The Life Jacket

by Roland Sigurdson

May 2010

The 2010 Minnesota boating season is just around the corner, in fact with the early spring, there are many folks already enjoying fishing excursions on our lakes and rivers.

The first thing that needs to pop into our heads when we plan a fishing or boating trip is S-A-F-E-T-Y!

We recommend using materials provided in Chapter 6: Lesson 1: Safety and Fishing at the Water’s Edge from the Fishing: Get in the Habitat! leaders guide.

Remember: Life jackets only work when they are worn, and they do not take the place of adult supervision!

So you’ve read the lesson and gone over your check list:

Throwable PFD

  • First Aid Kit
  • Sun Screen
  • Hat or Visor
  • Local map
  • Insect repellant
  • Drinking cups for water
  • Throwable life jackets with 50 feet of rope securely attached
  • Cell phone, if coverage will be available at site
  • Emergency whistle attached to a lanyard
  • Life jackets as needed

Life jackets? Really? For everyone?

Rounding up 25 – 30 life jackets, that fit each individual child, is often a challenge. Typically, when shore fishing or fishing from a fishing pier the need for life jackets is greatly diminished. However, we always advocate that you have a throwable life jacket attached to 50 feet of rope to throw to a victim should it be necessary.

Youth with life jacket

Youth wearing life jacket.

On occasion we have had parents or guardians that required that their youngster wear a life jacket during a fishing program. This is never a bad idea, and never a burden. Remember safety first! In my experience it is best to have the parent or guardian supply a properly fitting life jacket for their child.

Life jackets are also a good idea when fishing rivers, especially in the spring and after major rain events. Rivers have one of the most abundant fish populations in our state, are amazing resources and may be the closest fishing site in your location. Remember though that there is moving water involved and it pays to be extra diligent when it comes to planning and safety. Always place an adult with a throwable life jacket downstream of all your young anglers, just in case.

Here are some tips and answers provided by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) boating and water safety specialist on life jackets that you may find useful.

What is a life vest and why does my child need to wear one?

  • A life vest or a life jacket is a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket that helps the wearer float if they enter the water.
  • A child should wear a life jacket anytime they are near water such as in a boat or float tube as well as on docks and river banks and at the beach when allowed by the life guard.
  • As of May 2005, Minnesota law requires a life jacket to be worn by children less than 10 years of age when aboard watercraft in Minnesota when the craft is under way (not tied up at a dock or permanent mooring).

How do I make sure I'm using the right life vest?

If you own a boat or plan on renting a boat or boating with a friend, you need to buy your child their own life jacket. Life jackets come in various types and sizes and there may not be a Lfie Jacket of the proper size and type to rent or borrow.

When buying a child's life vest, check for:

  • U.S. Coast Guard approved label.
  • A snug fit. Check weight and chest size on the label and try the life jacket on your child right at the store. Pick up your child by the shoulders of the life jacket; and tell them to raise their arms and relax. The child's chin and ears won't slip through a properly fitting vest. Do NOT buy a vest that is too large, hoping the child will grow into it.
  • Head support for younger children. A well designed life jacket will support the child's head when the child is in the water. The head support also serves to roll the child face up.
  • A strap between the legs for younger children. This helps prevent the vest from coming off over the child's head.
  • Comfort and appearance. This is especially important for teens, who are less likely to wear a life jacket.
  • To view types of life jackets click here

What's the proper use of a life vest?

Here's some pointers for keeping your child safe.

  • Every spring, check the life vest for fit as well as wear and tear. Throw it away if you find air leakage, mildew, rot or rust. Cut up discarded life jackets so someone else doesn't try to use them.
  • If a child panics in the water and thrashes about, they may turn onto their face, even though a life jacket with a collar is designed to keep them on their back with face out of the water. Have your child practice wearing a life vest in the water - this will help prevent panic and rolling over.
  • Never cut or alter a life jacket in any way. It will no longer be Coast Guard approved since it may lose its effectiveness.
  • Wear your own life vest to set an example for your child, and to enable you to help your child if an emergency occurs.
  • Never use toys like plastic rings, arm floaties or water wings in place of a life jacket.
  • Don't try wrapping a life jacket around a car seat for your baby. Much of the time, a car seat expelled from a boat in a crash or capsizing accident will flip upside down, holding your baby's face under water.
  • Some infants are too small for any life jacket, even though the label may say 0-30 lbs. In general, babies under 6 months or 16 pounds are too small for a life jacket to be effective due to the extreme size of their head in relationship to their body mass. If your infant is newborn, please consider waiting until the baby is a little older before taking them boating.
  • Visit the MN DNR Boating Safety Website for more information

Remember: Life jackets only work when they are worn, and they do not take the place of adult supervision!


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