available for every passenger on a boat and it must be the appropriate size for the person wearing it. Sure, a boat owner may have the best adult PFDs available but if a small child is on board, his or her PFD must fit properly too.
When ever a boat is underway, every child under the age of 13 on board must wear a PFD. This applies to all boats under 26 feet in length. Persons using a personal water craft, like a jet ski, must wear a PFD at all time regardless of age.
A suggestion that I have for boaters is to inspect the PFDs to ensure that they are serviceable. Fabric and foam filled jackets will deteriorate with age. Most often a PFD is stored in a compartment where it can become subject to moisture that can cause mold, mildew, and rotting.
Some PFD are inflatable. They are comfortable to wear because they are less bulky, but again, make sure they work. Look at the directions for your specific model. If you can’t find them, look online. You’ll see how to check the inflatable PFD. In most cases it’s a matter of opening the unit and inflating it with the mouthpiece. Fill the PFD with air and let it sit overnight to see that it does not leak. Sure, you can pull the rip cord to inflate the unit, but you will have to replace the air cartridge.
Every boat must have a throwable cushion or life ring. They are used to toss to a passenger that goes overboard. The cushion or ring should have least 50 feet of rope attached. Remember, a boat can easily drift away from someone in the water and the length of rope will be the life line that brings them to safety.
Let’s make boating safety week a summer long practice. Last year there were 102 boating accidents on Illinois waters resulting in 71 injuries and 25 fatalities. The Illinois DNR reports that 12 of the 25 people who died, may have survived if they were wearing a PFD.
It amazes me that a person can purchase a boat with a 200 horsepower motor and drive off on a lake or river with having any formal education or instructions. There really is a lot more to boating than pushing the throttle forward and steering. Take a boating class.
The Illinois DNR offers free boating safety courses. These educational programs are designed for boaters of all ages. Young boaters, ages 12 to 17 must successfully complete a boating safety course in order to get behind the wheel. Free safety course schedules are listed on the DNR web site at http://dnr.state.il.us or you can call 800-832-2599.
Eighty-five percent of all boating accidents that occurred last year involved operators who had no formal boat safety education. Don’t be a statistic. Learn about boating, wear your personal flotation device, and enjoy a safe summer on the water.