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Summer is just around the corner and the country’s 70 million recreational boaters are preparing to launch their boats and relax on the water with family and friends. The start of boating season is also the perfect time for boaters to review important safety tips to make their on-water adventures more enjoyable.

“Just as we all learned the rules of the road before getting behind the wheel of our cars, there are basic safety tips that everyone should know before taking the helm or shoving off,” says Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). “One of the most important things you can do is always wear a lifejacket on the water and make sure others in your boat do too. After all, lifejackets only work if you wear them.”

Today’s lifejackets or life vests – also known as personal flotation devices or PFDs – are now available in a variety of shapes, colors and materials for user comfort and convenience. Some lifejackets are even tailor-made for specific activities such as sailing, paddle sports or fishing, but all are designed to keep boaters safe and afloat in case of emergencies.

The NMMA and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) offer the following lifejacket-related tips and safety reminders for boaters and their passengers:

* Find the Right Lifejacket. Lifejackets aren’t one-size-fits-all. Select one that fits properly and is designed for the appropriate on-water activities and water conditions. All lifejackets are clearly labeled with the appropriate weight range for the product. Test their buoyancy in shallow water by relaxing your body and tilting back your head. With proper buoyancy and fit, your chin should stay above water and you should feel relaxed, comfortable and able to breathe easily. Always look for the U.S. Coast Guard approval label before purchasing a lifejacket.

* Conduct a Safety Check. Ensure all lifejacket seams, fabric and hardware are intact. Test all lifejackets at the start of the season and replace any that don’t pass the test.

* Outfit Everyone Aboard. Before shoving off, all on board should be wearing a properly fitted lifejacket with straps, zippers and ties fastened. The U.S. Coast Guard requires USCG-approved lifejackets on all recreational boats. The number and type depend on the number of passengers, size and type of boat, and boating activities.

* Keep Kids Afloat. Boating is a great way to spend time with family and friends. Make sure children wear lifejackets with a collar that turns their faces up in the water. Their jackets should also be equipped with sturdy straps and a collar handle, and preferably be bright yellow or orange in color for good visibility. Check for a good fit on children by picking up the child by the shoulders of the lifejacket – a proper fit will not allow the child's chin and ears to slip through. Never buy a lifejacket that a child will “grow into,” as proper fit is essential.

* Educate Yourself. Boating education courses are offered in nearly every community through the U.S. Power Squadron and Coast Guard Auxiliaries. Many reputable boat dealers also provide an orientation session with the purchase of a new boat. Some states require powerboat operators to take a boater’s education course and carry a license or certificate showing successful course completion. Check out the safety regulations and requirements for the state you are boating in.

By: Nelson Carter

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* An Educated Boater is a Safer Boater. Learn more about boating and get additional safety tips at - ARA


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