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Simple, comfortable, life-saving

The sun is out, the fish are biting and the water is fine. It's boating season in the Midwest and all the pieces are coming together for a great time on the lake.

Before you gas up the 18-footer and take the family out for a day of fishing, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reminds boaters to bring along the final piece necessary to make the outing complete -- life jackets.

"The lack of a life jacket is the No. 1 contributor to boating deaths in the state," said Kara Owens, boat and water safety specialist for the Minnesota DNR. "It's a simple thing to put on, and it could save your life."

Since 2010, 43 people died in boating accidents on Minnesota waters, Owens said. Thirty-five of them were not wearing a life jacket.

A good fit

There are now more choices for life jackets, vests and flotation aids than ever before. The DNR says the most important factor when deciding which type to use is that it fits properly.

"People often see a life jacket and assume it will just fit, but that's not always the case," Owens said.

She said a good way to test the fit is for a person to put on a life jacket and lift their arms over their head. Then ask someone else to grab the top of the jacket and try to pull it off.

"A proper fit will stay put," Owens said.

When it comes to finding the right floatation device for children, there are a few more guidelines to keep in mind. The DNR recommends:

• Make sure the jacket or vest has an approval label from the U.S. Coast Guard. Toys like plastic rings and arm floaties are not a substitute.

• Check the label for weight and chest size recommendations. As with adults, the life jacket should not slip off if it is pulled up while the child is lifting their arms.

• A good floatation device for children will have a head support to help keep their head above water, as well as roll them face up if they become unconscious.

• For younger children, a strap between the legs will help prevent the jacket from slipping off.

• And for older children, making sure to choose a comfortable and stylish life jacket will make it more likely to be worn.

The right style

When purchasing a personal floatation device, the array of options can be overwhelming. Jackets, vests, inflatables and floatation aids each have their own benefits and factors to be aware of.

A vest-type flotation aid, also called a Type III aid, is one of the most popular choices in Minnesota, Owens said. "They are comfortable and can actually help keep you warm."

Vest floatation aids work well because they require little maintenance and are rugged enough for waterskiing and tubing, according to the Coast Guard.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that a floatation aid is not as likely to turn an unconscious person face up compared to other floatation devices.

Inflatable life jackets are another option. They are generally smaller and don't add as much heat for the wearer, but they require regular maintenance and are not recommended for use by people under 16, the Coast Guard says.

No matter which type of life jackets boaters choose, Owens said most new styles are very easy to wear.

"A lot of people don't realize life jackets have gotten a lot more comfortable a lightweight," Owens said, adding that they have come a long way since the bulky orange vests she remembers from her youth.

Not an option

• A boat must have a personal floatation device for each person on board. Additionally, all boats longer than 16 feet, except for canoes and kayaks, must also have a Type IV throwable device like a buoyant cushion.

• Although life jackets do not need to be worn at all times, they must be readily accessible. This means they can be retrieved easily and quickly in case of an emergency -- and forbids storing them in lockers, under anchors or in bags.

• Life jackets must be worn when riding personal watercraft.

• Children 10 years and younger must wear a life jacket on any watercraft that is away from the dock.

For more information on boating safety and Minnesota life jacket laws, visit

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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