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DOUG LEIER: Wearing a life jacket will make time on the water safer

When it comes to a successful or memorable trip outdoors, many will look for pleasant weather, good friends and maybe catching some fish or an evening of storytelling around a campfire.

On the other hand, an outing that is marred by an injury or accident will stick in the memory bank, as well, but for the opposite reason.

Fortunately, that doesn't happen very often, but it happens often enough for us to realize that summer recreation is not without risk.

Some of those risks are enhanced by daredevil skiing or "shouldn't-have-tried-that" personal watercraft maneuvers. As a former game warden, I've seen the aftermath of too many such accidents.

When it comes to safety on the water, I'll first recognize an attitude of "it can't happen to me" or "it won't happen to me," along with poor judgment, as factors. It's also true, however, that as the saying goes, "accidents happen." Boats hit submerged logs, and people lose their balance and fall overboard.

While wearing a life jacket may not prevent such mishaps, they certainly can alter the outcome. Consider this: Failure to wear a personal flotation device or life jacket is the main reason people lose their lives in boating accidents.

In the United States, about 700 people nationwide die in boating-related accidents each year, according to Nancy Boldt, boat and water safety coordinator for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Nearly 70 percent of those deaths are caused by drowning, and eight of 10 drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket.

Talk about a cold splash in the face to demonstrate why it's important to take water safety seriously.

North Dakota law requires U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFDs in the following circumstances:

• On watercraft less than 16 feet in length, one wearable PFD must be on board for each person.

• Anyone being towed on water skis, surfboard or a similar device must wear a PFD.

• No person may operate or permit the operation of a personal watercraft without each person on board wearing a PFD.

• Watercraft of 16 feet or longer must have one wearable PFD for each person on board, and one throwable flotation device.

• On any vessel less than 27 feet in length, all persons 10 years of age or younger must wear a properly fastened, Coast Guard-approved PFD.

If you look at the current models of PFDs, you'll soon realize there are activity-specific designs that are much more comfortable than the standard bulky, orange pumpkin style that was the norm a few decades ago. Find one you like so that you will wear it, even if the law doesn't necessarily require it while you're in a boat.

I understand that whether it's driving, boating or even fishing from shore, nobody starts out the day with, "I wonder what kind of accident might happen today." If your hobby is weekend stock car driving, skydiving or dirt bike racing, there's a premium put on safe operating and taking proper precautions.

While I'm not comparing casting for bluegills from a fishing pier to sky diving, I do want people to recognize safety as a priority when you spend time on or near the water during our short window for summer fun.

Leier is a biologist for N.D. Game and Fish Department. Reach him at Read his blog at