Customize Your Lifejacket

Adding these accessories adds up to safer boating.

I own a variety of life jackets for a variety of uses. My belt pack serves for evening cruises and other quiet-water use when I am accompanied. My inflatable vest is great for when I’m offshore fishing with friends. When I’m out on open water by myself, I often choose the vest pictured here. Inherently buoyant, it’s reliable and requires little attention, and the pockets come in handy. It’s not meant to be presented as the “best” life jacket. Instead, I’d like you to consider the features it possesses and the customizations I’ve made, in the hope that you might benefit from them in your personal boating situation.

Customizing Your Life Jacket
Pre-fit and pre-adjust life-jacket straps for each member of your crew. That way, if they are not wearing their life jacket when an emergency strikes, it can be put on more quickly. Every second counts!Jon Whittle

Reflective Patches
This vest came with them factory-installed, but companies like ACR make adhesive reflectors you should consider adding to any life jacket not equipped with them. Apply them high on the shoulders and neck to ensure they catch a searchlight beam when you are in the water.

Whistle
No matter how loud you can yell, you can't yell for long before losing your voice. A whistle allows an exhausted person to make a loud noise. This one easily attached to the top strap of my life jacket.

Beacon
I keep my personal locator beacon (PLB) strapped to the life jacket I am wearing. Many of these float, but unlike a full-size EPIRB, they must be held so the antenna faces the sky. So, even if I become exhausted, fastening my beacon in this fashion ensures it will continue to send its rescue signal — and its strobe light will ­continue to be seen.

Light
Shown is a strobe light that is absolutely blinding. But even a less powerful, basic life-jacket light will exponentially increase your chances of being spotted. The batteries for these are a special long-lasting type.

Identification
Writing the names of crew in waterproof marker ensures that each crewmember can grab the correct jacket in an emergency. The boat's name is marked on life jackets, and everything else that might float free in a sinking and provide a clue to rescuers ­searching for me.

Water
Emergency water packets available from camping-supply companies ensure I can stay hydrated at least for a time. This means I can stay more alert and be more readily able to make the best decisions to help rescuers find me and my crew.

Sunscreen
It's not silly to protect your face from the burning rays while floating in a life jacket. Coated as such, my crew and I would be in better physical condition — and thus better able to assist in our own rescue — than if we did not have it.

Food
I also load the life jacket's pockets with a couple of energy bars and some Life Savers to suck on. At the risk of sounding repetitive, consuming these may help me to better help myself.

Line
I keep a 12-foot-long length of ¼-inch nylon coiled in one pocket to tie myself and my crewmembers together so we do not drift apart. Staying together is better for morale and also makes a bigger target for ­rescuers to spot.