By Krista Elliott
One of the great joys of summertime is the chance to play in or on the water. Whether you're into swimming, boating, water-skiing, windsurfing, or just lounging on a floatie with a cool drink in your hand, there's nothing better than taking a dip.
When it comes to water, though, safety is the most important thing. And the first thing you can do to stay safe while on the water is to know your flotation devices. What works for swimming in the pool may be ineffective when boating, and vice versa. It's important to know the differences between flotation devices, and when to use them.
Floaties, Swim Vests, Swim Aids
Inflatable or foam-filled floaties, swim vests, swim rings, and other swimming aids are a great way to help a novice swimmer gain confidence when navigating the water under the watchful eye of an instructor or parent. These devices help increase the swimmer's buoyancy until they learn the knack of remaining buoyant on their own; they can focus on learning how to paddle and kick properly without also having to focus on keeping their body afloat. These items are NOT lifesaving devices, and should never be relied upon as such. If someone is still at the point where they need these devices, they should never be left alone in the water, even for a moment.
Personal Flotation Devices
Personal Flotation Devices, or PFDs, are often called "lifejackets," but there is an actual difference between a PFD and a lifejacket. A PFD is designed to help a conscious and calm person stay afloat in the water. They will not turn an unconscious person face-up. PFDs are good for people who are confident and skilled around the water, and who are using them for things like canoeing or kayaking, and the odds of being knocked unconscious are slim.
Lifejackets are much more buoyant than PFDs, and are designed to flip an unconscious person from their front to their back, making them the best choice for poor swimmers or fast, motorized boating in deep water. A lifejacket must be red, yellow or orange, so that it is more easily seen in the water, and must have a whistle attached. They're a lot bulkier than PFDs, and less comfortable, but in a true water emergency, they are your best bet for survival.
Of course, the best lifejacket or PFD in the world won't do you a lick of good if you're not actually wearing it. As a strong swimmer, it can be tempting to forego a PFD or lifejacket when boating, but it only takes a moment for an emergency to happen. Plus, if you're out with non-swimmers, and get knocked out, you can't rely on them to save you.
By knowing the appropriate flotation device for the situation, and by wearing it properly and consistently, you can safely enjoy the water, year after year.