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

As anticipated, the National Recreational Boating Safety Coalition met yesterday and Army Corp of Engineers spokesperson Lynda Nutt presented results from their three-year, on-going test program regarding mandatory life jacket wearing. Moreover, she indicated the Corps is so pleased with their success that expansion for 2011 is a done deal. 

The positive results announced by the Corps seem pretty amazing — life jacket wear skyrocketing from 6 percent to 70 percent! It raises interesting questions – like how’d they do it, and so quickly, too?

The Corps credits an extensive public relations outreach to the affected local communities and enforcement that did not issue any citations or fines. Boaters or swimmers not wearing jackets were stopped and told to put them on. Those who refused were told to leave the lake! How many “stops” were made? The Corps isn’t reporting.  How many boaters were told to leave the lake, and did so? Not reporting that, either. Did boaters keep the jackets on once out of sight? No one knows. Moreover, when the Corps announced the test to the communities, it stated: “The policy will require the use of life jackets to a greater degree than existing regulations in an effort to save lives.” To date, the Corps is not providing any comparison data on fatalities on those lakes, although claims have been made the new requirements saved two lives.

Moreover, the Corps claims there was no reduction in the use of these lakes by boaters –  in fact it went up 6 percent. Of course, that flies in the face of most surveys in which boaters clearly indicate mandatory adult wear is unacceptable, with specific exceptions like PWCs, skiing, canoes, etc. And, while these reported results are admirable, it’s hard to believe boaters will keep coming back if they ever have to appear before a magistrate for a federal offense and fine. That’s likely where this will lead since it is known PR campaigns can’t be effectively sustained over time.

But what’s really notable here is why the boating industry remains generally opposed (except for children and PWCs) to mandatory adult wear . . . namely, great confusion on the waterways and a deterrent to boating. For example, MRAA strongly encourages voluntary wear for all over 12 years old. “Mandatory wear on boats up to 26 feet is a terribly unnecessary deterrent to boating enjoyment and sales,” says MRAA president Phil Keeter.

We agree, says Cindy L. Squires, NMMA’s chief counsel of public affairs and director of regulatory affairs. “We strongly support education, and a key component of that, for example, is informing boaters of the more comfortable inflatable products available,” she said. “And, we have not opposed enacting narrow wear mandates for specific high risk situations like cold water boating in small open vessels where conditions provide an extremely short amount of time before hyperthermia can set in.”

In truth, the real negative in all this is that boating safety is convoluted at best and it appears to be getting worse. On the federal level, multiple agencies from land management to park services all control some waterways and virtually all can make up their own rules without process. Add to that state agencies and laws that also oversee waterways usage. Then, there are thousands of local units of government that . . . well, you get it. Lack of uniformity reigns supreme!

A case in point: Ohio is considered by many to be a model boating program. Berlin Reservoir is Ohio’s fifth largest inland lake and is a Corps lake in the Pittsburgh district. A dozen year ago, the district unilaterally mandated adult life jacket wear on Berlin. But, Ohio, a state rich in waterways, does not mandate adult wear (children under 10 and other exceptions.) According to Ohio Division of Watercraft Chief Pam Dillon, Ohio watercraft officers do not enforce federal law. “There has been no enforcement of the Corps of Engineers life jacket policy on Berlin by Ohio Watercraft Officers,” she says. “We vigorously encourage wear through our education programs, especially the new inflatable devices. But we also see a push back from boaters on the cost and maintenance of these jackets. Because there’s no “one size fits all” replacement cartridge for inflatables, boaters are confused and resistant to try these new, more comfortable devices. There is no question more convenient and affordable options need to hit the market before boaters will accept the premise of mandatory wear.” Interestingly, it has been reported that Pittsburgh may increase mandatory wear on Berlin from the current less than 16 feet to boats up to 26 feet, reflecting Vicksburg.

 While additional “tests” have reportedly been considered in Iowa and South Dakota, one is definitely set for Pine Flat Lake near Fresno, Calif., starting April 1, 2011 for one season. This one is the most aggressive ever attempted: All boaters on all boats, regardless of size, will be mandated to wear life jackets while underway. Same for all swimmers beyond 100 feet of shore! Pine Flat Lake reportedly has a large number of boats and houseboats over 26 feet. The Corps wants to see if the boaters will accept it or push back both directly and/or through their Congressional delegates.

What the Corps ultimately sets into its national policy is sure to influence other agencies on many levels. And, while the boating industry can do its part for reasonable boating regulations, in cases like those outlined here, ultimately, the boaters who must make clear what limits and mandates they find acceptable. There must be a line between government mandates and reasonable choice. Right now, I’m squinting pretty hard to see it!

Comments

15 comments on “PART II – Mandatory life jacket wear becoming more of an issue

  1. dave

    with what authority and who’s enforcement does the Army Corp of Engineers kick someone off the lake? Have their members been deputized by Local LEO?

    Just another control hungry arm of the Federal Gov’t (one which knows not what the others are doing) reaching out to nanny us along.

    WHO is in charge and to what end are these people reaching?

    BTW, I would love to see the data…in this day and age claims are just that…I find it hard to believe these claims. As the owner of a 42 sailboat…taking these claims to heart…I have to wear a PFD at all times? Simply asinine.

    Perhaps there is a loophole for those of us who neither drink nor go fast, let alone some actual law enforcement for those who do both at the same time…why not simply punish the lawbreakers (who by the way account for a large percentage of fatalities, see CG info about DUI/DWI and fatal boat wrecks) rather than nanny the masses for the actions of but a few.

  2. John Sima

    Here we go again, goverment manipulation of figures to create reports that do not paint a clear picture of the statistics. I am all for boaters wearing PFDs at their choosing and/or when the type of water sport or age of the participant requires it. Not at the governments whim!! Period!!! This is just one more reason for boaters to be inconvienced, giving them a reason to leave our sport.

  3. john ennis

    One of the reason boaters in small craft do not wear PFD’s is because the crap..and it is just that..crap, that is ssold at big box stores is uncomfortable . Proper adjustment helps some but the things almost never fit properly. A decent class 111 for small boatss costs $75 and upwards . A PFD that does not fit properly can come off over your head..and is useless. Some small boaters in canoes and kayaks belive they can put a pfd on after they are dumped. This is nearly impossible unless you have four arms and hands. You need two of them to hold onto the boat and paddle and since that is the number you were born with you are in deep trouble. Bottom line Cheap PFD’s that do not fit properly and are uncomfortable are useless and decent ones that do fit properly are useless unless worn .Common since should not have to be regulated.

  4. Jim

    So if I am to follow this my wife in a 24 foot cruiser putting along at 5 knots laying down in a lounge seat should be made to wear a life jacket? I don’t think so.
    Unreasonable rules and regulations will ruin the enjoyment of this recreational activity.
    If one delves into the underlying reasons behind most fatalities and accidents I would speculate poor operation of the watercraft and being under the influence of alcohol are probably the two leading reasons, not the lack of a PFD.
    You can legislate stupid.

  5. dave

    “Make it manditory and make it NOW. Saving lives is more important to griping and complaining. Cost is no big deal, boating is a luxury/hobby and they cost money.”

    But why? IF it is about saving lives, enforce the drunk laws…would lower fatalities by at least 50% instantly.

    IF this would save lives, I would agree, but it doesn’t – it does nothing to protect the boater. It costs me nothing, I already have a selection of PFDs to address any conditions I would encounter, but none of those PFDs will save me in the event I am held underwater, killed prior to going in the water, or in the event I am run down by a drunken operator with no regard for the consequence of his most recent decision to operate whilst drunk.

    the PFD, as it’s name suggests, is to keep me “floating” nothing more, it will not – contrary to the COE thinking – save my life or prevent death, can’t.

    In closing, what does boating being a luxury have to do with any of this or the fact that hobbies cost money. IF that is the case then golfing, flying, tailgating, etc all should be more closely regulated and ludicrous laws enacted to prevent those hobbies from hurting anyone.

  6. C. Moore

    So if the folks move back in behind the Army Corp’s levy’s in Louisiana are they going to required that you sleep in a PFD??
    Keep one on when you drive your car around?
    When you go to the store?
    It only makes Army Corp of Engineering logical sence if you chose to live below sea level.
    You know that mathmatically the levy’s will fail agian it’s just a matter of time…..
    Just like you have to wear one if you chose to have a luxury hobby like going boating .

  7. Chris S

    Unfortunately, statistics are always massaged and used to their advantage.

    In NY, at least 50% of the deaths that occur every year are from non-registered vessels(canoes, kayaks, rowboats, etc). They pay no registration fees or user fees yet use facilities, enforcement and access areas paid for mostly by reg fees paid by boaters.

    Another cause of deaths were cold water drownings. Hypothermia sets in quicker when no PFD is used. Between the months of Oct 1 to May 1, all boats under 21′ require all passengers to wear a PFD. It makes sense.

    Over the last 30 years, the fatality rate has gone down.

    The govt can only do so much – I think they are going way too far with this.

    Best way to combat this is with facts and figures from their own statistics!

  8. WJH

    Any boat! That would include cruise ships, aircraft carriers, and Yachts. Can you picture everyone on a house boat wearing a PFD. We will be wearing parachutes in aircraft. Canoe, small sail boats, PFC, and children under 10 makes sence. There are boats that should be required to wear PFDs.

  9. maddog

    Very interesting comments from the author to see how far government is imbedded in our lives today. The fact is lifejacket wear issue in not very popular with many who spend large amount of time on the water. The smarter way to tackle the mandatory wear or don’t wear PFD issue is to use a scientific approach. We already have mandatory wear for some high risk watercraft, like on PWC’s or water-skiers in many states but no wear required on sailboards or kites. (All these rules are inconsistant from state to state) The argument belongs in the details of what is an acceptable number of fatalities, what are the risks levels to participants and to what extent should government push to decide what common sense is. If the answer is no waterborne fatalities are acceptable to the ACE, no risk should be taken by boaters and government should decide if a boater is required to have common sense, the answer is BAN BOATING and SWIMMING!

  10. Chip Hart

    The comments policy of Tradeonlytoday prohibits me from stating exactly what I think of The Army Corps of Engineers contrary to what I can say on the radio. How did they get involved in this where they don’t belong? I suspect the US Coast Guard pulled them in to help flex government muscle and force the industry and consumers to do what we don’t want or need.

  11. gordy mckelvey

    OK…pass the law. I still won’t wear a PFD an if ticketed I believe I would just go to jail on this one. Let the tax payers keep me up for awhile for not wearing a life jacket. Yeah right!!!!!!

  12. Jackson

    This is the same tired old line: We strongly support education, and a key component of that, for example, is informing boaters of the more comfortable inflatable products available,” which hasn’t worked to increase wear by more than a percentage or two.

    The same tired old complaints as when mandatory wear of seatbelts was proposed.

    Some many over confident he-men that under estimate just how quick they will tire when they end up in the water.

  13. Mark Matis

    Do you have ANY doubt that your local “Law Enforcement” will bow and scrape before their Masters and then do whatever they’re told? Until you are ready to take them on, suck it up!

    Or thank them appropriately for the OUTSTANDING job they have done.

    As for me, I thank God every time he removes another of them from office.

  14. A.M.A.

    Lets do it right and make everyone who goes to the beach ware a life Jacket too! How about when flying over the ocean airline passengers MUST ware a flotation device as well. And while we’re at it anyone who swims in a creek or river must put one on before getting in the water.

    Can anyone tell me where can I buy stock in PFD manufacturing companies????

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