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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Washington Study Explores Why Most Boaters Won’t Wear Life Jackets

Most adults don’t wear life jackets when boating in western Washington state, but they are more likely to put one on when a child is on board, according to a study by the University of Washington School of Public Health and its research partners.

Nearly three-fourths of adult boaters in a three-county area near Seattle were not wearing life jackets when they were surveyed, and only 10 percent said they always wore a life jacket. The interviews of nearly 700 boaters were conducted at nine public boat ramps in western Washington between August and November 2008.

Researchers were attempting to learn why most adults will not wear life jackets and what factors might influence the design of effective interventions or improve public health messages. In 2012, 459 people drowned in recreational boating accidents in the U.S.; about 85 percent were not wearing life jackets, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Washington researchers found adult boaters were more likely to wear a life jacket when children under 10 were on board, when inflatable life jackets were available, and if they had taken a boating safety class. A previous study found boaters disliked bulky life jackets because they were uncomfortable and restricted movement, the researchers noted. Alcohol use, discomfort, perceived greater level of swimming ability, and larger boat sizes were associated with little or no use of life jackets.

Researchers made several suggestions for increasing life jacket use, including legislation mandating their use, modifications to make them more comfortable, and educational and marketing efforts to increase awareness of inflatable life jackets.

The study was published in the journal Injury Prevention. Study partners were the Harborview Injury Prevention Center and the departments of epidemiology and pediatrics at the University of Washington; Seattle Children’s Hospital, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

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