Friday, August 10, 2012
Life jackets fit kids to a tee
Hot Shots offers a free ticket for a round of miniature golf as a reward to kids for wearing life jackets.
The Smith Mountain Lake Water Safety Council has been issuing tickets to kids on the water during boat safety checks again this summer. But these kids aren't breaking any laws - they're being rewarded for wearing their life jackets. The tickets are redeemable for a free round of miniature golf with a paying adult at Hot Shots Family Fun Center.
While incentives such as free mini-golf can be one way to encourage kids to wear their life jackets, it's also the law. Federal regulation requires children younger than 13 to wear a life jacket while a boat is under way.
"Just like you make your kids wear bike helmets, make them wear life jackets," said U.S. Coast Guard Director of Operations Policy, Rear Admiral J.W. Underwood, in a news release urging parents to remind their children to wear their life jackets.
These days, life jackets come in fun, vibrant colors and often with children's favorite cartoon or movie characters. Because life jackets come in a variety of styles and sizes, ensuring the proper fit is also important.
According to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' website, life jackets should be snug, not tight-fitting.
"Lift your arms over your head: Can you turn your head left, right and over your shoulder or has the life jacket ridden up and in the way of moving your head? For a child, have them stand with their arms to their sides. Lift the life jacket up by the shoulders. The life jacket should not move more than 3 inches, no higher than the child's ears," according to the DGIF website.
Even when children are playing near the shoreline or are fishing off a dock, children should still be wearing life jackets, according to Art Cournoyer, a certified safe boating instructor with the Smith Mountain Lake Power Sail and Squadron.
"Just a few feet off the end of a dock can be very deep water - 8, 10, 15 feet or more," said Cournoyer. "Children playing on docksides should wear a suitable life jacket, especially those that don't swim well and those that can't swim at all."
Life jackets aren't just for children; adults need them while boating, too.
"The minimum requirement in Virginia is that we have a properly sized life jacket on board the boat, for each person on the vessel, and the jackets are readily accessible, not packed away hard to reach," said Cournoyer.
According to statistics provided by Cournoyer, there were 20 boating fatalities in Virginia last year. Out of those, the majority - 15 - were the result of drowning where the victims were not wearing a life jacket.
"With all good intentions many of us will plan to wear a life jacket when conditions become less safe or [when] we're confronted with an emergency," said Cournoyer. "While this plan is absolutely a good idea, the problem is that unexpected things do happen, and they happen quickly. There may not be time to retrieve or put on life jackets," he said.
Keeping kids safe while rewarding them is a win-win for everyone. That's why Jeff Schott, owner of Hot Shots, agreed to offer the free mini-golf tickets when he was approached by members of the Smith Mountain Lake Water Safety Council with the ticket program.
"I try to do anything that I can do to support the community," said Schott. "The kids get their tickets, and it shows they're proud to be a safe boater."
The WSC gives out the tickets during vessel-safety checks, as well as other times when members see children wearing their life jackets at a marina or on a dock.
"The kids really like the prize, and it promotes the use of life jackets on boats and docks," said Cournoyer. "Life jackets save lives. Wearing one can save a life, no matter what age."