As Louisiana's busy boating season approaches, many boaters are getting their boats in working order including purchasing the required equipment to keep on board. Part of the required equipment includes choosing the correct personal flotation device (PFD).
Choosing the correct PFD can be the difference between life and death when on the water. There are many different PFD types and styles to choose from and each must be properly fitted to the person wearing the PFD.
Another factor that must be considered is to ensure that the PFD to be used is U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) approved. A USCG approved PFD will have an approval number on the label usually on the inside part of the PFD. Any other PFD that is not U.S. Coast Guard approved is considered illegal and unsafe.
"Recently there have been more and more non-approved personal flotation devices showing up in the marketplace and now they are being sold at larger retailers where most customers just assume it is an approved version," said Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Lt. Col. Jeff Mayne, the state's Boating Law Administrator. "We want people to be aware during the purchase to look for the U.S. Coast Guard approval number on the label."
According to the USCG, all approved PFDs are tested by a sanctioned USCG recognized laboratory. These PFD tests validate a PFD's performance and also make them legal for use.
As one of its many duties, the LDWF Enforcement Division is charged with making the state's waterways safer for the public to enjoy and use. The LDWF Enforcement Division strictly enforces PFD requirements on the water since it has been determined to be one of the largest factors in preventing boating incident fatalities.
In 2012, there were 23 boating incident fatalities in Louisiana of which 15 officially listed drowning as the cause of death.
In Louisiana, a vessel must have a USCG approved PFD for each occupant. Also, anybody under 16 years of age must wear a USCG approved PFD if on board a vessel less than 26 feet in length and while underway.
"The unapproved personal flotation devices for sale are attractive purchases because they usually cost less than the USCG approved ones," said Lt. Col. Mayne. "However, those unapproved personal flotation devices would not be considered legal and could potentially put somebody's life at risk."