Whether part of a vacation or an ordinary summer day, boating can be fun for the entire family — as long as everyone remains safe. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that an estimated 85 percent of boating-related drownings could be prevented by the use of life jackets. Nationally, of the children who drowned while boating in 2003, more than 60 percent were not wearing life jackets, also known as personal flotation devices, or PFDs.
“On a boat, everyone should wear a life jacket at all times,” says Cherie Sage, state director of Safe Kids Kansas. “Look for a life jacket approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Water wings and other inflatable swimming aids such as inner tubes do not prevent drowning.”
Safe Kids Kansas recommends that children ages 14 and younger wear PFDs not only on boats but near open bodies of water or when participating in water sports. Kansas law requires that all boats have one U.S. Coast Guard-approved, readily-accessible PFD for each person on board. (For details, look on the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism [KDWPT] website, ksoutdoors.com, under “Boating.”) Anyone 12 years old or younger must wear a life jacket at all times when on board a boat.
Safe Kids Kansas urges parents and caregivers to wear life jackets on boats or other watercraft as well. According to a 2005 study by Safe Kids Worldwide, children are much more likely to practice safe habits when they witness similar behavior by parents and caregivers. “Your children will pick up and embrace your safety habits,” says Sage.
Safe Kids Kansas also reminds parents and caregivers to follow these safety rules:
- always wear life jackets when in or around open bodies of water and on boats. Make sure the life jacket fits snugly. Have the child make a “touchdown” signal — if the life jacket hits the child’s chin or ears, it may be too big or the straps too loose;
- enroll your kids in swimming lessons taught by a certified instructor, but don’t assume swimming lessons or life jackets make your child “drown proof”;
- remember that any person ages 12 through 20 must have completed an approved boater education course before operating a vessel without direct supervision of an adult 18 or older who has completed the course or an adult who is 21 or older. No one younger than 12 may operate a vessel without supervision regardless of boater education certification;
- avoid alcoholic beverages while boating;
- when there are several adults present and children are swimming, designate an adult as the “water watcher” for a specific amount of time to prevent lapses in supervision;
- install a carbon monoxide detector on inboard and cabin motorboats to alert you to dangerous levels of exhaust fumes; and
- learn infant and child CPR. Many local hospitals, fire departments, Red Cross offices, and recreation departments offer CPR training.
National Safe Boating Week is an annual educational campaign coordinated by the National Safe Boating Council, www.safeboatingcouncil.org, running the week prior to Memorial Day. For more information about drowning and boating-related injuries, call Safe Kids Kansas at 785-296-0351 or visit www.safekids.org. For more information about safe boat operations, contact the Coast Guard Info line at (800) 368-5647 or visit www.uscgboating.org.
And don’t forget boating safety classes. Class schedules and a home study course may be found online at the KDWPT website, ksoutdoors.com, under “Boating/Education.”