Fishing is at the heart of Louisiana outdoor life. Sure, we love to hunt, but that’s only allowed for a few months each year. Fishing season, on the other hand, never ends.
And God must have had fishing in mind when he designed the landscape that later became the great state of Louisiana. With an estimated 7,700 miles of tidal shoreline, innumerable rivers and streams, and some of the best reservoirs in the country, there’s no shortage of opportunities to get out on the water and catch some fish.
Unfortunately, we all too often get so caught up in the enjoyment that it’s easy to forget that operating a boat can be dangerous. And too many of us think nothing of hopping behind the wheel or into a passenger seat for quick runs to other potential hotspots — never thinking to slip on our life jackets.
Even worse, we often plop down on top of our PFDs laying on our seats.
And it’s perfectly legal — except for children younger than 17, who must wear PFDs whenever vessels are in motion.
But not wearing a PFD is stupid. It’s no different than not wearing a safety strap when deer hunting from a lock-on or climbing stand. Hey, I’m one of those who for years never, ever wore a safety strap. And I mostly ignored PFDs.
With age comes wisdom — and the realization that I’m not immortal. But I still sometimes find myself making quick runs from spot to spot without taking the few seconds necessary to snap on the PFD out on my seat. Old habits die hard.
The fact is that a great day on the water can quickly turn bad, and an angler who isn’t wearing a PFD is much more likely to die in the ensuing chaos than one who is wearing a life jacket.
Recent stats released by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries indicate the message might be getting across: Fewer boating fatalities were logged last year than any other time since 1974, when tracking these fatalities began.
The numbers have been falling for decades, with an average of 25 deaths on the water since 2010.
There were still 13 lives lost in 2013, but it’s a major step in the right direction.
We all have reasons not to wear what could one day save our lives. But it’s really mostly about habit. I can remember the days when seat belts were optional. Yes, I usually refused to wear one then, but now I would never get behind the wheel of my truck without securing that strap across my lap and shoulder.
I can still remember my young son scolding me whenever I would shift into drive without the seat belt on, and that helped push me to form a new habit.
Consider this your scolding: Wear your PFD every time you start your boat’s motor.
It’s just the smart thing to do.