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Life Jackets to Prevent Drowning

In 2019, the U.S. Coast Guard identified 613 boating-related deaths and over two thousand injuries. Of these cases, 86% of those who died from drowning were not wearing life jackets. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children and adolescents wear U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jackets while on a boat or other water vehicle. The AAP also recommends that all adults wear life jackets when boating to demonstrate safe behavior and better support their children in case of emergency. Knowing how to choose and fit a life jacket can be lifesaving, especially for those who frequently boat ride or travel on open waters.

One strategy that has been found to be effective to increase access, availability, and utilization of life jackets is life jacket loaner programs. Life jacket loaner programs are stations found at boat ramps and beaches that allow community members to borrow life jackets for free.

The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water offers a guide with step-by-step instructions rural programs may consider when developing life jacket loaner programs. The steps are as follows:

  1. Develop an action plan detailing program goals, budgets, and plans for evaluation
  2. Consider potential partnerships to assist with different program components such as funding, promotion, and securing a location
  3. Decide on a location for the life jacket loaner station such as beaches, campgrounds, hospitals, libraries, and fire and police stations
  4. Purchase supplies for site construction and the development of educational materials
  5. Promote the life jacket program through flyers, social media, or press releases

Examples of Rural Life Jacket Loaner Programs

  • Safe Kids Worldwide aims to prevent drowning and other unintentional injuries among children. Safe Kids has an extensive network with over 400 coalitions in the U.S. that serve many rural communities, such as Safe Kids Benton-Franklin. With the support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Safe Kids has organized several water safety programs, including a life jacket loaner program.
  • Alaska has the highest rate of drowning deaths in the U.S., particularly among children and youth. To address this, the Alaska Office of Boating Safety created the Kids Don't Float Program, a drowning prevention program that uses evidence-based strategies and public health approaches to expand cold-water survival skills among children, including the selection and proper use of life jackets.

Implementation Considerations

Developing water safety programs, such as life jacket loaner programs, may require initial investments of time and staff resources. Rural programs may develop partnerships with other organizations to access additional resources. Rural programs may also consider partnering with their state recreation and boating agencies and boating law administrators to support legislation mandating life jacket use when boating. Other approaches rural programs can use to enhance life jacket use in their communities include replenishing existing life jacket loaner programs, donating life jackets at community events, and donating life jackets to local boat owners.

Resources to Learn More

Association Between Wearing a Personal Floatation Device and Death by Drowning Among Recreational Boaters: A Matched Cohort Analysis of United States Coast Guard Data
An analysis of U.S. Coast Guard data to estimate the risk factor of drowning by comparing boaters wearing a personal floatation device (PFD) with boaters not wearing a PFD.
Author(s): Cummings, P., Mueller, B.A., & Quan, L
Citation: Injury Prevention, 17, 156-159
Date: 2011

Safe Boating Campaign Resources
Offers resources for organizations looking to implement life jacket loaner programs including posters, signs, logos, toolkits, and infographics.
Organization(s): National Safe Boating Council