Life Jacket Article by Howard Glenn

Boating is so much a part of our life and culture. We start as kids, paddling a canoe or taking a ride on the Manly Ferry, looking at all the sorts of boats that are going past. NSW is a great State for boating, and we learn this early in life.

Those of us who learned about boating early, also learned that lifejackets were those big, bulky, usually smelly bits of foam that never fitted right, and stopped us having fun. We knew where they were on the boat, but only put them on if our parents told us to, and didn’t when we didn’t have to.

And that’s still a common attitude to lifejackets today. The rate of wear is low, unless someone in authority says something.

We reckon that there are around 1.8 million people in NSW who go boating each year. That’s millions of boating trips altogether, across the many inland and coastal waterways.

While boating is a relatively safe activity, the reality is that lives are lost each year. All too often this loss of life is preventable.

Last year 27 people died in boating related accidents. Sure, that’s a low percentage but that’s little comfort to the families and friends of those 27 people.

We have compiled statistics from the last 10 years of boating incidents in NSW. The most common type of incidents on recreational boats involve vessels capsizing and people falling overboard from boats under six metres in length.

93% of people who drown when boating are not wearing a lifejacket.

The vast majority of these people would have survived if they were wearing a lifejacket. The reality is that a small investment in precaution can have a massive positive return.

We’re no longer talking lifejackets which are the type we remember from years past – the big smelly “blocks of cheese”. Today’s lifejackets are lightweight, stylish, inflatable and don’t get in the way of having fun or being active.

Just like applying sunscreen, a small action like putting on a lifejacket can reap major rewards in preventing loss of life.

Before you set foot on a small boat, go fishing from a tinny, or get in a canoe or kayak, we want you to choose to put on a lifejacket. We want wearing a lifejacket to become an integral part of a day on the water.

Don’t kid yourself into thinking that you don’t need to wear a lifejacket just because you’re a strong swimmer or an experienced skipper. If you hit your head or are shocked by cold water, having a lifejacket on is your best chance to keep your head above the water for long enough to be rescued or get yourself to safety. We see many strong swimmers and experienced skippers in our statistics.

Last December, we launched our safety campaign theme: “A Lifejacket Never Ruined a Day on the Water.” This will continue to run in an expanded form over the coming boating season.

Promoting the importance of wearing lifejackets in small boats is also something that other marine safety organisations from around the globe are right behind.

Here in NSW, we developed a set of principles for wearing lifejackets that has been endorsed by maritime safety authorities from Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States.

There’s no longer a debate amongst safety authorities – we all now recommend wearing lifejackets when you’re in the open area of a small boat which is underway.

However the greatest challenge facing the international recreational boating community is encouraging people to wear lifejackets.

That’s where you come in.

If you’re the skipper, you’re responsible for all passengers onboard your boat. You need to ensure there are lifejackets for everyone onboard, in good condition and the correct sizes. You must ensure that you and your passengers always wear lifejackets when the situation demands it. And you might think about upgrading your lifejackets to types that you and your passengers are comfortable wearing.

While we really want you to choose to put on a lifejacket when you’re in a small boat underway, lifejacket wear is actually compulsory in some higher risk circumstances. Fines can be issued by police or Boating Safety Officers. Full details of our lifejacket wear rules are at

You’ll find a lot more information at our Marine Safety Precinct in Hall 5 at this year’s Sydney International Boat Show, being held at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre & Cockle Bay Marina, Darling Harbour, between 1 and 5 August.

We will have a special stand providing education on the new style of inflatable lifejackets and will also feature a Paddle Safe competition where winners will be in the running for one of three new paddle craft.

Safe and enjoyable boating to all.