North Dakota Outdoors: Life jackets save lives on water

“Never wait on safety reminders… it might be too late.”

It’s a philosophy I’ve carried personally and professionally. Don’t wait until after the first weekend of deer season for a gun safety refresher. And the same applies for recreating on the water.

Truth of the matter is, if you don’t have a safe fishing or boating trip, it doesn’t matter how many hours you spend on the water enjoying the sun or if you put a few fish in the live well for shore lunch.

I grew up in an era when safety didn’t seem like much of a priority. We took pride in surviving without bike helmets or life jackets.


Now, as parents and grandparents, we’ve changed our tune haven’t we? If not, we should.

I think most will agree safety has grown to be more of the typical choice rather than an afterthought.

If you don’t spend much time in or on the water, you may be a bit surprised to know personal flotation devices are not required while on the water. It seems counterintuitive since most accept the law of seat belt use. I know boats are different from vehicles but in both cases putting on a seat belt after the crash is useless and trying to put on a PFD while in a boat crash/accident is improbable at best and more likely impossible.

What’s the best life jacket to use? The short answer is the one you’ll wear. Gone are the days of the big, orange, hot and uncomfortable PFDs. We’d hold it, sit on one or have them out, but few people wore them unless in rough water. The engineering and design of life jackets have advanced to render any argument moot. No matter the activity you’ll find a PFD that’s not too big, hot or uncomfortable.

If the price is a sticking point, consider how much is your life or the life of a friend or loved one worth.

I’m not discounting North Dakota regulations that don’t require mandatory use of PFDs for anyone age 11 or older on North Dakota waters. If you want more proof, the national statistics show failure to wear a PFD is the main reason people lose their lives in water recreation accidents.

North Dakota law requires all children ages 10 and younger to wear a personal flotation device at all times while in boats of less than 27 feet in length. State law also requires an approved PFD on board for older passengers. All personal watercraft users must wear a life jacket, as well as anyone towed on skis, tubes, boards or other similar devices.

Water skiers and tubers should wear a life jacket with four nylon straps rather than one with a zipper, because straps are stronger than zippers upon impact with water. Anglers or anyone paddling a canoe should opt for a PFD that is comfortable enough to wear for an entire outing.

When a person is towed on water skis or a similar device, an observer other than the operator is required on the vessel unless the vessel is equipped with a mirror at least 78 square inches which provides the operator an unobstructed field of vision to the rear.


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