Season after season, whether purchasing or renting a kayak; we always interact with at least a dozen people who have an utter aversion to wearing a life jacket. Interestingly enough, I developed the impression that people are more often trying to find ways to circumnavigate laws than to protect their personal wellbeing. Individuals who have been avoiding life jackets for years have developed some pretty clever excuses and explanations for not wearing a life jacket when it comes to kayaking. They typically go like this:
- BUT… I’m a great swimmer; I have been swimming for my entire life.
- BUT… I’m only in a small pond; if something happens I’ll just swim to shore.
- BUT… I will keep a jacket in my boat, and if I happen to capsize I will put it on.
Anybody who has worked in the paddle sport industry has probably heard these excuses more than you can count. BUT… I bet most of these boaters did not know that 70% of boating fatality accidents result from drowning, and almost 85% of those who drown are not wearing a life jacket! It may be hard to believe but in addition to preparedness, knowledge, and experience, a life jacket is one of the only ways to prevent drowning. Even the strongest swimmer cannot fight debilitatingly cold waters or fierce currents. A false sense of security often emerges from the environment you are paddling in. The “I’ll just hold onto my kayak” and the “I’ll just swim to shore” arguments are common delusions. Even small ponds and protected lakes propose great risk to drowning. The Boat U.S. Foundation has done extensive research and has identified that more than 90% of drownings occur in inland water, most within a few feet of safety and involve boats under 20-feet long. Don’t be deceived by what seems familiar to you. Sudden changes in weather, medical emergencies such as heart attacks, boat collisions, and mechanical injuries can all hinder your ability to survive.
Saying that you could put a life jacket on after a capsize is like saying you could put a seatbelt on before a crash. Just last year, the Canadian Safe Boating Council hosted a trial among experienced boaters to test their ability to put on a life jacket in the water. The results were interesting, and for many, may even be surprising. See video below.
In conclusion, it is critical to always wear your life jacket even if you feel you are in control of the situation. In kayaking, the conditions can change at any moment, and your first line of defense is your life jacket. Be safe, be prepared, and always wear your life jacket.