Greg Fisher
In worst-case scenarios, the boat is lost and people are thrown overboard

Safety is no accident, as they say. As a saying, it's great, but in practice all too often safety is only considered in hindsight, after the damage has been done.

Recently I had occasion to attend the National Marine Safety Committee's Marine Safety Conference in Perth. The NMSC conference covered a lot of ground over its three days, much of it, not surprisingly, given over to discussing statistics and data and how they relate to making our time on the water safer. But there was one statistic that stood out – at least for me.

Various studies over the years have shown that if you find yourself unexpectedly in the water, your chances of survival are doubled if you're wearing a life jacket or PFD (Personal Flotation Device).

If you are in the water unintentionally, chances are that something has gone wrong. It might be one particular incident, or a range of circumstances that have combined to find you away from the shelter of your boat.

In many cases, you might have had adequate warning and time to prepare for such a situation. It could be that the weather has turned nasty and you, and possibly your crew, have been confronted by a situation in which the outcome was unavoidable. Ocean racing comes to mind, in which competitors can find themselves in an overwhelming situation where conditions intervene and people are thrown overboard or have to abandon their boats. Ideally, in these circumstances, people have a chance to prepare by donning PFDs in advance.

In other cases, there might not be too much warning. From our own experience as a marine insurance provider, there are many scenarios in which people have found themselves overboard without any warning whatsoever. Collisions are one example. Generally speaking, collisions, either boat-to-boat or with a solid object such as a channel marker or jetty, are instantaneous situations in which, from a practical point of view, there is no warning at all. After all, if people saw it coming, they would avoid it. So, they are likely to be caught unawares, with no time to slip on a PFD before they hit the water.

In worst-case scenarios, the boat is lost and people are thrown overboard and have to spend some lengthy time in the water. The water may be cold and there might be other hazards in the form of debris, passing boats of even hostile wildlife. They are highly likely to be injured, might have lost consciousness and are at great risk of further injury or worse.

But whatever the particular situation, it is absolutely clear is that they are going to be a lot better off if they are wearing a PFD. There is simply no argument.

Recently, legislation has been introduced for compulsory wearing of PFDs in certain circumstances, based largely on possible worst-case scenarios. Understandably, there has been protest in some areas from boaters who argue that what they wear and when should be up to them. And there are certainly some circumstances in which wearing PFDs should be up to the discretion of the skipper or crew.

But we all need to keep in mind that the difference between wearing one and not can have permanent and unpleasant consequences.

As we head into another boating season, I urge all skippers and crews to make themselves aware of the various PFD regulations in each state and the many quality products on offer. And if you are not required to wear one by law, at least make sure that everyone on board knows exactly where they are stored and how to use them.

In this issue we have compiled information on the various legislative requirements for PFDs and the types that are available. Please read it and contact your local marine authorities if you want to know more.

In the meantime, safe boating and we look forward to catching up with you on the water sometime over the coming few months.

Be safe.

Greg Fisher,
CEO and Publisher,
Club Marine.