On September 1, 1985 the State of Texas started enforcing a new law that requires car drivers and passengers to wear a seat belt or face a fine. In fact, Texas has the largest fine of all states at $200 per person not belted. Some other states like Wyoming let you off for just $25. It is a fined offense in every state and has been for almost 20 years. Now, most folks don’t think anything of it but 30 years ago, you heard about it a lot.
I can still remember the groans of the adults about having to ride in a car wearing a seat belt. If they didn't want to, they shouldn't have to. So did it make a difference?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, since seat belt laws have been placed in states, the number of serious injuries and deaths have dropped almost 50%.
So what does that have to do with Personal Flotation Devices (life jackets) and kayak fishing?
Each month we hear of people that die while kayaking. Frequently those people were not wearing a PFD.
I can't tell you how many times I hear the question, "It's really hot! Do I HAVE to wear my life jacket?"
This is usually followed up by a bold declaration of "I'm a good swimmer."
I hate that. I know people can swim but what can you do in a state of shock, tangled in a trot line, in really rough water or with no one around? Unfortunately in 2007, 107 people didn't get to answer that question. They perished during canoeing and kayaking outings according to the US Coast Guard. The USCG has also stated that 90% of these people were not wearing a PFD. What if 96 people could go home at the end of the day instead of their next of kin getting the worst news of their lives? Wouldn't it be worth it?
“It won't happen to me.”
Those are the last words spoken by many victims. They are also spoken by "tough guys" everywhere. Please, you are not immune to drowning. Your family wants to see you again. Don't risk it.
So what's the solution?
Maybe we are at the point that if a vessel is underway, whether human powered or other, you are required by law to be wearing a life jacket. That will help some. It won’t fix all of it but a life jacket isn't called a super comfy, lighter than air, good time jacket; it’s called a life jacket because it can save your life. Sometimes you just have to learn to embrace it.
If you hate wearing a life jacket, ask yourself why. Is it uncomfortable? They make PFDs that are suited for paddling fishermen. Is it hot? They make inflatable ones that you will barely even notice.
Excuses are like ...well, you know the saying. If 90% of the people that drown in kayaking incidents weren't wearing PFDs, what does that say? To me it says you stand a better chance of survival while wearing one.
Maybe we need a new law. Maybe we don’t but the number of people drowning while kayaking is going up, not down. Some sort of action has to be taken. Education can help but this is more of an attitude thing with most folks. Excuses abound for not wearing it. The same thing happened in the 80s and 90s when these seat belt laws started being passed but they had an effect. 50% fewer serious injuries and deaths would be a great start.
I can’t tell you what to do, and right now, in Texas at least, you are only required to have a PFD on board for each person. On board doesn't float you if you fall out into cold water. On board doesn't bring you to the top for rescue if you are knocked out. On board isn't a life jacket; it’s a seat cushion.
On your person is what I think it should be. I know I’m not alone but I also know it’s not always a popular thought. Do you think more laws are necessary? How do we prevent more drowning?