Gone Coastal: Lifejackets–Variety is the spice of safety

Amanda Nalley and her daughter enjoying a day, safely, on the water. Photo credit: Amanda Nalley.

By Amanda Nalley

I hate to admit it, but for years, our two neon-orange over-the-neck life jackets (aka personal floatation devices or PFDs) acted primarily as seat cushions in our 40-year-old canoe. We didn’t have much money, and the thought of spending $40 on a personal floatation device seemed…unnecessary. We told ourselves the things everyone tells themselves: we are really good swimmers, this is how it was when we were growing up, we aren’t “required” to wear them, etc.

Of course, we had a life jacket for the dog, who was a poor swimmer, but otherwise we crossed our fingers and forged ahead.

That was until this year, when on our way with a 5-year-old for her first ever canoe trip, I decided to invest in a new life jacket I hoped I could wear comfortably in the hot Florida sun and not get chafed while paddling.

Part of me did it because I’d worn a few of the lighter weight PFDs at work and, honestly, really liked the comfort in knowing that if I ended up in the water, I’d still be afloat. Part of me also did it for the 5-year-old, who is required to wear one until she turns six. I wanted to set a good example. But also, I know that statistically, a large number of people could have survived a boating accident if they had worn their life jacket. Of the total number of fatalities last year, only 12% were wearing life jackets. If I’m going to be selling safety, I should live safely.

As someone who grew up around the water, I get it. I can’t tell you how many times as a kid I was shoved into a giant orange lifejacket, sweating to death, feeling like I could barely move. But honestly, today’s personal floatation devices are different.

Next time you visit a local tackle shop or sporting goods store, check out the lifejacket aisle.  You’ll find not only a wide variety of shapes, colors and sizes, but some are built right into fishing vests or hunter coats. Others are inflatable and as compact as a scarf or fanny pack until they hit water, when they automatically fill with air.

I’ll agree with the U.S. Coast Guard on this one: “There’s no excuse not to wear a lifejacket on the water!” That day, canoeing with my daughter went off without a hitch. The jacket was not too hot or too bulky, I didn’t chafe, and I paddled in the comfort of knowing that if the boat flipped, I could focus on helping her and not on keeping my head above water.

Also, pockets! Oh, the pockets. One for my phone, one for my snacks. Hidden pockets inside pockets. Anyone who has ever reached into the depths of a dry bag for something the size of a pocketknife will know… pockets are your friend.

For more on lifejackets, including where to get them and more, check out Wear it Florida MyFWC.com/boating/safety-education/wear-it-florida.