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    Saving Lives on Our Nation's Waterways

    Saving Lives on Our Nation's Waterways

    Photo By Pamela Doty | By R.J. Garren read more read more



    Story by Pamela Doty 

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Water Safety

    The government saved countless lives on our nation’s waters when they implemented the Federal Boating Safety Act of 1971 (Act). One of the many safety-related accomplishments of this Act was the establishment of safety standards for vessels and associated equipment. Prior to the Act, in most places recreational boaters didn’t even need to have life jackets on board that fit everyone. We are approaching the 50th anniversary of when the Act was passed. There are some who think we need to amend that law or create a new law that requires a life jacket to be worn under certain circumstances, instead of just requiring life jackets to be available on board. This article describes some of what has been done and what you can do to save more lives by increasing life jacket wear on our nation’s waters.

    The Act also established the National Boating Safety Advisory Committee (NBSAC) made up of safety experts from states, boat and associated equipment manufacturers, and other boating safety organizations. NBSAC is basically a consulting organization and they make recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to improve boating safety.

    With NBSAC’s advice, in 2002 the USCG passed a federal law that requires children under 13 to wear a life jacket while on deck of any vessel that’s underway. The age that children are required by law to wear a life jacket is not the same in all states, but most states have adopted the Federal child life jacket wear law as their own law.

    In 2011, NBSAC passed a resolution (#2011-87-01) recommending that life jackets be worn by recreational boaters while underway and riding in or upon human-powered and personal watercraft regardless of length, any vessel less than 18-feet in length, and for any person being towed while engaged in watersports. This was based in the fact that USCG recreational boating fatality statistics for many years have reported that “eight out of every ten boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length.” Also, reports from the USCG in the past ten years show an average of 85% of those who drown were not wearing a life jacket. Undoubtedly, many more people would have survived boating incidents if life jackets had been worn. The resolution is a great recommendation that could potentially save many lives. Unfortunately, the USCG has not taken any actions to implement this resolution as a Federal law.

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is the nation’s leading provider of water-based recreation. When the Act was passed in 1971, the number of USACE public recreational boating and water-related fatalities was nearly 475 per year and that drastically decreased by more than 250 in just five years. The total number of fatalities increased by approximately 150 between the years 1976 and 1980, but since then the numbers steadily decreased for many years with only an occasional slight increase followed by a decrease. Regardless of the child wear laws and all the great things USACE and others are doing to promote water safety, the number of fatalities on USACE waters from 1998 to 2018 has averaged 157 per year.

    When I worked for USACE, one of my responsibilities was tracking data regarding water-related fatalities. The fatalities that troubled me most were the many when an adult drowned from falling overboard, or for some other reason, and a child survived because they were wearing a life jacket. It is heart wrenching to imagine what those children’s lives were like after watching their parent or grandparent drown.

    Life jackets are so comfortable nowadays that there’s no good excuse for not wearing one. For example, you can still get a tan and stay cool and comfortable wearing an inflatable, belt-style life jacket.

    Some states and lakes have successfully implemented life jacket wear mandates for adults. USACE has had success in implementing adult life jacket wear mandate regulations on their lakes in Mississippi and at other lakes in various locations across the country. Regulations are typically based on fatality trends in the areas where they’re implemented. Various requirements include life jackets to be worn on small boats, when boating alone or seasonally when the water is cold. These types of regulations have been well-received and have saved lives. Reports from those who have survived because they were wearing a life jacket, only because it was a regulation, are very heartwarming.

    Until the USCG is provoked to implement a Federal law, one way to decrease recreational boating fatalities is if state leaders and lake managers continue to do their part by implementing the types of regulations that require adults to wear life jackets.

    As individuals, we can also do our part to save lives on our nation’s waters. It seems like if you can afford a boat, you should be able to afford comfortable life jackets. I make sure I always have plenty of life jackets on board that will comfortably fit everyone that rides on my boat. I have a “my boat, my rules” policy and on my boat everyone is required to wear a properly-fitted life jacket. I encourage you do to the same on your boat. By doing our own part and working together with those who are implementing adult life jacket wear mandates, we can save more lives on our nation’s waters.



    Date Taken: 01.23.2020
    Date Posted: 01.23.2020 13:29
    Story ID: 360083
    Location: US

    Web Views: 32
    Downloads: 0