To Legislate or Not to Legislate >> Scuttlebutt Sailing News

The 2021 Boating Statistics for the United States published by the US Coast Guard reported that when the cause of death was known, 81% of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Among drowning victims who reported wearing a lifejacket, 83% were not wearing a lifejacket.

The United States federal law on lifejackets requires that anyone under the age of 13 while operating a recreational boat wear an appropriate USCG-approved lifejacket, unless they are below deck or in a closed cabin. But there are also state laws that may be more restrictive.

Although there are requirements to carry life jackets for each person on board, and for them to be easily accessible, they tend not to be warned unless necessary, which raises the question of why they are not necessary.

A petition in the UK is seeking to make lifejackets compulsory for under-16s. Marine Industry News explores the debate about responsibility, consequences and attitudes.

According to Alistair Hackett, Managing Director of Ocean Safety, the maritime industry has seen a massive increase in the use of lifejackets in the UK. He attributes this to two notable changes. The first is that event organizers and regulators say, “you have to wear a life jacket to do this”, and the second is that it means there has been a big improvement in product design. .

As Hackett said Marine Industry News it’s “because the rules say people have to have them and they have to wear them under certain conditions. . . it encourages discussion and progress. He says the sailing community is now actively discussing how I wear it, how I use it, when I use it and, for some, how do I integrate my AIS?

“Life jackets have improved beyond the dreams of the 1960s. It’s so easy to wear one these days that I can very well understand people choosing to do so whenever they’re on the go. deck,” says Tom Cunliffe, sailor and author.

That these changes take place in certain areas (races, sports clubs, regattas) is welcome.

A petition in the UK under the title of Lucas’ Law seeks to introduce broader regulations that will affect boaters.

The petition seeks to create enforceable legislation regarding the wearing of life jackets by those under 16 and to ensure that there are sufficient personal flotation devices (PFDs) on board per passenger on any private vessel, regardless of her size.

It is in memory of Lucas Dobson, a six-year-old child who lost his life in August 2019, and seeks to emulate current laws in Ireland, which basically say that anyone on a boat from 23 feet and under must wear a PFD and anyone under 16 must wear a life jacket at all times on all pleasure craft.

The petition is supported by Peter Faulding, Specialist Group International. As a forensic diver, responsible for recovering bodies, he helped build and fund a campaign to distribute life jackets to schools under the banner of Lucas’ Legacy.

Faulding says people resent the number of people drowning in lakes and rivers, as well as the sea. In 2016, he says, he recovered 16 bodies in eight weeks. And that was only in two counties.

It supports mandatory life jackets, for children under 16.

“Until the age of 16, it should be compulsory for children,” says Faulding. “I’m not making the excuse that it’s too expensive. If you can buy a boat, you can buy a life jacket.

Faulding says he was fueling up recently (June 2022) and saw a family go by on a hardtail. Four children and only one in a life jacket.

“Some people are so jaded about human safety,” Faulding says. “People don’t think about the boat that sinks and then swims in a current, trying to save the rest of the family.”

But, he reflects, it would be difficult to make lifejackets compulsory for everyone, so he is working on raising awareness.

Faulding delivers Baltic life jackets to schools which can then be loaned out to families “like library books”. He arrives in his helicopter and gives a brief presentation on water safety to the whole school, so that the event stays in the minds of the children.

“I don’t want to just send the life jackets,” he said. “All they’ll do is show up and get thrown in a closet. But the kids will remember the arrival of a helicopter and the discussion about water safety. Around 20 schools across the UK have joined the scheme so far.

But Tom Cunliffe believes ‘parents, guardians and skippers should take responsibility for the rules on board’, but opposes enforceable regulations.

He says experienced sailors have to make their own choices.

“I put mine on whenever I think I need it, which I don’t every time I’m in a boat. It can be in the fog, in heavy weather or in the canoe, for example. I have been sailing deep water for 60 years and I trust my own judgement.

“I’m delighted with my modern life jacket and am much more likely to use it than the gruesome horrors of yesteryear, but let’s not move our fingers. Educate people – yes, absolutely – then let them make up their own minds. After all, it’s their life, not someone else’s.

“Regarding the proposed legislation, who decides the age limit? Who decides the difference between sailing a J/24 in a gale and sailing an 80 tonne Brixham trawler with high bulwarks plus railings and chair-like movement? The unanswered questions continue. For the sake of reason, let’s not have legislation.

But, Faulding, Hackett – and many maritime safety experts – warn of the risks of consumer complacency whereby the public never believes an emergency afloat will befall them. While the vast majority of sailors cite safety at the top of their onboard priority list, Hackett says the actual time spent learning safety products, how to store them, use them and deploy them doesn’t reflect that.

There is therefore a balance to be found between personal responsibility where the practical experience of the skipper is put forward, and the regulations.

According to MaryAnne Edwards, consultant for Global Marine Business Advisors, the Australian and New Zealand maritime associations are committed to supporting the views of their members. So while they support all safety measures, they are also concerned about regulations. There is always a fine line in a situation like this.

“Regulations in both countries are similar and primarily require children under 12 to wear a life jacket on small craft. The requirements for carrying and wearing life jackets vary depending on the type of vessel used,” she says.

But according to a security expert, there is a downside in Australia.

“They [boaters] go for the lowest common denominator and the cheapest product possible,” the source explains. “In Australia you see it everywhere. They [boaters] know it’s a ten dollar foamie. It sells for ten dollars and comes in a pack of five – that’s the equivalent of £5-£6 – but the foams meet virtually no standard.

“They are then hidden in a corner of a boat somewhere and uncarried. They [boaters] don’t want to spend money on a better and more comfortable product because they say they have met the minimum standard.

“By enforcing the laws, you can see an increase in cheap products, which are not as effective as something decent. The best jacket you have is the one you wear. Locking it in a sealed cabinet to show an inspector you have them is not safe. This is the problem.

“When people choose to buy one, they come to look at the features and the fit, how it works for them, their body shape, everything like that. It’s like buying a shirt or a pair of shoes, you buy the best fit possible and they get the job done. But if you enforce it, people will go buy the cheapest thing possible just to make it standard.

“In anything you legislate, you must set a high and achievable minimum standard.”

So far, the Lucas Law petition has over 2,000 signatures. He won the backing of an MP, but unless there is the will within the maritime community to push for regulation, it seems the momentum is not there – yet.

Like Edwards’ comment that “fear” drives messaging, Hackett cites the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s previous campaign “useless unless carried” as a hugely successful message that has changed attitudes towards lifejackets.

“Buying the equipment is 10% of the story,” says Hackett. “The owner and all crew members must understand how this equipment works, when to use it, what are the implications of using it, etc.

“It is the industry’s responsibility to do everything possible to ensure that people understand the intricacies of using safety equipment. Because when we have to use it, it’s not the time to start reading the instructions. You have to understand that from the start. »