June 03 , 2008
Personal Flotation Devices (PFD's)
Joan Marie Pellegrini, MD
I am sure that anyone reading this knows that it is a good idea to wear a personal floatation device (PFD) when you are on a boat in the water. However, I also know that many of us do not routinely follow this device. Maine law states that all children 10 years and younger must wear a PFD at all times while on board any watercraft. Anyone older than 10 years, must have a PFD (wearable or throwable) available on the boat but they are not required to be wearing it. It is easy to understand why we don’t wear one all the time. They can be bulky and hot and expensive. Also, it seems like a bit of a hassle if you are only planning a short trip in shallow water.
Just a few weeks ago, two men were rowing a tender in the Rockport Harbor. There was an accident and both people went overboard. Neither was wearing a life jacket and one of them drowned. The one that drowned was a prominent surgeon in Boston. Dr. Hirsch was a well known trauma surgeon and mentor to many surgeons including me. Because he was a trauma surgeon in one of the nation’s busiest trauma centers, he knew as well as anyone that bad things happen to people without warning or reason. We will never know why he and his friend did not wear PFD’s and no one seems to know exactly what happened, but it is fairly certain that if Dr. Hirsch had been wearing a PFD, he may well be alive today.
How many of us would have been caught in the same position? I suspect a great many of us. Please remember this and other similar stories the next time you are on the water. The US Coast Guard recommends that we all wear PFDs because they know that anything can happen at anytime and anyone can drown in even very shallow water. Take the time to research the available options and buy one that is comfortable enough that you will wear it. The most comfortable devices are the ones that you must inflate. However, please keep in mind that if you are unconscious, and therefore unable to manually inflate your vest, it will not be useful to you.
Being out on the water is fun and should be encouraged. Water is one of the reasons that many of us come to Maine. It is possible to have a completely enjoyable experience and yet be well protected in the case of an unintended overboard experience. Have fun and be safe out there.