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PART I – Mandatory life jacket wear becoming more of an issue

Tomorrow (Dec. 15) could be an interesting day if the subject of mandatory life jacket wear on pleasure boats is on your mind. That’s because a meeting of the National Recreational Boating Safety Coalition is slated to feature a report from the Army Corps of Engineers on its mandatory life jacket program. Never heard of it? I hadn’t, either, until recently.

Yes, there’s been lots of dialogue in recent years about mandating wear. Most states have passed some laws on the subject. For example, all but two states require PWC operators to wear one. It’s almost universal that water skiers and children wear them, albeit in the latter case the age requirement and size of boat vary. Generally, however, adults are not mandated to wear life jackets. When and where the issue has been proposed, boaters have usually pushed back loudly.

Until, that is, the Army Corps of Engineers unilaterally elected to implement a new rule on Corps-operated lakes in certain districts –  most recently, the Vicksburg Districts. Reportedly a desire of General Don T. Riley (as director of civil works) to have such a policy on all 170-plus Corps lakes across the country, it was decided to avoid an anticipated nationwide boater backlash and start with a 3-year “test program” on four Corps lakes in the Vicksburg District.

The test began in May, 2009, on Arkabutla Lake, Sardis Lake, Enid Lake, and Grenada Lake. The results, thus far, will be reported at the NRBSC meeting. According to the Corps, national data indicated fatalities most often occurred in accidents involving small boats (under 26 feet) and swimmers outside designated swim areas. Based on that, the Corps issued the following mandates on the four test lakes: — ALL persons must wear a Type I, II, III or V Coast Guard-approved life jacket on powered vessels 26 feet and under whenever under its main power (not including trolling motors). — ALL persons must wear a Type I, II, III or V Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times while swimming outside of designated swim areas. — ALL persons must wear a Type I, II, III or V Coast Guard-approved life jacket while skiing or being pulled by a vessel. — ALL persons must wear a Type I, II, III or V Coast Guard-approved life jacket on non-powered vessels regardless of length including, but not limited to, canoes, kayaks, flat bottoms, jon boats, sailboats and paddle boats.

Radical? You bet, particularly with regard to boat lengths and swimming areas. So, what’s been the boaters’ reaction? The Corps initially feared a loss of recreation, but now reports it has actually increased. Even more surprising, a Coast Guard-funded study concluded while life jacket wears averaged 10-11 percent before, it jumped to an unprecedented 70 percent on the test lakes!

How did the Corps do it? Enforcement and citations? Will the Corps now add more districts and where? What are the broader implications for boaters on and off Corps lakes? What impact could it have on state boating programs? And, most important, where do we in the boating industry stand regarding mandated life jacket wear? Perhaps the NRBSC meeting will tell us more.

FYI – the NRBSC is a small group of boating representatives from government agencies and boating organizations with D.C. offices, including: MRAA, NMMA, NTSB, BOAT/US, NBF, USCG and its Auxiliary. Aside from the meeting, I’ll give you the answer to the above questions in Part II this Thursday (Dec. 16) here in Dealer Outlook.


14 comments on “PART I – Mandatory life jacket wear becoming more of an issue

  1. Mark

    Waste of money! I live in a FREE society and can choose for myself, thank you. How about manda tory swimming lessons. If you can’t swim 2 miles, you can’t go boating.
    Keep the paper-pushers out of my life. They are trying to make themselves more important by making more rules.

  2. Peter Allen

    So now, if I want to go for a swim off my runabout, I have to don a PFD? The government is getting entirely too far into my life! Nuts! As a racing sailor I have worn a PFD for much of my boating life, both on and off the race course. I own two inflatables for myself and my wife also has two. We wear our PFDs while sailing. Bcause of government regulation? No! We wear them because, as retirees, it’s the prudent thing to do at our ages. And if it’s too hot to wear them, then we don’t. I certainly don’t feel the need to have some Coastie the age of my grandkids lecture me about marine safety. Or worse yet, get the same lecture from some county mounty who is doing marine patrol work as a summer job and doesn’t know squat about boating. Enough regulation. Those wonks have too much time on their hands.

  3. Eric Shepard

    With the comfort and ease of wear of inflatables, it is hard to imagine anyone without a life vest on.

    Automatic inflatables cannot be used in swimming, but manual inflatables can, and wearing a manual inflatable while swimming saved my wife’s life.

  4. C. Moore

    you think that is news? How about the following which will be coming to recreational boats very soon.
    “The Coast Guard amends its regulations governing the maximum weight and number of passengers that may safely be permitted on board a vessel and other stability regulations, including increasing the Assumed Average Weight per Person (AAWPP) to 185 lb.” This will go into law in March 2011

    Up to now that number was 140lbs. So go out & look at your capacity plate & divide it by 185. Or multiply the number of passengers by 140 then divide it by 185……
    big bro is here……next seat belts???

  5. Richard Johnson

    We, the wife and I take our sailboat up river to the Sacramento Delta every year and stay aboard for about a month. We live aboard, sleep aboard, cook aboard and we read and watch TV aboard. and we swim in the river. Are we expected to wear our PFDs from the time we leave our home port in Alameda and keep them on until we return a month later? We read about laws allowing assisted suicide so where does our government get the authority to decide how we live our lives? This is a case of way too much government, way too much.

  6. Edward Leslie

    Well I foresee a bunch of lawyers ponying up to the bar very soon after getting ticketed. What a waste and a crime to impose restrictions on our personal lives.

  7. dave

    too much government = NO common sense
    the nanny state at it’s best

    Every thing you do to live has a risk associated with it, whether on the boat or getting to and from the boat.

    IF the government really wanted to save lives, why not enforce the alcohol laws or ban alcohol/cigarettes altogether…there are 10’s of thousands KILLED every year due to the decisions these folks make…and there is NO outcry to “help” them like the government wants to “help” boaters at every turn.

    where is the future?

  8. Hal Smith

    PFD mandates clearly don’t suit previous respondents nor me. If you feel the need, as I often do, wear one, but don’t tell me I have to sleep or take a shower in one. Swiming is impossible with a PFD, floating perhaps, but not swimming. If there is a population of boaters who like this requirement, why don’t they universally wear a PFD without mandating the rest of us wear one all of the time? I question the facts reported in the study. They are not logical.

  9. Chris

    When does this trickle down to the coastal waters? Can you imagine trying to grind a set of coffee grinders with a harness or pfd getting caught. I sail a 12 meter, no engine, no life lines and an amatuer crew. We don’t lose people overboard.

    You can’t regulate accidents away. There is some value to society in bad luck and Darwinism.

  10. David

    RIDICULOUS. I have no problem w/ laws covering small children and their safety, but don’t tell me when and where I have to wear a life jacket. There is no “one size fits all” solution for every situation. I wear my PFD when I deem it prudent and as a very experienced boater, sailor and offshore racer I am quite capable of determining the risks involved.
    This rule will just lead to more idiot Barney Fife types chasing down boaters for revenue enhancement.
    Thankfully I don’t boat on waters the Corps of Engineers oversee.

  11. Mitch

    Lets just make a lew for everything how about airbags in boats,speed limit of 10mph on the water, not going out boating if you have any wind and we can hide in the law a rule that aircraft can not go in the air that will be safe. Now I am for a safe fun day on the water and no one should get hurt but more laws and rules don’t we have enough?

  12. CD

    The Corps can’t even maintain levees in the US. How can we expect them to enforce dumb regulations? The sign using the middle finger comes to mind.

  13. Mark Matis

    Understand that unless you’re willing to take on “Law Enforcement”, you’re stuck with this. Be sure to thank your local police for the OUTSTANDING job they’re doing!

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