Our View: Summer safety can start with wearing your life jacket

From the editorial: "Without necessary caution or the respect for lakes, rivers, and pools that they deserve, tragedy can quickly replace a leisurely swim or an outing on the boat."

Boy having fun in a small boat
Wearing a life jacket is one precaution for a safe summer.
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Welcome to Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start of summer, longer days, time lazing outdoors, and fun in the sun — and in the boat.

The latter comes with an annual safety reminder: “Wear a life jacket any time you are on the water, because it could save your life,” as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said in a statement this week, which is National Safe Boating Week.

Every pre-launch checklist should include making sure there’s one U.S. Coast Guard-approved, properly sized, and easily accessible life jacket for every person on board. In Minnesota, all children under 10 are required to wear their life jackets at all times. Others should, too.

"When something goes wrong, it’s too late to put a life jacket on if you aren’t already wearing it," Wisconsin DNR Boating Law Administrator Lt. Darren Kuhn said in the statement. "Wardens have responded to numerous drowning deaths only to find a life jacket stuffed inside a kayak or floating near the capsized canoe."

Without necessary caution or the respect for lakes, rivers, and pools that they deserve, tragedy can quickly replace a leisurely swim or an outing on the boat. It happens with alarming frequency, in particular during warm-weather weeks and months like those ahead.


Americans die from drowning every 10 minutes, according to a 2019 YMCA report, and one out of every five of them is a child. In addition, for every child who drowns, another five are treated for injuries after being submerged in water. Overall, drowning is the second-leading cause of death for kids 5 to 14.

Further, from 2005 to 2014, an annual average of 3,536 Americans died in non-boating-related drownings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's about 10 deaths per day. Another 332 Americans die each year from drowning in boating-related incidents.

“When you are on the water, the single-best thing you can do to avoid drowning is to wear your life jacket,” the Minnesota DNR advises at its website. “It's just like wearing a seat belt while driving — when worn properly, it may save your life.”

In addition to always properly wearing an appropriately sized life jacket:

  • Take an online boater-education course.
  • Enjoy the water sober and know your limits; alcohol blurs judgment, reaction time, and abilities.
  • Beware unseen dangers along river shorelines and sandbars, where higher, fast-moving water can overpower boating, paddling, and swimming skills.
  • Keep an eye on the weather and let others know where you are going.
  • Be ready for the unexpected.
  • Never swim alone; use the buddy system
  • Watch children in and near the water, including at the boat’s edge.
  • Don't play hold-your- breath games underwater; there's too great a risk of passing out.
  • Don't jump in to save someone else; you could both drown then. Instead, use the YMCA's "reach, throw, don't go" technique, which involves using a long object to pull a struggling swimmer to safety.
  • Enter the water feet first. Severe injuries can occur when jumping or diving headfirst into water that proves shallower than expected.
  • Stay away from pool drains. Hair, bathing suits, and even arms and legs have gotten stuck in them, leading to drowning or serious injury. If you notice a drain not operating correctly, report it immediately.
  • Learn CPR. Accidents happen, and bystanders are typically the first ones who can respond.

"(Tragedy) only takes a moment," the American Red Cross warns in a flier about water safety. "A child or weak swimmer can drown in the time it takes to reply to a text, check a fishing line, or apply sunscreen. Death and injury from drownings happen every day in home pools and hot tubs; at the beach or in oceans; on lakes, rivers and streams; and in bathtubs and even buckets."
Yes, enjoy the warm summer days ahead — but never at the expense of safety. Ensuring that heartbreak and tragedy don’t replace fun in the sun can begin with a healthy respect for the water — and with the proper use of a life jacket.

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