On July 4, 2006, at about 4:15 p.m., I received a call from dispatch about a possible drowning on the Alabama River. As an Alabama Marine Police officer, I responded immediately to the emergency call.
When I arrived at the scene, Dallas County Volunteer Fire and Rescue personnel briefed me on the situation. A 5-year-old boy had been playing in the water near the dock. Several adults had been watching him playing in the water throughout the day. The little boy got out of the water, took off his personal flotation device, and went into the house to use the restroom.
He came out of the house and jumped directly back into the water. No adults observed the little boy re-enter the water. The Montgomery Fire and Rescue Dive Team arrived on the scene and recovered his lifeless body in water about nine feet deep. I noticed his personal flotation device on the dock about 10 feet from where he re-entered the water.
When properly used and worn, personal flotation devices save lives. This tragic event could have been prevented with the wearing of a personal flotation device and proper adult supervision. Unfortunately, this kind of sad story has repeated itself many times since then. Just this past Memorial Day weekend, three little boys from Alabama drowned. According to media accounts, none was wearing a personal flotation device.
I hear many reasons why adults and children alike do not wear personal flotation devices. Claims such as not being able to enjoy the water, being an expert swimmer or even that a flotation device does not fit a child or infant properly are common. Other reasons why individuals don’t wear personal flotation devices are that they are excessively blistering, will muddle up a tan line, or they are not comfortable. I want to encourage adults to not let excuses such as these get in the way of staying safe and wearing a flotation device that could save your life.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 50,000 people died from drowning in the United States from 1999-2010 — an average of 4,147 deaths per year. The average annual death rate for males was more than three times higher than that of females. The highest rate for both sexes was for children 1 to 4 years old.
Regular use of a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device during recreational water activities is especially helpful if one slips or falls unexpectedly into the water.
Personal flotation devices are essential equipment on boating excursions. Everyone on the boat, including the boat driver, needs to be able to access a personal floatation device in case of an emergency. The boat operator should require every passenger on the boat to wear one any time they are on the water.
Boaters can select a variety of styles and types of personal flotation devices that are fit for any water activity. They provide individual safety for a sensible investment. In the article “National Safe Boating Council: Life Jacket Wear is a Top Priority of Boating Safety Partners All Year Round,” Virgil Chambers, executive director of the National Boating Council says, “Approximately 90 percent of recreational boating drowning victims weren’t wearing a life jacket. Today’s comfortable and stylish life jackets make it easy to wear it with any water activity.”
There is no valid excuse for not wearing a personal flotation device during water activity. Adults have the responsibility to protect children by making sure a child wears a personal flotation device in or near pools and recreational waterways. Personal flotation devices should be immediately within reach, the correct size for the intended user, and in good condition.
Simply put, personal flotation devices can save lives. Remember, a personal flotation device floats; people don’t.