Life Jackets are Life Savers

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife water patrol and law enforcement officials along with their colleagues from Tennessee, the U. S. Park Service and workers from several local agencies have spent the past week searching for a man who is missing after the canoe he and two friends were in overturned on the rain swollen Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.

The KDFWR reports there were no life jackets in the boat.

Two of the men made it to shore and walked a couple of miles where they encountered a camper and were able to summon help. The search for the third man continues.

I know all the arguments for not wearing a life jacket. I’ve used each excuse: They’re hot. They’re uncomfortable. They’re bulky. I’m a strong swimmer. I’m a safe boater. My buddies aren’t wearing theirs. Etc. Etc.

I like small boats and have been paddling canoes and kayaks for several years. They’re delightful fishing tools. For many of those years I rarely, if ever, donned a life jacket. I typically used mine for a seat cushion – rendering it useless in the event of an emergency.

Then one mild December day a friend and I along with my brother and nephew planned to canoe a few placid miles of Missouri’s Current River. Life jackets were on board; none were worn.  My brother and nephew were behind us when I heard the splash. Their boat had flipped. We were paddling through a slow, wide pool. In the course of trying to grab them our boat flipped, too.

The moments that followed were laced with panic and pandemonium but during those terrifying few minutes I learned some valuable lessons: Once you’re in the water 1) things happen with unimaginable speed, 2) you cannot swim, reason or react and quickly nor clearly as you had imagined you’d be able to, and, 3) a life jacket that isn’t being worn isn’t much help.

We survived that mishap on the Current, thanks largely to a trapper who happen to be working that same stretch of water, heard the commotion, and came to our rescue. It was a close call. Closer than I ever wish to have again.

Life jackets save lives. My brother and nephew along with my friend and I got a second chance. Most don’t.