By Don Mueggenborg
(This is my position and not a position of the Illinois Paddlling Council.)
A little controversy – anyone want to contact the editor with a rebuttal?
A recent email I received stated that the Coast Guard was considering a law making it necessary for boat operators to wear a PFD at all times. Their statistics showed that wearing a PFD saves lives. (I cannot argue with that.)
As I paddled the Lower DesPlaines in 95 degree weather, my paddling hitting bottom on every stroke, I wondered what reasons I could give to show that one size does not fit all. That mandatory, meaning all the time, in all conditions, is a bad idea.
Then I realized that I had the answer, my paddle was hitting bottom – the water was so shallow that if I were to tip, I could reach down with one hand and right myself. If I fell in, I wouldn’t get my ankles wet. The river isn’t even one hundred yards across so I could get to the bank.
I can see no reason to be wearing a PFD at that time. (Yes, I know rivers have holes that are deep.)
Then I began to wonder where we could find the answers to the questions that arose in my mind. I began to question the statistics.
- How many paddlers died on rivers in Illinois?
- Where did the accidents occur?
- How many of these would not have died if they were wearing a PFD.
- (If you are hit by a motor boat speeding 30 mph, your chances are pretty slim whether you have a PFD on or not).
- How many of these involve alcohol or drugs?
Most statistics lump all watercraft accidents together – not separating the paddlesport craft.
You can see where I stand on mandatory wearing of PFDs. One size does not fit all!
I respect those who feel that everyone should wear a PFD at all times when on the water in a canoe or kayak. If you feel better wearing a PFD, by all means wear it.
There certainly are times when a PFD should be worn.
- If you cannot swim (or have not swam for such a long time that you don’t know if you can still swim)
- When the weather or water is too cold. (I wear a PFD in the early spring and late fall even in shallow water.)
- When it is windy, when you are in high, fast water (flood stage), in rapids
- When you are on a large body of water – very wide river or a lake (the wind will blow the canoe away from you – can you get to shore by yourself?)
- When there are power boats that cause problems because they are unaware of the wakes they leave and the nature of a canoe or kayak
- When the trip leader, Race or Event sponsor says you have to
Statistics (not scientific numbers, sorry)
The Des Plaines River Canoe Marathon – a citizen race with most of the paddlers not people who race more than 1 or 2 races a year and race with cruising boats.
The race has been going on for over 57 years (some years we required wearing PFDs, so let’s cut it down to 50 years) – average 500 boats a year over that time – 25,000 paddlers – no incidents.
The USCA and Paddlesport insure races all over North America – in the 20 or 30 years they have been insuring paddlers – no incidents.
We might be better off making sure our PFDs work and that we can still swim, if we haven’t been swimming in a while.
My side of the argument – this is what I would present if a bill ever comes up. Any comments?
Feel free to send thoughts to the IPC newsletter editor at email@example.com.