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Doug Leier: Wearing a life jacket on the water just makes sense – at any age

It certainly isn’t surprising that national statistics show failure to wear a PFD is the main reason people lose their lives in water recreation accidents.

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North Dakota law requires all children ages 10 and younger to wear a personal flotation device at all times while in boats of less than 27 feet in length. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)

A reader emailed recently to suggest that I should focus less in my columns on safety, as “it takes the fun away from being outdoors.”

I do always consider that “too much” factor when I write or talk about safety, but I’ve also seen enough injuries and dead bodies – especially early in my career when I was a game warden – that I'm not going to change my tune because of one person or complaint.

Safety and habitat are two important topics to most of us who spend time outdoors. If you don’t have a safe fishing, boating or hunting trip, it doesn’t matter how many hours you spend on the pontoon, if you bring home a limit of fish or tag a trophy buck.

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Likewise, without habitat, pike, perch, deer and pheasant numbers will struggle to provide the opportunities for creating special memories.
I grew up in the 1980s, when recommendations for seatbelt use were turning into laws, and people were trying to adjust to the process of having to click in before driving off. And who would argue about that? While it's impossible to plan the best time to wear a seat belt, it just makes sense to wear one all the time.

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The premise for wearing a personal flotation device while in a boat isn't much different. While regulations don't require mandatory wearing of PFDs for anyone age 11 or older on North Dakota waters, if an accident does happen, it’s usually too late for the PFD to do any good.

It certainly isn’t surprising that national statistics show failure to wear a PFD is the main reason people lose their lives in water recreation accidents.

North Dakota law requires all children ages 10 and younger to wear a personal flotation device at all times while in boats of less than 27 feet in length. State law also requires an approved PFD on board for older passengers, and all personal watercraft users must wear a life jacket, as well as anyone towed on skis, tubes, boards or other similar devices.

Water skiers and tubers should wear a life jacket with four nylon straps rather than one with a zipper, because straps are stronger than zippers upon impact with water. Anglers or anyone paddling a canoe should opt for a PFD that is comfortable enough to wear for an entire outing.

Water skiers and tubers are reminded it takes three to ski and tube. When a person is towed on water skis or a similar device, an observer other than the operator is required on the vessel or the personal watercraft is equipped with a mirror on each side which provides the operator an unobstructed field of vision to the rear.

For a reminder on regulations that will help ensure safe boating this summer, the North Dakota Boat and Water Safety Guide is available online at the Game and Fish website, gf.nd.gov, by email at ndgf@nd.gov or at a local Game and Fish Department office.

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Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov.

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Doug Leier


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