Steve Scherrer kayaker Photo by Dominick Lemarie
Do all Life Jackets Ensure Your Safety?
Janice Green commented, “A paddler's worst nightmare is not wearing a life jacket... and a big wave nails him, and his kayak hits him on the head, knocking him out cold... and he drowns.”
Chris Walker shares, “sadly that's happened to my friend...all type 2 life jackets float you face down so when you are unconscious, like in your above scenario, the life jacket (that you can paddle in) guarantees drowning but makes it easy to find the body afterward...”
Drowning is the leading cause of death in recreational boating accidents, accounting for more than 70% of boating accident deaths. Data shows that over 80% of drowning victims were not wearing life jackets when found. A substantial number of these drowning victims were kayakers. The majority of these drowning’s were precipitated by unexpected entry into the water, which means the victim had no time to grab a life jacket, or put one on, before entering the water.
Compared with most other boating populations, kayakers wear life jackets more often. Kayakers tend to paddle in remote areas, far from help from other boaters. Kayakers frequently paddle alone or in a group, but the group members are often too spread out to even notice anyone is in trouble.
Life jackets, also known as personal flotation device (PFD), can be cumbersome, hot and uncomfortable, but there's one crucial fact to remember: life jackets save lives. Even though it is well known that the most frequent cause of death in a watercraft related accident is by drowning, wearing a life vest is often disregarded because “life jackets are thought to be for people who do not know how to swim.” Most people never think about the danger of cold water submersion until after they capsize and hit the frigid water. Wearing a life jacket can help reduce your chance of death from hypothermia because you will be able to pull your legs up to your chest which helps preserve body heat.
The excuses for not wearing a life vest run the gamut from, “they are hot and bulky”, to it’s not going to happen to me "mentality”. However, nobody’s is invincible and accidents do happen, such as a collision with a jet ski or speed boat, a heart attack, stroke, or diabetic coma that causes unconsciousness. An accident is a mishap: an unplanned event.
Life jackets are considered a crucial safety device when kayaking on lakes, rivers and oceans. They are designed to keep a person afloat, but do all life vests keep your face out of the water and prevent drowning? No, not all of the life jackets out there are created equal. If a life jacket keeps your face out of the water even if you are unconscious, then that is a quality of the safest life jackets. But how many people have actually tested their life jacket to see if it keeps their face out of the water?
Very few kayak life jackets are equipped with oversize float collars, which will help keep a person’s face out of water. If a person's mouth is under the water, the result is the same as their whole face were in the water. It eventually causes the person to drown. Therefore, wearing the wrong type of life jacket (or the wrong size) can still result in death by drowning.