If you own a boat, chances are you have a compartment or two on board stuffed with personal flotation devices (PFDs) of various sizes and styles to accommodate the friends and family who might join you for a day on the water.
That’s good, but having PFDs only gets you part of the way to the level of safety you need to serve as the operator of a vessel. You’ll also need to ensure that all of your PFDs are in good working order as well as periodically cleaned and sanitized to ensure their integrity.
Next, you need make certain that every person coming on board has a jacket that fits. And while some people assume that any life jacket you can get fastened around you is sufficient, that’s simply not the case. The fact is, if you wear a PFD that isn’t compatible with your body, there’s no way of knowing ahead of time if it will provide the protection you need in case of emergency.
In this Mercury Quick Tip Video, we’ll show you what to look for when fitting and adjusting a PFD for yourself or anyone else on your boat. Making sure that everyone on board has a properly adjusted, well-fitting PFD only takes a few minutes, and this small bit of preparation can make all the difference in the world should an emergency situation occur. The following steps are best employed well before you launch the boat. That way, there will be time to find or purchase alternate PFDs that accommodate each of your passengers.
- Check the United States Coast Guard-mandated label inside the PFD to confirm that it is compatible with the activity (fishing, watersports, etc.); that the wearer is within the prescribed effective weight range; and that the chest size, if applicable, fits the wearer.
- Each passenger should try on their PFD in the clothing they will be wearing on board, being careful to fasten all straps and buckles to ensure everything is in working order and fits properly.
- Tighten all straps so that the PFD is comfortably snug, but not so tight that it unduly restricts movement. Use the strap keepers to corral any long strap tails; this will help keep them from getting hung up on fishing gear or under compartment hatches.
- Hook your thumbs under the shoulders of the PFD and lift firmly. (Children and people with limited strength or mobility will definitely need help with this part.) The PFD should neither rise up higher than your ears nor restrict your neck in any way. If the PFD doesn’t meet these criteria, you will need to select a smaller size or different style.
- The process is the same for an inflatable PFD. Just be sure to adjust the straps so that the central vertical strap in the back, if so equipped, runs right down the middle of the wearer’s back. This will help promote the best possible flotation position.
If you’re not sure if you have the right kind of PFDs on your boat, this article can help. If you’re still not sure, visit your local Mercury Authorized Dealer or any reputable marine retailer for assistance. You can also find a lot of great information about PFDs on the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary website.