US Army Corps of Engineers
Portland District Website Website


Man up, and wear a life jacket!

Published May 13, 2019

As the country’s largest provider of water-based recreation, we want all of our visitors—children and adults, men and women, swimmers and boaters—to enjoy our lakes and reservoirs. And we want you to enjoy them safely. 

Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional deaths among adults 20 to 44 years old. But 90% of drownings are preventable.

Here are eight things you didn’t know about water safety that could save your life, or the life of someone you love.

1.  Young men (ages 18 to 35) are the most at risk.

Be a wise man. Wear your life jacket.

Wise up, guys! Most people are concerned about their kids wearing life jackets (and that is important!), but youngsters aren’t the highest risk group of people. Each year, more men between 18 and 35 have fatal water-related accidents than any other group. 

If you won’t wear it for yourself, then wear it for those who love you.


2.  Size does matter

Size does matter!

Not just any life jacket will do. For a life jacket (a.k.a personal floatation devise/PFD) to perform at its best, it should be Coast Guard approved, not damaged, and fit correctly.

After fastening and tightening all zippers, clips, and straps, check for a proper fit. It should feel snug and comfortable. When you try to lift the shoulders over your head, it shouldn’t slip up past your chin or ears.

Once you’ve found your size, you’re ready to go!


3.  Alcohol and water are a deadly combination.

Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents where the primary cause was known.

It's no secret that alcohol often causes people to take foolish risks and stunts their ability to think quickly and cope in critical situations. While estimates vary, studies have shown that alcohol may have been a factor in about 50 percent of all adult drowning deaths. Some studies put the figure as high as 70 percent. 

Obviously, anyone who is drunk is going to have trouble swimming. When underwater and under the influence, you can suffer from an inner ear condition (caloric labyrinthitis) that causes you to become disoriented and not know which way is up. Click here for more info.


4.  Your boat can hypnotize you.

Speed boat

Are you getting very sleepy? Are you prepared to ward off “boater’s hypnosis”? Boaters can develop this condition in response to sun, wind, noise, vibration and motion. Fatigue sets in, often without you noticing, and reaction time slows. The fatigue and sluggishness caused by boater’s hypnosis can reduce an operators performance by as much as alcohol would. 

Combining boater’s hypnosis with alcohol or drugs can have deadly consequences.

Click here for more info.


5.  It's almost impossible to put on a life jacket after you've fallen in.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

A life jacket can only work if it’s worn. It takes strong swimmers an average of ten minutes to put on a life jacket once they’re already in the water, and it only takes 60 seconds to drown. Accidentally falling overboard is the most common cause of boating-related fatalities.

So even when you aren’t hoping for a swim, prepare for an accident, and wear your PFD.

6.  Drowning doesn’t always look like drowning.

Don't drown, it will spoil your day!

Drowning is a silent killer. An estimated 60% of all drownings are witnessed, because people are unable to identify the four signs of a drowning victim.

  • Head back (bobs up and down above/below the surface),
  • Mouth open,
  • No sound, and
  • Arms outstretched moving simultaneously in an above-the-water, up and down stroke that can look like they are just slapping or playing in the water.

Make sure you stay close to your buddy and keep an eye out for the real signs of trouble.


7.  Floats might be fun, but they won’t save your life.

There is no substitute for a life jacket, especially if you are a weak or non-swimmer. Inflatable toys like rafts, inner-tubes, or water wings can deflate in seconds and are not dependable to keep children or adults afloat. Inflatable rafts or inner tubes can easily float into deep waters and might slip away from you or your child unexpectedly. The consequences could be fatal. 

Remember, you can still get a good tan wearing a belt-type inflatable life jacket.


8.  The Corps has life jacket loaner stations at popular swimming and boating areas

If you’ve forgotten your life jacket, borrow one of ours! The life jackets we loan are essential safety equipment for visitors to our recreation areas, so return them when you're done. 

Some life jacket loan stations are only available seasonally, and life jackets are available on a first come, first serve basis.