After years of waiting, last year, my mom bought a pair of kayaks for us to use at the cabin. Growing up with two cabins in my family, since childhood (and as the daughter of a fisherman!), I’ve always worn a life jacket or personal floatation device (PFD) on the water—this habit has stuck with me into adulthood. My stints on the water were relatively short, which meant that while I wore a PFD, I mostly wore whichever was specified to fit me—as is the most important factor of a PFD!
Photo credit: Tiffani Epp (Source: Facebook)
Once the kayaks were part of the equation, though, I made an investment: a PFD I actually liked. The thing is, you don’t have to like a PFD for it to work… but you have to wear one for it to work! My new PFD is a pink and black neoprene type—I swear it has lumbar support even though this may be a lie. And the most important thing? I am happy rather than begrudging, to slip it on before jumping into the kayak for a cruise. When I volunteered at Blind Sport camp last year, I took my own PFD for our sailing afternoon, happily slipping it on and off between stints on the shore with campers, on the dock guiding campers to-and-from, in a sailboat with a camper, and even on a spin in the motor boat so I could snap some better pictures! Yes, the most important thing is having a PFD that fits, but if you’re going to be on the water a lot, a PFD that suits you is important, too!
Photo credit: Stephen McKinney (Source: Facebook)
And remember, a PFD or life jacket must be approved by your national regulatory authority (the US Coast Guard or Transport Canada), but they are not the same. A life jacket has the ability to flip an unconscious person onto their back so they do not drown—while a PFD will help keep a person afloat with less effort, it will not flip an unconscious person to their back.  A PFD must fit snugly enough so that it does not slip above your head, but not so tight that it restricts movement of your arms or legs; a life jacket must be of appropriate size to support the weight of the person, but have some space between the jacket and the person’s body—this is essential for the buoyancy needed for the life jacket to flip the person onto their back to prevent drowning.  There are benefits and drawbacks to both PFDs and life jackets, so do your research to determine the right fit—literally!—for you.
While sliding into a PFD or life jacket that fits properly is important, what else can you do to stay safe on the water? Basic swimming skills are important for both fun and safety. Keeping your boat, personal watercraft, or other vessel like a canoe or kayak stocked with a proper emergency kit is not only important, but in some situations, the law! Local regulations may vary, so look into this before you hit the water! Taking a boater safety course may not only be required to operate a motorized watercraft, but also can be helpful to help you learn “the rules of the water”, which are a bit more free-flowing than the rules of the road—pun totally intended. They’ll also ensure you know what emergency equipment is required in your boat, or other method of water transport.
Traditionally, safety equipment on board a self-propelled vessel such as a canoe or kayak will include, at minimum* :
- a PFD for each person on board (best if you’re wearing it!)
- signal whistle or horn
- a tow-rope (buoyant type)
- waterproof flashlight or lighting flares
- a bailer at minimum for a self-propelled vessel like a kayak or canoe.
For those aboard sail and power boats, the same apply and may also include [3.1]:
- approved signal flares
- a manual propelling device (oar or paddle)
- a fire extinguisher (for boats equipped with a motor)
Depending on the body of water you’re traveling on, different equipment may be required.
*Note: These recommendations are from Transport Canada via the ACE Boater Certification website. The US Coast Guard requirements require slightly less equipment than Transport Canada (I chose to err on the side of prepared!). Check with your state authority to learn what is required in your area.
Your boating emergency kit may contain specific items needed for your medical condition. Remember, it may be important to keep devices like insulin pumps and blood glucose meters in a water-tight bag, as well as any medication. A variety of sizes of watertight bags are available, to protect anything from your cell phone to your medical supplies. Keeping medicine in a cooler or insulated bag may also be necessary. As well, a medical ID bracelet or necklace should, of course, be a part of any summer adventure—on land or “at sea”! All My Identity Doctor medical ID bracelets and necklaces fit the bill here: all styles are waterproof, and ready to go!