Can The Life Jacket Survey Be Stopped?

Published in the February 2011 Issue Published online: Feb 24, 2011 Ask The Expert Brady L. Kay

The real question is where do they find these people to be part of such a survey to figure out all of these side effects?! That's one voluntary test group I'd rather not be involved in, thank you. Well believe or not, there is actually a worse survey that is about to kick off in April, but this one is mandatory for the boaters on California's Pine Flat Lake.

Last August, a press release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District, upset more boaters than a 15-year-old on a Jet Ski. The release, which quotes Pine Flat Lake Park Manager Tom Ehrke, was loud and clear: starting this spring as part of a multi-year study, life jackets will now be mandatory on this lake.

Aside from walking the docks and sleeping inside a houseboat, practically everything else you could do on the lake will now require you to wear a life jacket as part of this study. So if you plan on cruising down the lake from the top deck this summer you better be wearing a life jacket (or be inside). Talk about a huge infringement on the rights of boaters, not to mention the boating lifestyle as a whole!

One proactive houseboater that isn't taking this news lightly is Shauna Rockwell from Bakersfield who immediately contacted Ehrke, several congressmen and anyone else that she could convince to listen to her reasonable concerns. Plus she obtained signatures in opposition from her fellow slip mates as well as other regular boaters and fishermen at her lake and then passed it along to the local and state offices as well as her own legislators.

"The life vest rule proposed seems overly onerous to this lifestyle," wrote Rockwell in her letter to Ehrke. "It is our understanding from research that as of the date of this letter there has been no drownings at Pine Flat in 2010. It is further our understanding that in 2009 there was one lone incident resulting in two fatalities wherein individuals were wearing life vests but their deaths were attributed to hypothermia. While we are not aware of the annual number of visitors to Pine Flat, the statistics for the last two years certainly do not warrant the mandatory life vest rule/study."

I couldn't agree more. Life vests save lives and I'll be the first to admit it. But forcing all boaters to wear a life jacket on a hot day when there is no perceived risk is dumber than anorexia day at the Golden Coral. This proposed study has ignited a safety-versus-personal freedom debate that can only rival the clash over the decision to mandate motorcycle helmets in all U.S. states. In case you're wondering, I'm also against the mandatory helmet law too.

I believe most boaters can make their own decision about wearing one and even though this might seem hypocritical, I do feel strongly that all children should be required to wear a life jacket because they can't make that decision for themselves. As different state laws indicate, it's not clear what the exact age should be for children, but when in doubt the captain should make the call as to who should be required to wear one.

It's arguably a good idea to wear a life jacket whenever you get on a boat. I just feel that taking away that choice by making it mandatory is wrong. I can't tell you what you should and shouldn't do when it comes to wearing a life jacket and neither should the government. If you agree contact the Pine Flat Army Corps Office and log your complaint by calling 559-787-2589. Let make sure your lake isn't next on the list.

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