Many people assume that simply wearing a life jacket or another personal flotation device is enough to provide adequate safety while enjoying activities on the water. But just as important as wearing the PFD is that it fit properly.
Selecting a life jacket is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Nor are all life jackets suitable for all types of water sports and other marine activities. The amount of buoyancy the jacket provides is relative to the activity and the size of the person wearing the jacket. Furthermore, it is unwise to think that children can simply wear an adult life jacket in a pinch.
According to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, life jackets that are too small or too large can come off or ride up in the water. A jacket that rides up can end up rising over the mouth and nose, making breathing difficult. The proper fit of a life jacket is one where the jacket is snug, but not suffocating.
All of the zippers, ties, straps, snaps, and other connection points should be correctly secured. Those who have experience in the water can test out the fit of a life jacket by walking into the water up to the neck. After lifting up the legs and tilting the head back, the person should be able to float comfortably and not have to put any effort into staying above water.
Furthermore, the life jacket shouldn't obstruct the mouth. The person should also be able to swim easily on the back or side without restriction of the arms. In terms of children and life jackets or flotation vests, the Division of Boating and Oceanic Recreation of Hawaii says that fitting children with PDAs is one of the most frequently asked questions of boating safety educators.
Typically, children 12 years and younger are expected to wear a life jacket at all times when in a boat or around the water. This means kids will spend significant time wearing the life jacket, so it should be comfortable and fit properly. According to DOBOR, children's life jackets are typically designed around three sizes. An infant device is for children under 30 pounds. A small child is appropriate for children 30 to 50 pounds. A youth size is right for children 50 to 90 pounds. Larger children may graduate to a small adult's size.
Life jackets for young children may have a flotation collar that helps to keep the head upright, as a child's head tends to be his or her heaviest part of the body. In addition, there will likely be a strap that secures between the legs to prevent vest from riding up. All life jackets should be replaced when they start to fade to the color of the inside label. This might be indicating that their safety protection may have started to deteriorate.
In addition to properly fitting a life jacket, it is important to practice being in one in the water. While life jackets may keep adults and children afloat, they may not keep a struggling person face up. Therefore, it is adviseable to remain calm in the water while wearing the PFD. Life jackets can save lives when properly fitted and worn correctly. Also, many people prefer to purchase life jackets that are a Coast Guard approved device for added protection.