Make Sure Your Life Jacket is Holding Your Head Above Water.


After driving down the Payette today and seeing 4 rafts full of people without life jackets (my pet peeve!) I read an article in todays Idaho Statesman about…you guessed it – life jackets. I’ve linked and quoted it below. Go Zimo!

Pete Zimowsky – Idaho Statesman
Edition Date: 08/12/07 – Link to Article is HERE

The wave slammed against the side of the canoe and before I knew it, I was in a mass of whitewater bubbles in Go Left Rapids on the Main Payette River.Gurgle, gurgle, phizz. Yes, another swim in what sounded like a giant glass of Alka Seltzer.

Hey, what the heck, it’s part of whitewater boating.

Water whirled around my head. The sound of the massive flush pounding rocks blasted my soggy ears. Within seconds I popped up to the surface of the water like a super fat cork. Yeah, right on! I love my new life jacket. (Oh no, here it comes, another life jacket column.)

Wait a minute. A lot of boaters take their life vests for granted.

Wimpy life vests

You’ll see vests that have been stored in the boat year after year. They have tears, the cloth is sun bleached and the flotation is getting lumpy and has turned wimpy. The buckles are busted or the zipper doesn’t even work.

Swimming Go Left Rapids was a snap. My shoulders and head were well out of the water and I had enough buoyancy to flip my canoe over and get back in it with the help of paddling partner Wink Jones, who was in a kayak.

Several weeks ago I got blasted out of my canoe in Mixmaster Rapids on the same river. It wasn’t the same easy swim.

In fact, the flotation in my old life jacket, which was more than 5 years old, was bad news.

I had a hard time keeping my head above water. It was a shock, and it wasn’t exactly the coolest place to be testing an old life vest.

I immediately went out and got a new one. I decided to go with a life jacket with more buoyancy.

I picked the MTI Adventurewear Big Buoy. It has flotation rated at 26 pounds.

My old one was rated at about 16.5 pounds and that’s pretty much the norm on most recreational life vests.

The pound rating is set by the U.S. Coast Guard. It doesn’t mean the life jacket weighs 16 pounds or 26 pounds. Duh, that would really put you underwater.

It’s a complicated rating system but here’s how the Web site explains it:

“Buoyancy is the force, expressed in pounds, required to keep you afloat with your head and chin above the water. “

It’s your body fat

It goes on to say, “Since everyone’s buoyancy requirements are different — based on size, weight, sex, age, percent of body fat, and general physical condition — you should test your life jacket in the water to make sure it will offer you maximum performance when your life depends on it.”

Face it, if you’re paddling on a calm lake or pond, you’re not going to need a life jacket rated at 26 pounds for big whitewater.

Choosing a life jacket has to do with the type of water you will be paddling, your swimming ability and how high you feel you want to be out of the water while swimming, said Sam Dixon with Northwest River Supplies, a river equipment outfitter in Moscow.

If you’re not a strong swimmer, you may want to rely more on your life jacket and one with higher flotation.

River outfitters rely on commercial grade life jackets with high flotation, some of them with head pillows on the back, in case a person is unconscious in the water. They don’t know the swimming ability of their customers.

Some kayakers like the skimpiest life vests they can get but they are confident of their abilities in the water. They still have to be in the 16.5-pound range.

High-impact vests

Anglers or skiers in high-performance speed boats also need to think about the right life jacket. They have high-impact jackets for owners of fast boats.

Fitting the proper life jackets for kids is important, too. The Coast Guard-approved rating for youths 50 to 90 pounds is 11.5 pounds.

You might think my Big Buoy vest is overkill for me because I’m only 156 pounds.

It all depends on the person. It’s really good for me. Yet, the high flotation life vest is just as comfortable for paddling a canoe as those with less flotation.

The description said, “This 26-pounder fits like a ‘normal’ vest.”

OK, life jackets aren’t boating ornaments. They are tools of the sport.

No matter what life vest you own, you should test it and you should wear it. Jump in an eddy in a river with cold water to see how it performs.

Ask yourself whether you feel comfortable with the life jacket’s performance.

If you’re a flatwater boater, a motorboater or wakeboarder, test your jacket in the lake.

You’ve got to think about it. Without a life jacket, or maybe with a worn-out and defective one, your chances of survival decrease a lot.

When you look at boating stats, drowning remains the number one cause of death in boating fatalities, and about 90 percent of those who drown were not wearing a life vest.

The one thing you don’t want to learn is that your life jacket isn’t holding your head above water when you need it. I found that out in Mixmaster Rapids, and it was hard work getting me and my canoe to shore.

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