New ad campaign promotes life jacket use

5/20/08

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources is kicking off the boating season with a new safe boating campaign that promotes life jacket use.

The "Wear IT, Indiana" promotion targets recreational boaters and swimmers by encouraging the use of life jackets through a series of TV commercials featuring messages from Indiana Conservation Officers, along with race car drivers Terry, Bobby and Justin Labonte; TV fishing show host Bill Dance; and U.S. Olympic kayak silver medalist Rebecca Giddens.

The campaign coincides with National Safe Boating Week (May 17-23) but carries a year-round message.

"We want to make people aware of not just having life jackets but also the importance of wearing them," DNR director Robert E. Carter Jr. said. "Our goal through the 'Wear It' campaign is to reduce and perhaps eliminate the number of accidental drowning deaths due to watercraft and recreational swimming accidents on Indiana's lakes and rivers."

In 2006, the U.S. Coast Guard reported 474 drowning deaths from motorboat accidents. Ninety percent of those victims were not wearing life jackets. In that same year, Indiana reported six boating fatalities with three victims not wearing life jackets. Indiana had 27 other drowning fatalities in 2006 that were not boating related.

"If we somehow could get boaters and non-swimmers into the habit of wearing life jackets while on or near the water, the majority of these drowning deaths could be prevented." said Col. Mike Crider, chief of the DNR Division of Law Enforcement. "Technology has advanced the comfort level of life jackets tremendously, almost to a level that no boater or non-swimmer should have an excuse not to wear one."

Less bulky, lighter weight materials and affordability have made a difference in life jacket usage by Indiana Conservation Officers.

"Before we provided our officers with inflatable life jackets, it was difficult to ask them to wear a traditional foam-filled jacket on a day when air temperatures approached 90 degrees or above," Crider said. "Today, under those same conditions, you'd find our officers wearing it all day without much thought of the heat."

Traditional U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets are still legal, but a number of manufacturers offer reasonably priced inflatable life jackets and belt packs that are comfortable and non-restricting. They are available in a variety of colors, including camouflage. Prices range from $50-$150. Float coats and jackets that provide more protection from the elements and can act as a life jacket also are available, with prices beginning around $150.

Indiana law requires that all watercraft 17 feet and above in length be equipped with one wearable U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each passenger on board and that the life jacket fits the person who intends to wear it.

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