THE LIFEJACKET AND THE PFD
Wearing a flotation device: a simple action that can save many lives !
With this beautiful sunny weather, isn’t it tempting to take a boat ride to feel the sea breeze? During outdoor excursions, there are many choices for water activities. Swimming, paddle boarding, boating, the fun is definitely there.
However, considering that drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional death for Canadians age 60 and under*, both the little ones and the grown-ups need to be careful.
AIn other words, don’t forget to wear your life jacket or your personal flotation device (PFD).
A LAW MORE THAN RELEVANT
Legally, a boat must contain a lifejacket or a PFD for each passenger. This law also applies to human-powered boats (sailboats, windsurfers, paddleboards, kayaks, etc).
Of course, in order for the jacket to offer protection against drowning, simply having it on board is not enough. “Approximately 90 % of people who drowned as a result of boating accidents were not wearing a lifejacket or a PFD” (Transport Canada, 2019a).
Yet, approximately 25 % dof drowning victims are good or excellent swimmers. In other words, no one is risk-free from an accident.
Several circumstances can prevent a passenger from surviving a fall.
Here are some of them :
The water temperature
If the water is cold, the victim could experience hypothermic shock or hypothermia. Lifejackets and PFDs can provide some protection against these conditions.
- Loss of consciousness
During the fall, the victim may have fallen unconscious after hitting their head. Wearing a vest or a PFD would allow the victim to float to the surface until they regain consciousness or are rescued.
- The strength of the stream
The victim can quickly be swept away by the current without having enough strength to swim to shore or to the boat. The vest or the PFD will help the victim stay afloat and get into the right position.
- If you fall in a whitewater body of water, if you are swept away by the current, you should lie on your back with your head up out of the water. Legs and feet are slightly bent to “cushion the impact if you hit an obstacle. [Finally,] try to get closer to the edge by pulling the water to the side of the body with the arms” (Lifesaving Society, 2019-2020).
A variety of weather events can occur suddenly without allowing enough time to return to port without hassle. For example, a thunderstorm with strong winds that cause large waves. Since this type of situation can be very dangerous, it is essential that each passenger wears a lifejacket or PFD.
In short, to considerably reduce the risks of an accident having serious consequences, it is crucial to make sure before leaving that you have a lifejacket or a PFD for each passenger and that they are all the right size.
CHOOSING A FLOTATION DEVICE
Lifejacket or PFD, which one to choose ?
Available in red, orange or yellow, lifejackets are equipped with reflective strips and usually include a whistle. This makes them easier to spot in the water.
More effective in terms of protection and buoyancy, this Canadian-approved flotation device “allows the wearer to float with their head well above the water level. [It also] allows the wearer to turn over on their back so that their head remains above water even if they are unconscious” (Cook-Rees Memorial Fund, 2011).
PFD (Personal Flotation Device)
The PFD is a more comfortable device than the lifejacket so it can be worn for longer periods of time and allows for greater mobility. There is laso a wide variety of types, sizes and colors.
- It is however strongly advised to choose bright colors to be more visible in the water.
Designed for recreational boating, the PFD is less bulky than a lifejacket, but does not provide as much buoyancy or protection. It provides enough buoyancy to stay afloat, but generally does not have the ability to turn an unconscious victim onto their back.
*Note that for a PFD to be approved in Canada, it must be labeled as having been approved by Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada or any combination of these agencies.
Before starting to use it
Once you’ve purchased a flotation device, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and urge to get out in the water. Not so fast !
Make sure to take enough time to read the documentation provided to you after your purchase. Also, save your receipts, as it is very important to test the devices in a controlled and supervised environment before you head out into the water.
Prevention is better than cure
Fasten all straps and inspect for any signs of breakage or deterioration that may reduce their effectiveness.
Enter the water up to your chest.
Bend your knees and let yourself float.
Swim and move around to assess the effectiveness of the device.
Make sure the device allows you to keep your chin above the water and breathe easily.
If the test is not conclusive, and therefore the device does not provide good protection, it is important to return it and get a new one. An inadequate or damaged device will not protect you effectively.
Do this test regularly and replace the device as soon as it shows signs of breakage, damage, or any other indication that its effectiveness is diminishing.
There’s no doubt that wearing the right flotation device for your needs is a great way to prevent drowning. That said, there are other precautions that can be taken to ensure safe and fun water activities!
Are you alone? If so, swim in an area that has active supervision. Many drownings could be avoided if the victim was accompanied or supervised. For more details: Instagram
A drowning is almost always subtle and silent. If you’re watching children or friends, pay attention and avoid distractions. For example, leave the phone aside.
Limit alcohol consumption. According to the Lifesaving Society, 1 drink is worth 3 on the water.
Take the time to learn what to do in an emergency. A short 4-hour course will teach you what to do in this kind of situation.
DID YOU KNOW THAT…
drowning does not necessarily lead to the intrusion of a large quantity of water into the lungs ?
Even a small amount of water inhaled causes reflex apnea: the epiglottis closes by laryngeal spasm to protect the airway, preventing breathing even when the head is above water. In short, by wearing a suitable flotation device and taking all the necessary precautions, you put all the chances on your side to ensure your survival and your loved ones’ in case of an accident.
Now that you know how to enjoy your water activities safely, have fun !
Learn the right thing to do in case of an accident today at your own pace with our 100% online courses.
Conseil canadien de la sécurité nautique. 2019. « Accrocs aux gilets de sauvetage – Gilet de sauvetage ». https://csbc.ca/fr/gilets-de-sauvetage-vfi-gilets-gonflables (French only)
The Cook-Rees Memorial Funds. 2011. « Your choice ». https://www.giletdesauvetage.com
Lifesaving Society. 2019-2020. « Fiche D’information 3 : Porter un VFI ». Nager pour survivre. https://sauvetage.qc.ca/FichedinformationPorterunVFI2019-2020.pdf (French only)
Transport Canada. 2019a. « Guide de sécurité nautique : Conseils et règles à suivre pour les plaisanciers ». https://tc.canada.ca/sites/default/files/migrated/tp_511f.pdf (French only)
Transport Canada. 2019b. « Choosing lifejackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs) ». https://tc.canada.ca/en/marine-transportation/getting-started-safe-boating/choosing-lifejackets-personal-flotation-devices-pfds