If you don’t wear it, it won’t work

by Dale & Joyce Kramer

A life jacket. It is so small and compact compared to a person. Ever wonder what makes it keep you afloat?  Well, this is because of the law of buoyancy. This means that a body displaces water, which in turn pushes back and creates the ability to float. When an object displaces enough water to equal its weight, it will float, like boats do. When you are in water, you feel light. Your body has displaced water, which is pushing back and creating buoyancy.

A life jacket is filled with a very light material. It helps keep you afloat because it only has to displace about one cubic foot of water to keep your head up.

Another good thing about a life jacket is that it helps your body retain heat in that all important core area. When your core is warm, the blood is heated when circulating there. Thus, it can go to your arms and legs and help keep them warm, too.

Life jackets should be worn at all times because they won’t work if you don’t wear them. However, if for some reason you don’t want to wear one, PLEASE make sure that the children on board do. It takes an adult 60 seconds to drown, but only 20 seconds for a child.

Also, when selecting a jacket, read the label. Make sure it is U.S. Coast Guard approved.

It is important to get a life jacket that fits you properly. Too big and you can slip out of it. Also, don’t alter it to make it fit.

Most adults need an extra seven to twelve pounds of buoyancy to keep their heads above water. A life jacket gives you that extra boost until help comes. However, a person’s weight isn’t the only factor. Lung size, clothing and water conditions are also important.

Next, become comfortable with your life jacket. Try it on to see if it fits comfortably and is snug. Test it in shallow water to get the feel of it. Just relax your body and let your head tilt back to make sure that your vest keeps your chin above water and you can breathe easily.

Also, you need to select a jacket that is made for the activity you are doing, like skiing or tubing. There are several different types, styled for the use they are intended.

Type one is the offshore style. This is best for open, rough or remote water where rescue may be slow in coming. This style floats you best. It turns most unconscious wearers face up in the water and the bright orange is a highly visible color. It also fits most children and adults. However, a disadvantage is that it is bulky and uncomfortable to wear.

Next is the near-shore vest style, which has an attached “pillow” for the support of your head. Called a Mae West by sailors, it is good for calm, inland waters or where there is a good chance for a fast rescue. It is less bulky and more comfortable than the previous mentioned vest. It will turn many unconscious wearers face up in the water. However, it is not good for long hours in rough water.

The third style is mostly a floatation aid. It is good for calm, inland waters where fast rescue is possible. It is most comfortable for long continuous wear on board the boat and they come in a variety of fluorescent colors and designs. This vest affords a lot of freedom of movement for water skiing, small boat sailing and fishing. However, it is not for rough water. Also, the wearer will have to keep his head tilted back to keep from going face down.

There is also many throwable styles of life preservers – the life ring, half ring and floatable cushion. They are for calm, inland water with heavy boat traffic where help is always nearby. They are a good back up to wearable jackets and can be used as seat cushions. They are not for an unconscious person, not for non-swimmers or children and not for many hours in rough water.

Taking proper care of the life jacket is a good investment. Let your life jacket dry thoroughly before putting it away. Stow it in a well ventilated place. Don’t leave your life jacket on board for long periods of time and never dry it on a radiator, heater or any other direct heat source. Don’t put heavy objects on your life jacket or use it for kneeling or a boat fender. They loose their buoyancy when crushed.

Please think of safety when you are out on the rivers and the lake. We do not want you to become a part of any Coast Guard statistic.

Joyce is an officer and Dale is a coxswain in the U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 83, Lake Seminole. They can be reached at kramers229@aol.com.

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