With the summer heat now hitting full force and with kids out of school, water and swimming safety is key to a safe swimming and boating season.
Jerry Madden, a certified water safety instructor through the United States Power Squadrons (U.S. Coast Guard), says the most important thing a parent can do for their child while on a boat or swimming is to make sure they have a properly fitting personal floatation device – better known as a life jacket.
Statistics show that a properly fitting life jacket is the number one way to prevent death by drowning.
“It is a very sad way to pass away,” Madden said. “Water safety is not only here in (the United States), it’s worldwide. It’s no less important here than it is there. It’s educating parents, it’s educating the older adults for them to take responsibility to realize that that boat is their responsibility.”
The owners are responsible for the lives of everybody in that boat, he says. He likened it to driving a car – don’t pull out of the driveway until everyone has a seatbelt on. Likewise, boat owners should not pull out of the dock until every person aboard is wearing a properly fitted life jacket.
He also recommends boat owners take a boating safety class.
He says its also educating children to say “no” if there is not a life jacket on board that will fit them.
“If you do not have one to fit me, then I can’t get on this boat,” he said. “It’s OK for a child to tell an adult ‘I can’t go with you. You don’t have what I need to be safe.’”
He told a story about when he taught boating safety to elementary children at E.S. Richardson Elementary. He ran into one of the children at Walmart and the child’s father, at first, was upset with the child because the child told his father he would not get on a boat without a properly fitted life jacket.
Madden says he was in the sporting department when the child recognized him and introduced him to his father. The father ended up thanking him because his child had never told him no.
“All of a sudden this guy comes around the corner and he is a big Grizzly Adams-looking dude,” Madden said. “He gets right in my face and he says, ‘Are you the guy that told my son to tell me no he wasn’t going to get on my boat without a life jacket that fits?’ And I thought he was going to hit me. I said, ‘Yes sir.’ He said, ‘Well thank you, I never thought about it. My son has never told me no before.’”
He says the boy’s father realized how important it should have been for him to be safe before they got in the water.
The American Red Cross offers several tips for choosing a proper life jacket:
Make sure it is the right type for the activity.
Make sure it is U.S. Coast Guard approved. Look for the stamp on the life jacket.
Make sure it fits the intended user. Check the label on the life jacket for weight limits.
Check buckles and straps for proper function. Discard any life jacket with torn fabric or loose straps.
Put it on and practice swimming in it.
Water wings, swim rings, inflatable toys and other items designed for water recreation are not substitutes for U.S. Coast Guard-approved life
jackets or adult supervision.
To enroll in a boating safety course, visit the U.S. Power Squadron’s website at www.usps.org to find one in your area.