Going for a swim? Throw on a life vest
For those whose lifework is preventing drowning, "our dream is that teenagers think, when you go to the beach, you grab a towel, sunscreen — and a life jacket."
That may sound like a strange and hard-to-implement way to reduce drowning mishaps. But there's plenty of logic behind that dream, as expressed by Tizzy Bennett, health-education manager at Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center, and a member of the King County Drowning Prevention Coalition.
Not only does a life jacket — or an inflatable vest that doesn't interfere with swimming — provide instant flotation when a swimmer gets tired, it also gives a small but sometimes crucial amount of body insulation to stall the effects of hypothermia.
The goal for drowning-prevention workers is to get people to equate life jackets with bicycle helmets. While few people wore helmets while bicycling 30 years ago, most do today. So the hope is that with enough promotion and marketing, life-jacket use will also rise.
But convincing a teenager or young adult to wear one? "What we're hearing," said Tony Gomez, head of the drowning-prevention coalition, "is that adolescents think life jackets are nerdy. 'They're for the little kids. They're not comfortable.' There's a push to get more comfort, more hip life jackets, but we're a few years away from that."
Bennett has organized life-jacket fashion shows to try to get teens to accept them.
She also has approached manufacturers to consider making more swimmer-friendly models, but they doubt there's a market: "It's really hard for people to believe you need to have a life jacket while you're swimming."
However, several models exist already that can do the job. Many types of life vests designed for water sports, such as water skiing or riding a personal water craft, are trim and don't hinder swimming motions much.
Also, marine-supply stores carry a new type of inflatable life vest that looks like a pair of suspenders. They can be inflated either by breathing into a tube or by pulling a cord that activates a carbon-dioxide cartridge. But they're designed more for boating than for swimming, and carry a boater's premium price tag (around $200).
A cheaper alternative is a diver's snorkeling vest at around $35. It's mouth-inflatable and shaped like an oblong doughnut. It fits over your head, rests on your shoulders and chest, and doesn't hinder swimming motions.
— Scott McCredie