Misguided on lifejackets 

In the June 2014 Mail Bag, Tom Gilmore had a strong opinion about requiring all boaters to wear lifejackets. (“Columnist’s call for PFDs is ‘misguided’ ”) 

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I feel that Tim is a bit misguided.

First, Tim is absolutely correct that different law enforcement agencies are tasked with the job of enforcing the existing laws of the land. But how did Tom get the idea that the Department of Homeland Security has anything to do with lifejacket enforcement? Unless someone is hiding a bomb in his or her paddleboat or rowboat, I just don’t see the connection. They deal with threats much bigger than lifejackets. 

I do, however, completely agree with Tom about enforcing laws that are already on the books, which includes alcohol. How much booze is too much? In my opinion, it should be the same as on the roadways. But I feel that Tom’s connection between enforcing the limits on alcohol and requiring the use of lifejackets is like comparing apples to oranges. They are completely different animals.

I also agree with Tom that most “incidents” (Tom called them accidents, but that is getting off the track) are caused by drunk or loaded boaters. This is a problem that has been going on ever since people started playing about in boats. But if someone does get run over, people don’t float if they don’t have a PFD on. No matter how strong the laws are, people will be out boating when they should not be.

A more appropriate comparison here would be requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets. This has been a big deal in some states. Should a state step in to protect the average citizen even if they don’t want to be protected? But the real question is whether requiring helmets have saved lives. You bet. Would requiring lifejackets also save lives? You bet.

Getting back to Tom’s comments concerning law enforcement personnel. I might question if lifejacket use is really the underlying concern on his mind. Or is his real concern with authority figures in general?

With every change in society (like motorcycle helmets) there will be people that will be for and against the idea. But we live in a society of laws that at least on the surface are in place to protect us. In real life, it might not work out that way. But that was the original idea.

I suggest that if a person wants to live with less regulations in their life, they might live someplace with fewer people. Almost always, fewer people equals fewer restrictions. We all make choices in life. Wearing a lifejacket whether the law tells you to or not is still your choice. 

Dennis H. Murphy 

Olympia, Wash. 


Ed. Note: Dennis Murphy isa professional ship captain and was an instructor at two maritime schools in the Seattle area. Tom Gilmore’s Mail Bag letter was in response to Capt. Alan Bernstein’s Captain’s Table column in the April 2014 issue on rowing safety and PFDs.