Reader Reactions to February 2011 PFD Editorial

Just read your article. You nailed it! Why penalize everyone for the irresponsible acts of a few? If you want to wear a helmet on your bike, wear it. If you want to wear a PFD, wear it, but don't mandate it. The exception is children, of course.
**Tom Parks
**Okoboji, Iowa

I found your editorial interesting. I do my boating in Ocean City, Maryland, and I'm in the habit of wearing a PFD any time I'm on my boat. I also require my grandsons, age 13 and 16, to wear theirs when they go out fishing with me, be it in the bay or ocean. I think a PFD is like a seat belt in a car — you can drive without one but it's not the best choice you can make. Enforcing mandatory wear would be difficult to say the least, but the "click it or ticket" program has gone a long way to getting 100 percent usage. The suspender-style PFDs are easy to wear and don't hinder movement at all; I think they're great. I know there are strong feelings on both sides of the issue, but I, for one, think they should be required. Better safe than sorry.
**Robert M. Bauersmith
**King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

Thank you very much for your perceptive and long overdue editorial in the February 2011 issue of Boating! I, too, am sick and tired of all the self-serving and self-congratulatory drivel from the safety "experts."
**George Bleyle
**Hudson, Ohio

I just received my February 2011 Boating magazine, outstanding! I do have a couple of things I'd like to comment on. First of all, kudos to David Seidman for his Following Seas article; nicely said! Secondly, I know you've been expecting my rebuttal on your editorial. (I have no intention of disappointing you. ... Drum roll, please!)

I agree with you (I’m way out on a limb here); I do not believe mandatory PFD-wear laws will make our sport safe. And, at the risk of sounding like I’m contradicting myself, I will say that I do believe a mandatory wear law will save lives on the water. Let me attempt an explanation by drawing on a personal analogy: I have two vehicles, a 2010 Camaro SS with 426 horsepower, more airbags than I can count, power disc antilock “stop on a dime” brakes, power rack-and-pinion steering, OnStar, etc., etc. ... and an original 1951 Chevy pickup with 98 horsepower, no airbags, no antilock brakes, no power steering, no OnStar and no seat belts! In which vehicle am I a better (more defensive) driver?

Answer: 1951 pickup. Why? Because I feel more “at risk” with less safety equipment to protect me.

Using this thought process, not wearing a life jacket may have a tendency to make you feel more at risk and thus “safer” in your thinking. The problem lies internally — in your thinking!

As you said, “In any sport there is a risk.” Precisely! Living itself is a risk, and we all take risks every day of our lives. Only when life has ended does the risk go away. The trick is to accurately assess the risk, make solid decisions and take appropriate mitigating action when the level of risk exceeds your “acceptability” of that risk. And, just as it’s too late to buckle your seat belt when an accident occurs with your car, it’s too late to put on a life jacket when an accident occurs with your boat. Prudent mariners (and drivers) wear life jackets (and seat belts). And, we all think we’re prudent mariners, right? (Why, I’d even wear a pink life jacket in public!)

I would advocate for mandatory education long before mandatory wear; educate our fellow boaters to the risks and let them make their own decisions about “to wear or not to wear.” I believe many more boaters would voluntarily don a life jacket, once better educated about the risks, and boating fatalities would drop. Mandatory wear would no doubt save lives, but at the potential expense of (some) boaters feeling less at risk simply by wearing the life jacket and subsequently taking more risks. Mandatory education would allow boaters to make better decisions, and fatality numbers would fall.

Outstanding editorial, and thanks to Boating magazine for bringing this issue to the forefront! Now, if we could only get your cover models to wear life jackets! (I hope you still have your helmet on!)
Mike Folkerts
Juneau, Alaska

I received my February copy of Boating and read your editorial with great interest. One of the key points of your editorial is that boater education is an essential component to safely enjoying the boating lifestyle.

We are in the business of boater education. The state of New Jersey has a mandated boater education program that requires that everyone who operates a boat or PWC complete an eight-hour boater education class and pass a proctored exam to receive his or her Boater Safety Certificate. This has helped raise the awareness of safety, equipment requirement, etc. Classroom instruction is valuable but should not be the only requirement for boaters.

We conduct a hands-on, on-the-water training program for boaters. We go to boaters’ docks, train the boaters on their boats and conduct the training exercises in the waters where they actually boat. There is a basic four-hour program, and we also offer more extensive training if there is a need and/or desire. Classroom instruction cannot substitute for the effects of wind and current on boat handling. Classrooms do not show how a boat handles at slow speeds and what it feels like to go on plane or how their boat responds to different sea conditions.

We have meet with boat dealers, members of the NMMA, trade organizations, etc. They are polite, but there is a reluctance to offer or subsidize any training for new boat owners. We generally get referrals from dealers after the customers are frustrated with their new boats and are giving up on boating. Boat salesmen usually tell prospective customers that it’s just like driving a car!

We are aware that the Coast Guard has considered requiring on-water training, but instituting any mandated program is an uphill battle. I would like to invite you to visit our website, boatboymarinetraining.com, to see what our program offers. We know our program is very successful and believe that similar programs can be conducted throughout the boating industry.
One other point we found: Happy boaters buy bigger boats! We would be happy to provide you with any additional information and definitely support your position on mandatory PFDs.
Capt. Len Mangiaracina
Vice president and general manager
Boatboy Marine Training

Just a quick shout-out to tell you that you don't need to wear that helmet (as you mentioned at the end of your editorial in the February issue). You voiced an opinion — there are a lot of us who absolutely agree that, in this world of ours, we legislate a lot of things that shouldn't be legislated. In doing so, we take away certain freedoms and take away the right to make our own decisions. I agree with you that, if only we could get boaters smarter via educational programs, there wouldn't be all that stupidity that gets people hurt while they're trying to have fun.

So keep on with the great work you do with Boating magazine (the best boating mag out there!). Last month you were obsessing about some of the complaints you got about the recent "swimsuit" edition. Why not? Sports Illustrated has one — even Hot Rod magazine has a swimsuit edition. It just so happens that a swimsuit edition is more of a natural "fit" for a magazine that caters to people who have fun on the water. Duh!

As to the people who will complain about your view on PFDs or the fact that you ran a swimsuit edition, you will always get complaints from someone! Instead of obsessing about them, feel great about the people (like me and the majority of your readers) who really like what you do and aren't about to cancel their subscriptions. You can likely please 50 percent of the people 50 percent of the time, but those folks will support the magazine for a long time to come. So forget about last month and get going on next month! Can't wait to see what you come up with!
Bob "The Captain" Helm
Mahwah, New Jersey

I applaud your editorial comment on the issue of mandatory PFDs. I am a past commander of the Four Rivers Sail & Power Squadron in Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, Iowa, and would like your permission to reprint and forward your editorial to our membership and other boaters in our area. Further, I would be interested in obtaining information, direction and resources available to help in the campaign to stop any further mandatory PFD legislation or regulation.
Jim Stickney
North Liberty, Iowa

As a lifetime boater, now retired, I have experienced river canoeing, flat-bottom rowboat fishing, waterskiing and scuba diving. I have chartered sailboats in the Caribbean, but mostly spent the best years cruising the Great Lakes under both sail and power.

Without any knowledge of the proposed PFD law details, I agree with you totally.

Boating is too complex an activity to be covered by a blanket law. If the young and daring sailboarders, water skiers, speedboaters and single-handed sailors are dumb enough to go out without flotation, they simply qualify themselves for Seidman’s Darwin Awards.

Once you move up to cruising-size boats, all the dynamics change. You could have sunbathers on the foredeck, others napping below, still others in the head or busy in the galley. I know you understand the scene. Nobody in their right mind is going to wear a PFD under these circumstances unless the weather really turns rough, or someone launches the high-speed outboard dinghy and put themselves in a totally different boating environment.

Basic orange vests are ugly, uncomfortable and embarrassing. My mate and I ended up with the slim necklace inflatables when protection was called for. It wasn't a cheap choice, but it seemed like a logical happy medium between stupidity and paranoia. Thanks for your honesty, and screw the "experts"!

PS: And please take your bike helmet off. Those stupidly styled beanies make everyone look ridiculous. Why worry about your skull when you could die of embarrassment? Is there any documented proof that those ugly foam toadstools have actually saved a life? With me it was always hands, elbows and knees that did the bleeding.
Dave "The Bareheaded Biker" Wallace
Via e-mail

I couldn't agree with you more. I live in Australia, and here the authorities seem to think that if someone stubs his toe they need to legislate to protect him. In recent years we have seen a raft of stupid legislation, which has been enacted so that some politician looks good at a press conference without consideration for the practicalities of the new red tape. What happened to common sense and consideration for others?

In the state of Queensland, on any open boat under 4.8 meters (15.75 feet) that is under way, children under 12 years must wear a PFD. This means that if you are in a quiet anchorage in a larger boat and you want to go to a shore that is 50 meters (164 feet) away, the kids need a PFD on regardless of the conditions. I agree that children need protecting, but how prescriptive is this? Don't let this stupidity occur in your fantastic country.
Rick Terpstra
Australia