Paddlers in canoes, kayaks or rafts can expect to capsize and swim occasionally – it is the nature of the sport.
“That is why paddlers wear a lifejacket all day, because canoes and kayaks are smaller and the occupants are closer to the water, so it is sometimes easier to fall overboard or capsize in the waves,” said Liz Lodman, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks boat education coordinator.
Boaters out for a ride, floating or fishing, must have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket on board. Anyone on a jet ski or being towed behind a boat must wear their life jacket. Children under 12 must wear a life jacket on boats less than 26 feet long anytime the boat is in motion.
“When you hit the water unexpectedly, it is a shock,” Lodman said. “A life jacket provides the buoyancy that helps the body recover from the initial shock of hitting the water and helps you stay afloat so you can get yourself and others to safety.”
“It is a good idea for everyone to wear a life jacket at all times on the water, regardless of what the rules allow, it can save your life,” she said.
Lodman has some special recommendations for boaters more than 12 years old who are reluctant to wear a life jacket at all times:
- Wear one if the captain of the boat says, “Wear it.”
- Wear one if you are boating in potentially dangerous water such as white-water rapids.
- Wear one if a storm blows up with high waves and wind.
- Wear one if you are a poor swimmer.
“The good news is that while life jacket laws have changed very little, life jacket design is undergoing a real revolution,” Lodman said. “One of the newest designs is an inflatable life jacket that is thin, lightweight and flat. You pull a cord to release CO2 to inflate it. Regardless of the type of life jacket you have, it is worthless unless you wear it,” Lodman said.