STATE: Recent drownings reinforce importance of life jackets

Published 3:22 pm Thursday, May 19, 2022

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 National Safe Boating Week, as proclaimed by Gov. Roy Cooper, is May 21-27 and officials with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission say that safety should be a top priority when recreating on water. The agency has responded to numerous boating incidents that resulted in drownings in the past few weeks. These incidents may have been avoided if life jackets were worn.

“We cannot stress how important it is for you to wear a personal floatation device, or PFD, while boating, whether it be recreating, swimming or fishing,” said Capt. Branden Jones with the Wildlife Commission. “In 2021, 23 people lost their lives on North Carolina waters; 16 of them were not wearing a life vest. PFDs save lives, but they won’t work if you don’t wear them.”

New and novice boaters are urged to take the following precautions to ensure friends and family remain safe on the water:

  • Wear a life jacket or Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD) at all times. Put your life jacket on prior to entering the boat and make sure its snug, yet comfortable, and will not move above the chin or ears when lifted at the shoulders.
  • Appoint a designated driver for the boat. Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal and is just as dangerous as driving a car impaired.
  • Assign an adult “Water Watcher” to actively supervise children in or around the water at all times. Young children and people who are not strong swimmers should always be kept within arm’s reach.
  • Swim only in designated areas. You are less visible to boaters and more vulnerable to accidents. Avoid diving in unfamiliar areas, as there may be hidden structures.
  • Throw, don’t go. Be prepared to throw a floatation device or use a pole or tree branch to reach someone struggling in the water. Never jump in to save someone because you could go under too.
  • Attend a boater safety course. The Wildlife Commission offers an array of boating education classes. If you were born on or after January 1, 1988, you must complete an approved course before operating any vessel propelled by a motor of 10 HP or greater.

 Vessel owners should also be aware of a new fire extinguisher law relevant to disposable fire extinguishers with a date of manufacture stamped on the bottle.

“If the date stamp is older than 12 years, it’s now considered expired and must be removed from service and replaced with a 5-B or 20-B date stamped extinguisher,” Jones said. “Having a serviceable fire extinguisher is an imperative safety measure.”

Details about the new fire extinguisher law can be found on the agency’s blog, and additional information about boating laws and safety can be found at