When using any watercraft, properly wearing a life vest matters

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I’m writing regarding the July 15 article “Incident Punctuates Watercraft Peril.” Let me first convey my condolences to the family and friends of the man who lost his life. No one ever anticipates an accident, and far too often, we see someone far too young and healthy succumb to accidents of all kinds.

I would like to comment, however, on the Post-Gazette’s missed opportunity to educate the Pittsburgh community. It’s not about a person’s choice of watercraft. The aspect of this story and thousands of others like it that is often overlooked is the importance of properly wearing life jackets or personal flotation devices.

The exact laws are listed with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. However, the laws should be stricter about the need for everyone in any watercraft at all times of the year to be required to wear a life jacket. I’m certain such laws would be unpopular.

Is anyone old enough to remember the evolution of the laws regarding the use of automobile seat belts? It used to be that auto manufacturers weren’t even required to install seat belts in cars, let alone having laws mandating their use. Arguments like “they’re uncomfortable,” “they wrinkle my clothes” and “I can’t reach the instrument controls with a seat belt on” were common. Yet today, it’s common knowledge that seat belts have saved tens of thousands of lives.

Anyone ever hear someone say, “it’s too hot,” or “my tan lines will be really awful” or “it’s just uncomfortable” when it comes to wearing a life jacket?

U.S. Coast Guard data indicate that drowning is the cause for 70 percent of boating deaths. Of those deaths, 80 percent were not wearing life jackets or properly fitted life jackets when found. It has nothing to do with individual IQ, how well you swim, what kind of watercraft you use, what kind of body of water you are on or how fast you go or don’t go. No one plans on an accident.

If you’re on the water in any kind of watercraft, don’t become another statistic. Wear your life jacket and wear it properly.

The writer is a certified kayaking instructor with the American Canoe Association and works with Dynamic Paddlers, an organization that specializes in adaptive kayaking for children and adults with disabilities.

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