May 26, 2017

Boating Crash Course: PFDs and Lifejackets

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The first time I went boating it was a small group of family friends in Muskoka, Ontario and we were having the perfect getaway weekend. We enjoyed sun-drenched weather all week and the views of the water from the boat made for the ultimate Instagram shots! Deciding to take a leap into the lake from the boat to cool off, we double checked our life-jackets were secure and hopped into the water…

Unfortunately, I did not bring my own safety equipment and was at the mercy of whatever the host had available. As a result, what I ended up with was an old, ratty looking life-jacket that could easily have been worn by my great-grandfather. When I jumped into the water, the life-jacket proved to be much too big, pretty much engulfing me as soon as I hit the water. Luckily, the weather was good and the water was relatively shallow, so the only issue was the embarrassing (albeit hilarious) photograph my friends took of me being swallowed by my personal floatation device. But, in an emergency situation, this would have been dangerous, and could have proved disastrous!

Life-jackets are an essential part of boater safety, and it is your responsibility as a captain to provide well-fitting life-jackets to all passengers in your boat; even if it’s man-powered. Going for a slow row in your canoe with a friend? You’ll need two life-jackets. Taking a tour around the harbour with your family? Make sure that each passenger has a life-jacket that fits them properly and strap yourselves in. Going fishing alone? Wear your life-jacket! Also, be aware that there are different life-jackets recommended for different activities. You wouldn’t go wake-boarding in a fishing life-jacket, so make sure you know what safety equipment to use, and when.

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When choosing a PFD or life-jacket, it is important to note how it fits you; it should fit snug, but not too tight. It is important to check that your device is appropriate for your size and weight; a life-jacket that’s too small won’t keep you afloat and a life-jacket that’s too big may not keep your head out of the water. Be aware of the additional safety features on children’s life-jackets, which should include a collar neck and head support, reflective tape for additional visibility, as well as a strap for between the legs to securely fasten the vest.

Your device should be checked at the beginning of every season and on a regular on-going basis to make sure that it is still in working condition. Perform buoyancy checks throughout the year by wading into water, ensuring the device doesn’t allow your chin to submerge. Check the straps for signs of wear, and make sure that you store and care for the device properly. Ideal locations for life-jacket storage are easily accessible and well ventilated areas of the boat, away from any chemicals or gasoline. Neglected safety equipment runs the risk of wearing out faster and due to typically wet and warm environments, causing them to be unfit for use; life-jackets could start growing mould if not cared for properly. Your lif-jackets need to be approved by Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard or the Fisheries and Oceans of Canada in order to be deemed ‘serviceable’, so their seal of approval is an important thing to watch out for. To  check  if your life-jacket is approved, take a look at the label on the inside of your jacket or PFD.

BOATsmart! is your authority when it comes to boating safety and training. Our official boating course is approved by Transport Canada will get you certified to be out on the water in as little as three hours. You can even print out a temporary license as soon as you pass our exam. Register for your course now and we’ll even throw in two spare license cards so you’ll never have to worry about forgetting yours at home.

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