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Illinois hunting and fishing

Stay alive in style

April 23, 2011 at 09:58 PM

The State Journal-Register

Personal flotation devices — or life jackets — have the reputation of being bulky and uncomfortable.

That’s probably one reason most people don’t wear one when they should.

Scott Tucker, who works in sales, parts and accessories at the Lake Springfield Marina, says new life jacket styles are more comfortable, allow greater freedom of movement and look a bit more appealing.

“This year, we’ve sold quite a few of the Jet Pilot vests,” he says. “It is a side-entry vest, but the arm cutouts are a little bit wider, and it fits the body a little better. They are especially popular with people that own personal watercraft.”

Jet Pilot is a wakeboarding company that is expanding into other markets.

Neoprene vests also are popular, but they cost a bit more. Neoprene is a synthetic rubber.

“The price is going to go up with the neoprene vest and the more stylish designs, but they are much more comfortable than the old vinyl vests that crack and get into your skin,” Tucker says. “They weren’t comfortable at all.”

Tucker says people do care about how they look when wearing a vest.

“And that ‘s kind of something all the manufacturers are looking at. They are looking for something stylish.”

Other companies are getting into the game, including Liquid Force, Body Glove and O’Brien.

“Some distributors have their own brands that are pretty appealing to the eye,” he says.

Making life jackets more appealing has even spawned a contest.

The Boat Owners Association of the United States (BoatUS) sponsored a competition to develop a better personal flotation device. The winners recently were announced.

Most efforts focused on merging practicality with style.

The winner of the Innovation in Life Jacket Design Competition, Jeff Betz of Float-Tech, Inc. based in Troy, N.Y., took home a $5,000 first prize. To watch short videos of the winning designs, go to

Mike Miles, owner and general manager of The Boat Dock, says the type of life jacket or personal flotation device depends on the type of boat in use.

“Ski boat buyers buy a ski life jacket with two three or four buckles, and it fits over the body pretty tightly,” he says. “It’s not the most comfortable thing in the world to wear, but if you are skiing or tubing in the water, you want more flotation.”

Fishermen are turning to an inflatable version that can be activated manually or automatically after a few seconds in the water.

“They are very small, and it looks like you are wearing a set of suspenders,” Miles says. “They go down the front of you about 3 inches wide, and they tie in the back
with a piece of loop webbing.  You can pull a lever and inflate them, or you have them inflate when you hit the water.”

Miles says he has found the neoprene vests are growing in popularity.

“They are a lot more comfortable and a lot better fit for the body,” he says. “And there are hybrids that are part neoprene and part regular nylon vest.”

And any life jacket people will wear is better than one they won’t.

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.

Freedom and common sense

Being on the water is a kind of freedom.

“You can drive your boat three miles per hour or 30 miles per hour,” says Mike Miles, owner and general manager of The Boat Dock. “Generally, you can drive here and there and back and forth, wherever you want.”

But with freedom comes responsibility.

Miles says when it comes to wearing life jackets, common sense rules.

“Everybody believes children should wear them,” he says. “And adults wear them when they are in the water skiing or tubing, and fishermen wear them when the water is rough.”

The law requires one personal flotation device on board for each passenger.

“Just like everything, common sense will prevail in almost every situation,” he says.
“By that, I mean non-swimmers should wear one all the time. If you encounter rough water or storms, for example, just put it on.”

Anglers in bass boats or other “low-freeboard” boats should be wearing one when the big motor is running.

Low-freeboard means the sides of the boat are relatively low, and would come up only about to a boater’s knee.

“But when you are standing in a ski boat, it hits you about the waist or above it,” he says. “That’s a high freeboard boat that is hard to fall out of.”

Matching the boat to conditions is key.

“When we take the average group of people out boating on a Saturday afternoon, on a boat that is sized right for the lake, and with the right number of people on it, then they are perfectly safe.

“Very rarely does someone get thrown out of a boat. It almost never happens.”

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