Children and Life Jackets

We are new to our marina neighborhood and with the warmer sunny days arriving, so are more people. More families are down at the marina as well, which means more small children. What I have also noticed is that many of these small children (five and under) aren’t wearing life jackets on the docks. It is making me crazy.

If we are being honest here, I must preface this by saying that I am kind of a fatalist when it comes to safety. I grew up watching a steady supply of Dateline and Rescue 911 and can spot danger anywhere. It’s both annoying and helpful at the same time.

Did you know that the number one cause for accident related deaths in children ages 1-4 is drowning? I didn’t. I found story after story about kids getting stuck under docks, boats and boat ramps. Not the most cheery afternoon reading let me tell you, but they represented the reality of children and water. The common denominator in all of those incidents was the absence of a life jacket. I can see how it happens though.


We walk the docks no less than four times a day with our girls. Putting life jackets on and taking them off is a chore. It would be a thousand times easier to skip it and just hold their hand really tight and keep a close eye on them. However it seems something always happens between point A and B on the dock. We MUST look at a certain sea star, or we stop to talk with someone, or a seal pops up, or a dog passes on the dock that we MUST pat or a cool boat we haven’t seen before pulls in. All of these things cause distraction. This distraction allows for the one minute it takes a small child to fall into the water. Every single time I want to skip the life jacket I think about these things and we put them on.


Most little kids naturally have a curiosity about water. There are interesting things to see and somehow the closer they get their cute little faces to the water the happier they are. One of the most maddening yet beautiful things I have discovered is the innocence kids have about water safety. They don’t know what can happen and even when we explain it in the most kid friendly age appropriate way, it still doesn’t register as a change in action.

When I see families walking the docks with small children not in life jackets, I seriously can’t stop watching them. It’s as though I must be ready at a moments notice to spring into action if their child falls in. No one picks the day a tragedy happens. The water is cold here and that coupled with even basic swimming skills in a little person without a life jacket can cause them to sink quickly. It’s a dreadful thought but it’s a reality. The Port of Friday Harbor even has FREE life jackets that you can borrow for your time on the docks or a boat. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

So, if you have small children and frequent the marina I kindly ask you to put a life jacket on your child. It only takes one minute at the most and could save you a million moments of regret and heartache and could save a life. A wet, cold scared child with a life jacket on is way easier to deal with.


6 thoughts on “Children and Life Jackets

  1. Letting a kid drown only yards from a PFD would entirely transcend the stupid feeling of actually being the one drowning just a few feet from the one simple thing that would have made a critical difference.

    When I was six years old, my folks took their eyes off me for a few seconds while we were on a dock fueling and pumping. I promptly stepped onto a group of big logs tied to the dock, which equally promptly separated, let me slip through, then closed up again. I can still vividly see the shafts of sunlight coming through the cracks between the logs as I struggled to get up and out, unsuccessfully. I was pulled out and revived just after losing consciousness, thanks to the fact my dad was a PFD “fascist” and insisted we always wear the things while on board or on the dock. Otherwise, different story and I would not be the one telling it.

    Kids are not supposed to be slaves to our ideological attachment to Darwinian competition, or laziness or whatever else it may be that cripples our useful imagination.

  2. I totally feel the same way about life jackets! A drowning can happen so fast! We don’t go to docks very often, but when we do, my kids always wear them.

    BTW… I am glad I found your blog:) I live in WA state too and our family has property on the island. It is beautiful up there!

  3. The ONLY times our nearly four-year old daughter does not wear her pfd on the docks is when we physically carry her (if she is, for instance, asleep). After almost two years of living aboard, I don’t even want to estimate the number of times we have taken her pfd on and off. But, as stated in the article, for peace of mind it’s always worth the extra seconds it takes to do so.

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