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From the Boathouse: Wear your lifejacket — when necessary

Ahoy, and welcome to National Safe Boating Week!

“Wear it! Always wear your lifejacket” is the nationwide theme for this year’s National Safe Boating Council’s Safe Boating Week that runs Saturday through May 24. The goal of Safe Boating Week is to educate boaters that it is not enough to just have a few lifejackets stuffed in a locker on board the boat, but you must wear a lifejacket to increase your chance of surviving serious accidents. Thus, the Council wants everyone on the water to enjoy safe and responsible boating.


A California survey revealed that 96% of active boaters know when a lifejacket should be worn, and 84% say they know who is required to wear a lifejacket while boating. The survey shows that almost all boaters think that children need to wear a lifejacket, yet just over half believe that adults should be required to don a personal flotation device (PFD), the technical term for a lifejacket.

However, the overall wearing of lifejackets by boaters is on the increase, and this can be attributed to better boater education. Additionally, most organized races and programs require everyone to wear a lifejacket while underway.


This is a good campaign, but the question still remains, “How practical is it to always wear your lifejacket?” Both California and the Coast Guard have enacted laws for children to wear their lifejackets while underway on smaller boats, and the Army Corps of Engineers requires everyone to wear a lifejacket while boating on lakes and reservoirs in its jurisdictions. However, the statistics show that adults are most at risk and that makes sense, as adults are the majority of people on the water.

We do need to keep in mind that there were only 758 fatalities in 2011, 672 in 2010 and 736 in 2009, according to the Coast Guard’s latest statistics. The National Marine Manufacturers Assn. reports that in 2011, 83 million people participated in boating. So, how safe is boating, and are boaters really at risk of drowning?

If we do the math, fatalities divided by the number of participants means only 0.00091% of boating participants died in 2011. Remember, this includes anyone who died boating, whether from a crash, falling down in a boat or even drowning while swimming off a moored boat that was not underway. Not all deaths can be attributed to the lack of wearing a lifejacket.

With that said, I support the personal choice of deciding when to wear a lifejacket, but not laws requiring the mandatory wearing of lifejackets on all boats. There are too many variables, types of boats and waters on which to boat that a broad-brush approach enacting regulations cannot be used requiring mandatory wearing of lifejackets by all boaters.


Lastly, I am curious to hear about any Safe Boating Week events that are occurring in Southern California. I have not heard of any events nor seen any press releases that list events locally here. Yacht clubs and boating organizations should start planning an event to join in next year’s Safe Boating Week. The National Safe Boating Council has a lot of information and printable materials on its website at

Tip of the week is an email that I received concerning proper etiquette at our launch ramps.

Q. Dear Capt. Mike,

I use the launch ramps at our local harbors and I am amazed how some people are so rude or unprepared when launching that they block access. Can you explain the proper etiquette to use a launch ramp while launching?


A. Whenever I need a good laugh, I will watch the hilarious chaos that can occur at launch ramps on any weekend morning. Goofy not only goes sailing, but he will try to launch his boat, too. People who block the launch ramp while loading or unloading gear are very inconsiderate and probably have water on the brain. Everyone should prepare their boat in the parking lot or staging area and not while blocking the launch ramp.

You need to load your gear, remove tie-downs except the bow strap, insert the drain plug (common oversight), turn on the batteries, prime fuel lines and discuss your launching strategy. Then back down the ramp to launch and actually launch your boat. Then you need to immediately move your vehicle and trailer off the ramp. You can take care of any last-minute details while tied to the courtesy dock.

I have seen boats completely untied only to slide off the trailers onto the pavement, drivers backing down their vehicles too far and into the water, jackknifing trailers and boats drifting down the bay while the owner is trying to start the outboard that has been sitting in his garage since last summer. How many times have you seen someone who forgot the drain plug? Remember, courtesy and etiquette at the ramp is a great way to begin a day of boating.

Please be boat smart and boat safe.

Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, “Boathouse Radio Show,” broadcasting live coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network. See times at, and

Safe voyages!

MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to or go to