Just one purpose for these little darlin’s. To keep you from drowning! A just purpose and they really do their job.

Most of us, with any age on at all, remember pictures of the Titanic and other maritime disasters, where passengers put on large, bulky life jackets. They were so cumbersome that they were stored aboard ship and passed out (at least, to the lucky ones) just before the sinking!

Things have changed! Today’s recreational boaters’ life jackets are light weight, not bulky, good looking and comfortable to wear. Yeah, they are also inexpensive. It’s only the purpose that hasn’t changed – they still save our lives.

Let me bore you with some statistics:

In 2012 there were 578 boating deaths in our country;

459 of these died by drowning;

379 of those were NOT wearing life jackets.

That states my case – you will dramatically reduce your risk of dying from a boating accident if you are wearing your like jacket. While there is some movement to mandate the wearing of live jackets, it will probably remain a ‘boater’s choice’ for some time. While only you – the Captain and Crew – will make that choice, just know that to err on the side of caution is not a bad thing to do. And then there are some federal and state laws about what we must do.

The law. For most of our boats, it is mandatory that we “carry aboard and have ready for use” one Coast Guard Approved life jacket for each person on board. The jackets must be in good condition and of the proper ‘fit’ for each of your passengers. Small ones for small folks and standard ones for the rest of us

In addition, we need to have one throwable device. This can be a floatable cushion with handles on two ends. The throwable must also be Coast Guard approved.

Children aboard have somewhat stricter rules. In Georgia, the law states that children under 13 years old must wear an approved and proper-sized life jacket while on board any moving vessel. (Except when the child is in a fully enclosed cabin, wearing of the jacket is waived.)

There is a great variety of life jackets on the market. Pricewise they range from about $10 to over $200. The most important consideration is what kind of boating you do and where you do it. Let’s just keep this discussion to our lake.

The Type II jacket that fits over your head and ties around your waist is not only inexpensive but is a good jacket for our lake. The one I prefer, however, is called an inflatable. It has lots of buoyancy (that means how high it will raise you above the water) and comes in two varieties: 1) automatic, which inflates itself when it gets wet, and 2) the manual type which requires you to pull a lanyard to inflate. The automatic ones are much more expensive – which is why I have the manual one. (They seem to be priced around $70) But, take care of them and they will last a lifetime.

Other than being an excellent jacket, the inflatables are easily worn all the time. Once you put one on you probably won’t know it’s there. Which reminds me of the old saw that the best life jacket for you is the one you’ll wear!

There is a lots more I could write about life jackets, but this gives you a good foundation. See you in our next Coast Guard Auxiliary boating safety class on Feb 8 at Roberts School. Visit Flotilla 22’s web page at for more information.


Cold Weather and Cold Water   Leave a comment

It’s probably heresy for us southerners to talk about cold weather and cold water. However, while our winter is short, the water and air do get cold, and that combination can become deadly without proper care.

Hypothermia is defined as “subnormal temperature of the body”. While the condition can happen whenever the air or water is cold enough that the body cannot maintain it’s normal temperature, we will be addressing hypothermia as it relates to our boating – and on our lake.

Obviously, the colder the water and air the quicker and deeper the problem. A cold rain with windy conditions will quickly lower body temperatures unless protective clothing is worn. In the Coast Guard whenever the water temperature is 60 degrees or less and the air temperature is 50 degrees or less we must wear special protective suits. If they are not available, we cannot be on the water.

Lake Allatoona and Lake Lanier will certainly meet those criteria in the dead of winter. So, here we are again with the old prevention/response situation. How can we prevent hypothermia?

If it is really cold, stay home. If you want to be on the water, then bundle up. Wear layered clothing with a fleece-like material next to the skin and waterproof and wind-breaking outer clothing. Take warm drinks and food along. When on the boat stay out of the wind and rain if possible; it takes the heat out of our body. Don’t stay out long, and at the first sign of hypothermia return to shore.

What are the symptoms?

Bluish lips and fingernails
Loss of feeling in extremities
Cold, bluish skin
Rigidity in extremities
These symptoms are caused by the body trying to get the blood into its core to preserve organs and life itself. These will come on rapidly or slowly depending on the environmental temperature. The colder, the quicker.

If you are still in the boat, head for shore and a warmer environment. If you are in the water get out as soon as possible! Climb onto the boat hull or sit in the boat even if it is full of water. It may seem colder out of the water, but your body heat dissipates quicker in the water than out. If the boat has sunk, then there are some things you can do. First, keep all your clothing on, including your hat and shoes.

When people are cold on land, the natural tendency is to exercise. This brings the inner warmth to the skin and makes us feel warm. Not so when in the water. The inner body heat needs to be conserved. So, stay still. Since you are wearing a life jacket, pull your arms and legs close to your body. This is called the Heat Escape Lessening Posture (H.E.L.P.). If you are in a group, huddle together.

As the boat captain, once the person is out of the water take measures to conserve heat and slowly warm the victim up. Be careful about applying objects that are too hot. When experiencing hypothermia there is little feeling in the extremities and they could be easily burned. Warm liquids help but be sure the victim doesn’t choke or that the liquid burns the mouth.

As with most incidents, prevention is the key with response kicking in when prevention fails. With hypothermia the response needs to be quick and early in the process. Once deep hypothermia sets in it is often difficult to reverse the symptoms. They accelerate and could result in coma and death. Immediate professional response is a must in deep hypothermia.

So, when the cold weather comes, and it will, stay by the fireplace, with a good book, and enjoy the cold rain through your window. It will be spring soon.

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