Life Jackets - Even Confident Boaters Need to Wear Them

Oregon State Marine Board, Oct 19, 2007

During the 2006 boating season, there were too many mornings I began my day perusing the newspapers only to read about another drowning or boating fatality. Empathy quickly turned to frustration. There were 20 fatalities on Oregon’s waterways, and all but four people were not wearing life jackets.

It’s a fact that life jackets save lives, and they must be worn to be effective.

That mantra should be ringing in the ears of every Oregonian who takes to our state’s great outdoors to fish, waterski, sail, paddle, or just cruise along the waterways. But every year, a fun day on the water needlessly turns tragic, simply because someone was not wearing a life jacket or recklessly consumed alcohol.

We are fortunate that Oregon has a relatively good record of safe boating practices.  Sadly though, when it comes to boating safely on our state’s waterways, there is something we have in common with the rest of the nation: boaters who don’t wear life jackets and who choose to drink and boat are much more likely to be involved in an accident — or worse yet, drown.  Each year 50 percent of boating accidents and one-third of boating fatalities in Oregon are alcohol-related, and these statistical facts have been consistent for decades.

The most frustrating thing is that most fatalities are preventable if boat passengers and operators would wear personal flotation devices (life jackets) and boat sober. The statistics tell the story:

  • Although approximately 90 percent of Oregon adults buckle up when driving or riding in a vehicle, only 10 percent of Oregonians age 18 and older regularly wear a life jacket when boating.

  • Yet, we estimate that wearing a life jacket would save the lives of approximately 85 percent of the people who drown in Oregon boating accidents every year.

With such compelling figures, why then do we still face a safe boating problem? Some long-held misconceptions about wearing life jackets and drinking while boating keep people from taking adequate precautions.

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