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The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Watercraft Division outlines life jackets

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Watercraft Division outlines life jackets

Knowing the facts about the different types of life jackets (also referred to as PFDs -- Personal Flotation Devices) can help you decide which are appropriate for you. ODNR strongly encourages all boaters to wear life jackets, whether or not the law requires it.

Ohio law REQUIRES life jackets to be worn...

• while riding a personal watercraft.
• while waterskiing or being towed on a similar device.
• for children less than 10 years of age on any vessel less than 18 feet in length.

It is particularly important to wear a life jacket in the following situations:

• When the boater cannot swim or is a weak swimmer
• When boating alone
• When the water is dangerously cold (the months of October through May in Ohio)
• During rough water/waves and severe weather conditions
• When boating at night
• In emergency situations
• In swift and fast current situations

Life jackets fall into five different categories, each with different features that serve a variety of needs.

Type I - Offshore Life Jacket

Designed for extended survival in large, rough waters where rescue may be slow in coming, this life jacket is required on commercial craft. This type can turn an unconscious person to a vertical or slightly backward position. Unless it's inflatable, this life jacket tends to be bulky and uncomfortable in warm weather.

Type II - Near Shore Buoyant Vest

Considered the "most common" life jacket, this PFD is for use in calm, near shore waters where there is a chance of fast rescue. It is available in a variety of sizes and is less bulky and more affordable than the offshore life jacket. It will also turn most unconscious people face up in the water.

Type III - Flotation Aid

This life jacket is regarded as the "most comfortable," with a wide range of styles for different boating activities and sports. Ideal for calm water situations, this type generally will not turn an unconscious person face up in the water unless it's inflatable.

Type IV - Throwable Device

Designed to be thrown to someone who has fallen overboard, this device should be immediately available for emergencies and should not be used for small children, nonswimmers or unconscious victims.

Type V - Special Use Device

This type of PFD is designed for a specific user and can include work vest and deck suits. The device contains varying levels of inherent buoyancy and is often inflatable to provide additional flotation. Some special use devices must be worn when the boat is underway.

Regardless of type, all life jackets must meet these U.S. Coast Guard requirements:

• Life jackets must have a "U.S. Coast Guard Approved" label with approval number listed.

• Since May of 1995, boats less than 16 feet in length (including canoes and kayaks of any length) must be equipped with wearable PFDs for each person on board.

• Each PFD must be the appropriate size for the person who wears it. Size, weight ranges, and recommended uses are listed on the label.

• All straps, buckles, zippers and stitching on a life jacket must be intact and the fabric should be in good condition.

• Life jackets must be readily accessible to occupants of a boat. They should not be stored in sealed packages or in a locked or closed storage area.

Inflatables: Are They Right for You?

Inflatable life jackets are nothing new, but are finally gaining wider acceptance as more agencies recognize that their comfort or wearability could translate to increased life jacket use by the public. After more than 10 years of debate on the appropriate minimum standards of fully inflatable life jackets, the Coast Guard approved the first models in November 1996.

While inflatable life jackets are often cooler and less bulky than traditional life jackets, they are not the life jacket of choice for all boating situations. Inflatable life jackets are...

• Sized for persons 17 years and older weighing more than 80 pounds.
• Not recommended for weak or non-swimmers.
• Not for water sports like skiing or whitewater boating
• Not for use with personal watercraft
• Not for children younger than 16 years of age.

Inflatable PFDs have manual or automatic inflation with oral inflation as a back-up. Manual systems are the simplest to maintain and less susceptible to unwanted or inadvertant inflation, but rely entirely on wearer activation. The user activates the manual system usually by pulling a lanyard, which inflates the device with a carbon dioxide cartridge.

Inflatable PFDs with automatic inflation are activated by submersion. When the PFD pouch is immersed in water, it automatically inflates.

All models also have an oral backup. The oral system requires the user to blow air into the device through a tube. Oral inflation is considered a backup system because the effort required for inflation might be greater than the wearer can provide in some circumstances. Orally inflating the device should not be done before firing the carbon dioxide cartridge, as damage can occur from over-inflation.

While all life jackets should be inspected from time to time to ensure they are in serviceable condition, inflatable devices should be looked over regularly to make sure the mechanism is working properly. Use the following checklist as a guide for evaluating inflatable life jackets:

• Don't wear a life jacket that has torn or broken buckles.
• Don't wear a life jacket that has rips, unattached webbing, or missing straps.
• Don't keep life jackets with rotting material or parts showing excessive wear.
• Do check the inflatable lanyard to see that it hangs freely from the inflatable life jacket.
• Do make sure all inflatable life jackets have a properly armed inflatable mechanism.

Life Jackets Save Lives

No matter what the type of life jacket, the most significant fact about life jackets is that they save lives. It is important for recreational boaters to take the time to choose a life jacket that they will wear, that meets the need of the activity they are participating in, and that will work for the environment to which they are exposed.

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