Posted by: Brad Nixon | June 20, 2018

It Will Save Your Life. If You Wear It.

Summer is here in the northern hemisphere, and that means it’s time to head for the water. There’s swimming in the local river, lake, ocean or pool, or maybe you’re one to put the boat or canoe in the water and zoom or paddle away.

It’s also time for some people to die needlessly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death in the world, killing an estimated 360,700 people each year. Everywhere, children are the majority of the victims, and in many parts of the world — including the U.S. — drowning is the leading cause of accidental childhood deaths.

I’ve written about this subject at the start of previous summers, and listed the most important factors that can save swimmers’ lives: learning to swim, erecting barriers to prevent unsupervised access to water, and — especially —careful supervision. Watch the water!

A smaller but still significant number of deaths and emergency room visits come as a result of boating accidents. Responsible boaters understand how to operate their craft, avoid boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and insist that passengers follow basic safety rules.

Does everyone need to do that? What if you were one of the world’s most highly-trained swimmers, aboard a professionally maintained watercraft crewed by some of the most skilled watermen and -women to be found anywhere? You’d relax, right? Let’s head down to the Port of Los Angeles and see.

Coast Guard Brad Nixon 2880 640

That is (I believe I’m correct) a United States Coast Guard (USCG) 45-foot Response Boat Medium (RB-M) heading outbound in the main channel of the port. Here in the Port of LA, the USCG has a wide variety of assignments, including water safety supervision for craft ranging from small personal boats to massive container ships, maintenance of markers and navigation aids, search and rescue, as well as security and law enforcement on the water.

There may not be any people on the planet better trained to deal with ending up in the water than the men and women of the Coast Guard.

Now take a closer look.

CG life vests Brad Nixon 2882 640

Everyone on that boat is wearing an orange life vest. Granted, they’re of a specialized type that allows a great deal of movement, and requires some training to use, so they’re different than life jackets you might have on your own boat. But there is one overriding fact evident in that photograph: They are wearing their life vests.

The vests aren’t hanging on a rail, ready to be worn when needed. The vicissitudes of Coast Guard duty can include some dire circumstances. There is, after all, a weapon mounted in the bow of that boat. They are not on a pleasure cruise. In their line of work, if something bad happens, the time for preparation has passed.

Will you feel like a nerd wearing your life vest in your 16-foot runabout on Lake Willinilli? Will your family and friends consider you the biggest dork in the world when you insist they wear theirs? That’s too bad. You can explain the facts to them, and tell them that you have no intention of having any of them end up in the emergency room or the morgue if something goes wrong. Yes, you’re the canniest, most capable pilot afloat, skillfully navigating rough water, dangerous shoals, shifting currents. But not everyone’s as perfect as you, and if some less qualified boater slams into you and knocks a person in the water, they have a better chance of surviving if they float instead of sinking. A good life jacket can even keep an injured or unconscious person’s head above water until they can be rescued.

Coast Guard regulations require all boats in U.S. waters to have one USCG-approved life jacket aboard for every passenger. That’s easy. Then comes the hard part: No life jacket will save you if you’re in the water and it’s on the boat. Wear it.

Thank you. Have a safe summer. Don’t forget the sunscreen.

Click on this link for the USCG information regarding types of life jackets and their use.

WHO information from this link, retrieved June 19, 2018.

© Brad Nixon 2018.



  1. Great advice.


    • Thanks. Have fun out on Shafer Lake!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I would love to do that, but Lake Manitou is a bit more convenient to me. 😉


      • So I see. Dominates the eastern side of town. Summer fun!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. In my youth, I was a fairly competent swimmer. My dad in his youth was more than competent: he competed in races. He and his two brothers were standouts in their respective high school sports.

    I’ve also been on a lot of types of watercraft over the years. I guess I was lucky all those times I was in the water, because, quite foolishly, I never wore a life vest.

    But now, at my age, I’m done with water, except for taking a shower and drinking it. I can relax.

    Thaanks for your help, reminder, and good advice to those who still venture in the wet stuff.


  3. I subscribe to the Texas Game Warden field notes, which is a real compendium of wit and wisdom — they’re written with a humorous flair. Still, some make serious points, like this entry from June 22, which supports what you say in this post.

    “On June 9 while on patrol, Cameron County game wardens responded to a distress call in the bay near South Padre Island.

    The victim was found shortly after arriving to his last known location and was brought aboard the game warden’s vessel. He stated he had been paddling into a strong wind. His kayak became swamped and, before he realized what was happening, it capsized. The kayaker also mentioned had he not been wearing his life jacket he would not have been able to tread water for the 15-20 minutes it took for his friends to realize he was in trouble and for help to arrive.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep. Many avid boaters do know it. Thanks for the real-life testimonial.


  4. Nice article. I work in emergency medicine and I wish more people would take basic precautions to help themselves!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for adding the professional perspective. My mother spent a portion of her nursing career in an ER. For all intents and purposes, it’s her voice speaking in my posts about water safety.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m glad she’s had an influence on you! Yes, those of us who see accidents up close realize how important it is to stay safe!

        Liked by 1 person

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