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Life jackets, supervision essential to boating safety
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TOPEKA — Whether it’s during vacation or part of an ordinary summer day, boating can be fun for the entire family – as long as everyone remains safe. The U.S. Coast Guard reports an estimated 85 percent of boating-related drowning could be prevented by the use of life jackets. Nationally, of the children who drowned while boating in 2003, more than 60 percent were not wearing life jackets.
“On a boat, everyone should wear a life jacket at all times,” said Cherie Sage, State Director of Safe Kids Kansas coordinator. “Look for a life jacket approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Water wings and other inflatable swimming aids such as inner tubes do not prevent drowning.”
Safe Kids Kansas recommends that children ages 14 and under wear life jackets not only on boats, but near open bodies of water or when participating in water sports. Kansas law requires children ages 12 and under to wear life jackets while boating, and children under 13 are required to wear life jackets on any recreational vessel in waters under Coast Guard jurisdiction.
Safe Kids Kansas urges parents and caregivers to wear life jackets on boats or other watercraft as well. “Your children will pick up and embrace your safety habits,” said Sage. According to a 2005 study by Safe Kids Worldwide, children are much more likely to practice safe habits when they witness similar behavior by parents and caregivers.
Safe Kids Kansas also reminds parents and caregivers:
• Always wear life jackets when in or around open bodies of water and on boats. Make sure the life jacket fits snugly. Have the child make a “touchdown” signal — if the life jacket hits the child’s chin or ears, the life jacket may be too big or the straps are too loose.      
• Enroll your kids in swimming lessons taught by a certified instructor, but don’t assume swimming lessons or life jackets make your child “drown proof.” These precautions are important, but they’re no substitute for constant and active adult supervision.
• Don’t let kids operate or ride on personal watercraft (such as jet skis).
• Never drink alcoholic beverages while boating — a large portion of boating accidents that occur each year involve alcohol consumption by both boat operators and passengers.
• Nobody should swim near a dock or marina with electrical hookups or lighting — swimmers can be electrocuted in the water and drown.
• Make sure the boat operator has passed a boating safety course approved by the Coast Guard before letting your child and your family ride in the boat. For more information about safe boat operations, contact the Coast Guard Info line at (800) 368-5647 or visit
• When there are several adults present and children are swimming, use the Water Watcher card strategy, which designates an adult as the Water Watcher for a designated amount of time (e.g. 15-minute periods) to prevent lapses in supervision. To download a Water Watcher card, visit
•  Install a carbon monoxide detector on your motorboat to alert you to dangerous levels of exhaust fumes.
• Learn infant and child CPR. In less than two hours, you can learn effective interventions that can give a fighting chance to a child who has fallen into water and become unconscious. Many local hospitals, fire departments, Red Cross offices and recreation departments offer CPR training.
National Safe Boating Week is an annual educational campaign, coordinated by the National Safe Boating Council, running the week prior to Memorial Day.
For more information about drowning and boating-related injuries, call Safe Kids Kansas at 785-296-0351 or visit
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