Boating season is here: Remember your lifejacket

Published on Wed, Jun 20, 2012 by Andy Peterson, Blaine Harbormaster

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The traditional boating season has arrived and, judging by the amount of activity, it’s shaping up as a memorable boating summer. Before you head for the launch ramp or untie from the dock it’s always a good idea to check your boating safety equipment, including life jackets.

I’m reminded of my parents nagging me as a child to put on my seatbelt, wear my bike helmet and, of course, wear my life jacket! Just as seatbelts and bike helmets save lives, so do life jackets. I’ve often heard someone remark, “I don’t need a life jacket, I’m a good swimmer.” Even good swimmers will tire quickly in the cold 50 degree waters surrounding the San Juan and Gulf islands. No one plans to go into the water, but being prepared and wearing your life jacket can save your life. 

Life jackets or PFDs (personal floatation devices) are designed to  keep you afloat while you wait for rescue or work on rescuing yourself. Life jackets are designed to work best when properly worn, and not used as a seat cushion or worse, stored away under a seat.    

According to the “Adventures in Boating Handbook,” provided by the Washington State Parks Boating Program, all vessels (including non-motorized watercraft including kayaks, canoes and sailboats) are required to have at least one U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)-approved Type I, II, or III life jacket for each person on board.

Washington state law also requires that children 12 years old and younger must wear a USCG approved life jacket at all times  when underway in a vessel less than 19 feet in length, unless in a fully enclosed area. Children’s life jackets should be properly fitted based on their size to prevent the jacket from slipping off over their heads.  Copies of the handbook and the U.S. Coast Guard’s safety tips for recreational boaters are available free at the Blaine Harbor office located at 235 Marine Drive. You can also view the handbooks and other boating related information online at the Washington State Parks website at www.parks.wa.gov/boating and at the Coast Guard Auxiliary website.
The Blaine Harbor Office participates in the Boat US Foundation’s Life Jacket Loaner Program for Kids.

The program makes loaner life jackets available to boating families who do not have enough life jackets aboard their boat.
Only a limited number of life jackets are available so borrowers are asked to return life jackets to the office as soon as possible after they’re done using them.

Boaters should remember that Washington state requires boat operators ages 12 years and older to pass a boating safety course and obtain a Boater Education Card before operating a motorized vessel of 15 horsepower or greater. More information on the Boater Education Card can be found at the Washington State Parks website at boatered.org.

Now that I’ve nagged my reader, I hope everyone has a safe and memorable boating summer. Remember, wear your life jacket.