Keep life jackets accessible, officials say

Becky Vargo • Jun 11, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Coast Guard Petty Officer Dustin McClelland said the Coast Guard Station Grand Haven is fortunate in that it doesn’t have many situations where a life jacket is the difference between life or death.

But, “I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it,” he quickly added.

During boat safety checks this summer, the Coast Guard will make sure there are enough life jackets on board for every passenger, and that those flotation devices are easily accessible if needed. That’s one of the items people anxious to get on the water over the recent Memorial Day weekend may have overlooked, McClelland said.

He added that it’s much easier to have a life jacket on ahead of time than to put it on once you’re in the water.

McClelland compares it to riding in an airplane — they instruct you to pull the oxygen mask securely on yourself before trying to assist those around you. Your ability to help someone in trouble is increased greatly if you are already prepared, he said.

The State of Michigan requires one life jacket per person on any traveling vessel, regardless of length. Children age 5 and younger must wear a life jacket at all times on a moving boat.

McClelland, who has two young children, says the kids should be wearing life jackets while on the dock and at all times in the boat, even if it isn’t moving.

It’s imperative to make sure life jackets fit properly and are in a spot where they’re easy to grab at a moment’s notice, McClelland said. You should check the label for size and weight, and confirm that they are Coast Guard approved, he added.

Life jackets come in different styles and sizes, according to Grand Haven Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 3105 Cmdr. Nolan Jamieson, who regularly participates in boat safety checks. Manufacturers are starting to go away from the Type I, II and III designations, and instead label life jackets by weight and size, he said.

Children age 5 and younger should wear a life jacket that has a collar running behind the head of the wearer. That collar will keep the child’s head out of the water.

During inspections, Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary crew look for wear and tear on life jackets. Cuts can allow water to get inside the life jacket, which could then get moldy and cause the buoyancy to break down, McClelland said. Worn straps can break apart with impact.

Make sure the buckles clip and the zippers work, he said.

“If the life jacket is water-logged, faded or has cuts in it, you should throw it away,” McClelland said.

More information on boating laws can be found here: The Handbook of Michigan Boating Laws and Responsibilities.


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