To wear or not to wear – that’s the question

29 Oct


I read a blog by my mate Skip Novak the other day. Skip and I have logged north of 70 thousand miles together so we do agree on many things but I really agree with him on this one. He was taking to task the overuse of life jackets. Here is how his blog starts.  “I first realized there was something amiss when several years ago on a visit to the Hamble River during a dead calm weekend afternoon. I noticed that everyone on every craft (and they were not racing) was wearing a lifejacket.” I have noticed that as well.  I have seen grown men and women, many of them hugely successful in life, wearing their pfd on a boat, at the mooring, as if it was quite normal. It’s not normal. Get a grip. You can swim. You are not going to fall into the water. You have been brainwashed.

OK, so I know I am going to get some heat for this and bring it on, but seriously, it’s time we all stepped back a little and started to think for ourselves. When the wind is up and the boat is crash banging to windward and waves the size of washing machines are slamming over the foredeck then for sure, it’s time for a life jacket, but seriously you look like a fool when you are motoring on a calm day and your whole crew are wearing their brand new West Marine pfd’s. When did we all stop thinking for ourselves?

I am going to take it one further. I never wear a life jacket when I am sailing alone no matter the conditions. Foolish you say? I don’t think so. There is no joy in falling overboard and having your life jacket inflate while you watch your boat sail merrily away from you with the auto-pilot in control. Nope if I am overboard I don’t want to to be bobbing happily in the wake of my boat when the outcome, yes certain death, is going to be the same, life jacket or not.

My brother lives in the Okavango Delta in Botswana and has been there for the better part of three decades. He lives in the bush where there are lions and the rest but he has never carried a gun and never had any incident. How is this related?  Well here’s what I think. I don’t advocate the use of life harnesses either unless it’s really howling out and even then I rarely use one. You see my brothers logic is simple. You have a gun, you rely on the gun. You have no gun and you build up a very good sixth sense. You are very aware that you do not have a life harness on and your movements are more heightened and more cautious as a result of it. You are not doing stupid thing and taking unnecessary risks believing that the life harness will be there to save you when you screw up. My brother said it best. “When I am in the bush,” he said, “and there are lions about, I am very aware of the risks. I use my own innate sense of what to do and what not to do. I never do anything stupid but I have seen others do incredibly dumb things with a sense that if something goes wrong they will shoot their way out of it.”

Seriously, it’s time we all started to think for ourselves again. What has happened to us? Why do we all just follow along like a bunch of sheep? It’s not just pfd’s, it’s everything. It’s time we recouped some of that independence we once had and started to believe in ourselves again and take responsibility for ourselves. We have all become pathetic little yes-men, err and yes-women too.

This article was syndicated from All About Sails Blog


  1. Craig Warner

    This is the most unenlightened article on boating safety I have ever read. PFD’s save lives of professionals and amatures alike. The bio says the author is the most experienced sailor in North America. I am a former military and commercial pilot with 44 years of professional experience. There are many pilots who have thousands of hours of flight time but were too lazy to keep learning and their professional development ended early in their career. It seems that the author fits that category. Amateurs may do the majority of sailing but it is no place to make amateur decisions, a PFD is a must. No doubt this guy is still fighting seatbelt in cars. The author states that we must start thinking for ourselves. He is right, think it through logically and you will come to the conclusion that you should wear PFD’s. I also want to mention that as we train kids the next generations of sailors they will take their safety cue from the adults. Lets lead by example for their sake and wear you PFD. The scientific data showing the increased safety margin provided by PFD’s does not lie. So pleas do not follow his advice, IT IS WRONG!

  2. Captain Andrew Segal

    I’m guessing the big divide here is between those who spend a great deal of time on the water and those who don’t.
    To those of us who have made a career out of being on the water, wearing a PFD or harness is much like wearing a helmet on a motorcycle. Both situations give one a false sense of security and that may lead to creating the exact situation one is prepared to face.
    58 years on the water for pleasure and professionally and no one has ever fallen overboard from any vessel I’ve owned or operated. Not friends, family, crew or me!
    I was taught my trade by guys that were my age back when I was a teen, and not one of them ever wore a PFD or harness either. The rule was one hand for the boat and one hand for yourself. If a job required two hands, then you called a mate.
    Be situationally aware at all times and trust yourself not a bunch of snazzy equipment, and I believe you will be a lot safer on the water.

  3. Mark

    After 50 years on the water, I agree with the author. The US coast guard publishes stats each year — 2013 — 12 million registered boats and 560 boat related drownings in the US. 80% of those on boats under 21 feet, many on unregistered rowboats, canoes and kayaks. The odds of falling off a larger boat are incredibly small. Yes there are times to wear them – I keep mine handy at all times and I don it when I feel the risk is moderate to high. There are plenty of strong, anecdotal stories, but at the end of the day, the risk is small and I will choose when to wear and when to not wear. And I rarely wear it.

  4. Barbara Betts

    This may be late, however, it’s worth saying. First, we should have choices, wearing a pfd or not is a personal choice and I believe it should be. Opinions of why we make that choice are personal, to have that opinion is a freedom.
    It should never be used in such a way to insult or ridicule a fellow boater. It appears to me that under different circumstances, these same boaters would be more cordial to one another and even help one another in times of need. The majority of these individuals go on their boats for recreation, not to pick fights.

  5. suky

    It’s not a rule you have to wear it. It’s recommended and it is the law for children thankfully. Just as in automobiles, most deaths by drowning happen close to town. Guess Sail wants to stir the pot.

  6. Bill Towner

    Maybe we should all stop wearing seat belts too because I heard a story once about someone that lived after they were thrown out of their car! This is ridiculous. Yes I think being MADE to wear them is wrong but everyone is different and its a person’s choice to wear their PFD when they think reasonable. Kids are required to wear them for good reason. I like to wear mine in most instances when racing, solo sailing or rough crossings at nite. I’d rather they found a hypothermic corpse floating than nothing at all, that is just selfish.

  7. Chris

    Idiotic – seriously SAIL why did you publish this?

    The analogy to a person living in the bush has no relevance at all.

    Irresponsible … how about some research here to back up the premise that “having a heightened sixth sense saves more lives than PFD’s” – I doubt you would find it.

  8. Glen Prezembel

    Lake Michigan never warmed above 69 degrees F off the Southern Wisconsin shore this summer, as measured by my boat’s instruments. That’s a ticket to death after 1 hour in the water. Wearing a quality, inflatable PFD anytime we’re on the boat outside the marina is no strain and cheap insurance against an inadvertent slip on deck, even if it is a beautiful, sunny 85 degree (air temp) day with a 5 kt breeze. The author is a more accomplished sailor than I am, but I really can’t conceive where he is coming from with this post.

  9. John Orr

    What’s nonsense is telling some body there is a rule not to wear pfd’s. He is just not old enough. Wait until he is 87. And everybody cannot swim.


    In 1979 I was crewing on a sailboat delivering from Martha’s Vineyard to New Suffolk Long Island.
    It was calm with light wind but foggy. We were run over by an exxon barge. The captain was killed, the crew floundered in the water for 2 1/2 hours until picked up by the Coast Guard. There were no PDFs. The struggle to stay alive was intense.
    My wife seems to always hand me my PDF as I go forward to set or adjust sails on our boat. I think of those hours in the water and put on the vest. It inflates automatically and is but two strips of noninvasive cloth running down each side of my chest. I still get all the sun I want, the wind is on my cheeks, and often forget I’m wearing it. The day goes by and I am surprised I’m still wearing it. How difficult is that.

  11. Kent U

    I kept looking for the punchline, but never found it. While I agree that informed, peronal choice is the way to go and we don’t need all of the laws to tell us what to do, his logic is flawed. Or, we should all not wear our seatbelts, and deactivate our airbags because it makes us a better driver.
    Bottom line is outside factors must influence our decisions. The bear, the drunk driver, texting driver, rogue wave, squall, locusts, etc. are not planned events.

  12. Rafael Haciski

    Agree with the author.
    Common sense NEEDS to prevail, not brainless adherence to inflexible rules.

    If the water is warm weather nice, seas calm, it is ridiculous to wear a life jacket – I will enjoy the weather in cool shirt and shorts.

    Yet when I was single handling into an obvious storm, even within a mile or two of shore, and in warm waters, i did wear a life jacket; that promptly was taken off when I entered protected waters and storm was gone. Use your judgement, for heavens sake! If you want to ,wear it. If the conditions (yours, boat’s, and the weather allow it, don’t).

  13. Nathan Wagner

    I think the author makes a good point, and then overstates his case. If I’m sailing the cold waters off the rugged Mendocino coast, pfd’s go on before we leave the doc. If I’m sailing on the warm waters of Clearlake, I make sure my crew can swim, and i ask them to pick out and try on a pfd, then I leave it up to them. If conditions deteriorate, or if we’re sailing at night, I ask them to put on the pfd. I still make my little boy wear it in all conditions. But I expect that will change in the near future. On a sunny day in calm conditions, a pfd does degrade the experience of sailing. I’d rather be in shorts and barefooted. When the risks are minimal, why not relax and enjoy it in comfort and freedom. And as the risks increase, a pfd or even a harness-and-tether are well worth the inconvenience.

  14. Zachary A Hummel

    This is a truly ridiculous article and while the point may be to hilite how idiotic it is not to wear a pfd, Sail is still totally irresponsible for publishing–other than on April 1. Too many people will not see past the “joke” and justify leaving an easily donned safety device below. Truly bizarre Sail–you are better than this.

  15. André-Pierre Ghys

    Have you heard of Éric Tabarley, a great French navigator you died in the Chanel between France and England on a calm night. He did not wear any PFD because he had done zillion miles of blue sailing around the world. That night he, as usual, did not wear any, the rest is history. This article is a shame.

  16. Bobby K

    Amen to that, amen…,
    particularly in the light of a couple of following SERIOUS comments made by the appropriately CONCERNED ones.
    A difference between the “real men” and the “plastic” ones consists in “wearing” common sense, not life jackets.
    Amen to that, amen.

  17. Tim Huxley

    And then there was the woman at our club recently, who fell off her boat which tied to a dock, who did not have a PFD on, and fortunately was seen falling – otherwise she may have drown. Water cool, no easy way up onto the dock that was about at the level of the boat deck. Seems to me taking care of yourself by wearing a PFD makes much more sense than this article suggests.

  18. Barry Needalman

    Shame on Sail for publishing an article that may get people killed. Mr. Hancock may have a death wish but the rest of us want to come home.

  19. Morgan

    Good days go sideways quickly and I’d rather be putting in a reef than heading below and looking for my lifejacket. Waters in the pacific NW as cold year round, strong swimmers or not, we don’t have too much time in the water before muscles refuse to obey. We’ve lost too many good people in this area simply because they didn’t have a life jacket on. I’d focus on building good habits, putting on a life jacket is a really basic good habit. Cool sailors who’ve sailed 70K with Skip Novak can look down their nose all they want.

  20. Rick Perlotto

    Gee … and to think of all the years I wasted wearing a parachute while flying jet fighters (from simple local flights, to night/all weather, to combat) … all I had to do was develop more awareness and learn to depend on myself.

  21. Jon

    Wow…..yes, this is really a bar Counter type of article ….initiated by a guy who obviously hates any rule, that be speedlimits, smoking, drinking and restrictions in weapon use…the article is bullshit from first to last letter.

    A lot of lives would have been saved With more extensive use of lifejackets. Even you, Brian, could be picked up half an hour after you fell over Board…a SAR could have been initiated. Or other People could quickly pick you up after having been wiped over oard by the boom, floating in a life vest unconciously in the water.

    But, macho as you are, you would probably shoot yourself rather than beeing rescued.

    There are statistics proving that you are deadly wrong.

    Arguing With suicidal Brian is of course impossible


  22. Steven Bergmann

    I cannot disagree more with the suggestion not to wear PFDs unless the wind is blowing. Their are many hazards on boats, even at anchor, and knocking your head or tripping over a cleat can instantly land you in the water. A PFD is the best insurance that you will get back into the boat. The USCG is now recommending PFSs be worn all the time. With the advent of comfortable, automatically inflated PFDs, in my opinion, there is no excuse for not wearing one especially when you go topsides or are solo.

  23. Bill Conlyn

    By the way, having a PDF on never makes me less careful. Who ever wanted to fall in the water much less fall overboard.

  24. Bill Conlyn

    You’ve got to kidding! This article flys in the face of common sence and the statistics that show a great percentage of drownings are the result of NOT wearing a PDF of some sort. I can not tell you the number of times I have fallen in the water, every time it was a surprise. That article is one of the most stupid things I have ever read.

  25. Sebastian Kuhn

    That was a rather pointless rant. If you’re one of these wild and wooly pre-modern supermen who still have the 6th sense and a “devil-may-care, I just drown” attitude – fine, go ahead. But to berate OTHERS for doing the sensible thing is rather childish. Maybe those people in their “brand-new PDFs” are NOT all that strong swimmers?Maybe they know that falling overboard, they could hit their head and drown on a perfectly calm day – even in the Marina? Oh, you think that being “sissies” disqualifies them from enjoying any boating-related activity? Now THAT’s a much more dictatorial attitude than any government regulation.
    Statistically, wearing PDFs saves lives, period. If you don’t think that applies to you – that’s your prerogative. But it’s on the same level as arguing against wearing helmets while riding motor bikes – those of us with kidney disease are grateful for those who don’t.

  26. First Last

    “Seriously, it’s time we all started to think for ourselves again…” It appears that Brian has erred in the belief that the individuals who wear PFD’s “all” the time did not make a personal decision based on their individual needs. So, Brian has taken on the role of “Judas Goat”? Some of us will certainly evaluate and “start to think for ourselves” to follow or not to follow.

  27. Art Joseph

    Thanks for the common sense. I couldn’t of said it better myself. No one thinks for themselves anymore, everyone relies on someone else, especially the government, to tell you how to live your life!!

  28. Windborne

    Several good point are made in this article. Unfortunately the author takes it to the extreme rather than compromise with himself and find a common sense middle ground more applicable to the average sailor.

  29. Alan Keene

    “Real” men don’t wear life jackets! They’re for wimps and sissies…..not bad asses like Hancock. Swim to shore or drown. That’s what real men do!

  30. Roberto Nonato

    Mostly, I agree with the author. The fact is a lot of people take sailing classes, and the instructor will make you wear all available safety devices, no matter the sea conditions, no matter you are in a dinghy with one feet water under you. On one side, it is nice to learn about safety device and how to wear them. On the other side, the instructor is always afraid to be sued by an angry trainee or trainee’s family. Yes, we have been brainwashed! What is more, in the several courses I took, never once I was asked if I could swim! People tend to forget that most fundamental rule: you go on the water, you learn to swim. That can save your live, all the rest you can wear is just a little extra help.

  31. Tom

    Tempting the gods might be a good idea for some who think they have invincible powers but for the rest of us mortals I’m going with what works, PFD and regularly a tether and jacklines. Yep, I’m a belt and suspenders kinda guy who belongs to the USCGA and trains to do SAR. At night with a short deck crew, we are all tethered regardless of weather. During the day, ‘good’ weather every one wears a PFD. My boat, my rules.

  32. ed

    In a society that is so prone to litigation, sponsors of yacht racing have made life jackets a requisite for their self protection. Perhaps some successful folks would also like to maintain their lifestyle, and feel that they should protect themselves against this potential hazard. We have rules on our boat; everyone, family or guest,
    follows them without complaint.

  33. John Daubeny

    Not surprised that this post has attracted so much traffic. Equally not surprised that so many of the comments do not agree with the author. From my view, it simply reinforces the view that there is no ‘One size fits all’ policy . Different places; different sailors; different situations.

    I know where I stand on the matter – and I vary my strategy according to the situation. We should all be flexible enough to do this with pejorative remarks.

  34. Don

    Brian, I really commend you on this post. I didn’t think anyone in this age of nannyism would have the ball bearings to voice this opinion. As a long time sailor with many offshore miles under my keel, I have always been amused by the dock sailors that are always quick to write angry letters to editors of magazines that would dare to publish photos of people sailing that aren’t wearing PFDs. When you boil it down, sailing inherently has an underlying danger to it. Nature is unpredictable and anything can happen. I suppose it is irresponsible to even leave the dock when you think about it.

    Consider the trendy sport of rock climbing. Pick up a rock climbing magazine and you will find photos of people dangling from an undercrop of rock by their fingertips with nothing below them for hundreds of feet – but they’re wearing a helmet. They are being “safe” but if they fall the result is the same.

    I know people that wear life jackets, even on the dock. I have no problem with that, but very soon will come the day when we are all required to do so in the never ending quest to protect us from every conceivable hazard that me might encounter.

    Again, thank you for the post. You and I are a dying breed. Pardon me while I cower in the corner of the yacht club awaiting the next frightening encounter with Mother Nature.

  35. Peter Smith

    Always hold on with at least one hand. “If you fall overboard you’ll probably die”.
    I’ve spent much of my life alone on sailing boats and have never fallen in the water. I’ve never worn a life jacket while sailing alone on my own boat, although most times I’m at the tiller with a PFD next to me. Sometimes I have to move very quickly to unhank a foresail and get back to the tiller without getting tangled or hooked on something. Occasionally I have to climb the mast while at sea. It wouldn’t be practical to do so with a PFD on. Boating is inherently dangerous and there are many situations when life jackets should be worn.
    Wearing a PFD can save your life, but it doesn’t prevent the accident, only common sense, experience and thinking ahead can do that.

  36. Damon Cruz

    I learned to dive, sail, fly and ride motorcycles in a time when they were acknowledged as hazardous but worth the risks; we trained to stay alive by our wits and skills rather than blind faith in equipment (primitive back then, anyhow).

    All life is risk/reward judgments – if you want guaranteed safety, ride the “Gee Whiz” at Disneyland. And don’t forget to sanitize.

  37. Donna

    I think this was written by an idiot. My brother drowned – he was not wearing a life jacket. In 40 + years of sailing have had 4 men go off the boats that I was on. All were wearing life jackets and lived to tell the story of what happened. What more needs to be said. Not a person that I would want to sail with.

  38. Pat

    Cold Water.
    Swim Failure.
    Immersion shock and water aspiration.
    50/50/50 guideline (avg. 50% chance of death in 50 minutes in 50-degree water–look up cold water boot camp).
    Wet decks and cabin tops.
    Medical conditions; vertigo, inner ear disorders, dizzy spells, heart & circulatory conditions.
    Falls from dinghies.
    Most on-water deaths are not old solo guys hundreds of miles out to sea. Think twelve-year-olds borrowing a jet ski, the duck hunter stepping on the gunwale of a jon boat, the family of 12 in a fourteen-foot runabout, the clear lake deputy blasting away at 50 mph in the dark… these are the ones who drive casualties, insurance, news hand-wringing, and lawmaking. Sailors are incidental by-catch.
    This article is reckless, patronizing, and insulting to those who may have excellent reasons for being prudent and trying to do the right thing.
    It also does an abysmally poor job of failing to anticipate many valid reasons why people do wear.
    Hope people don’t die taking the author’s advice. Guess the author doesn’t have a problem with that.

  39. Steve haas

    Go ahead and don’t wear a pfd, by why denegrate people who do? How many lives will be lost because they wore a pfd? Everyone will honor you as a manly sailor at your memorial.

  40. Jack

    Right on. . .but unfortunately there will be flak. I also believe that some time in the future. . .somewhere. . .some level of government is gonna make it mandatory.

  41. Stephen Judd

    Wearing a harness and tether is a pain. Every time I go forward (and I have to do that a lot on my boat with most lines not lead to the cockpit) I snag the tether on every portal and it’s always on the wrong side of the mast pulpit and I can’t reach the second reef apparatus if I go up on starboard, and … and … and. It’s such a glitchy environment that it is a hazard unto itself. Therefore I do it even when the weather is calm and the seas are flat. I need to practice working around the foredeck and understand the glitches and to have the choreography worked out and to know all the limitations.

    I don’t have a Man-Over-Board pole; I don’t practice recovery strategies. I have a Man-On-Board approach to the problem and I practice all the routines it takes to make sure I stay on board.

  42. Sérgio barbosa

    I agree with you 200%!!!! Thank u for the courage to write it ! Acting PC is a substitute for using your own brains nowadays

  43. Bill Graham

    I agree with you, but unfortunately we will never get the bureaucratic mind to think like your brother. I know sailors develop a sixth sense where danger is concerned and yes, we do develop a heightened sense of awareness when moving out of the cockpit but try to convey that to the bureaucrats handing down ‘laws’ to us.

  44. Roger

    Brian says, “I have seen grown men and women, many of them hugely successful in life, wearing their pfd on a boat, at the mooring, as if it was quite normal. It’s not normal. Get a grip. You can swim. You are not going to fall into the water. You have been brainwashed.” Let’s break this down. Successful in life does not mean they can swim. “You are not going to fall into the water.” Well, yes you could. We’ve had to rescue two people who fell into the water from their slip dock. They were unable to self rescue. Many people have fallen off the boat on a mooring, e.g., leaning out over the transom to try to put the sail cover on a very long boom. To belittle people who feel they need a life jacket when they are over the water is just wrong. You don’t want to wear one? Fine, but don’t push your personal rules of safety, your own estimates of swimming ability, and how you would choose to die if dumped overboard, on others. As you said, Get a grip.

  45. Ken

    Many years ago I lived on a sail boat with my wife. As I recall I never wore a life vest. I was macho , young and stupid.

    Now that I am older I realize that wearing a life vest can save your life.

    I would never think anything bad of anyone wearing a life vest, in any situation on the water.

    When I get my retirement boat, I may even require guests on my boat to wear one.

    I think you should rethink your attitude. Since you have so much experience I see that you are not young an stupid.

    I can only assume that you are old and stupid.


  46. joseph franetic

    Could not agree more, it’s about taking responsibility for your own actions. I have sailed over 88,000 miles off shore including Antarctica to the Bearing Sea, in high latitudes you don’t have much time to live in the water, who would want to have on a life jacket to prolong dying from hypothermia. The only reason i have a life jacket on board is if the Coast Guard boards me i won’t get fined. Years ago when i tried to clear out of New Zealand they would not grant me clearance because i had no life raft, (never have), no SSB radio, no EPIRB, they stated that i had no safety equipment and would cost the government a huge sum of money if i needed rescue. I went to court and won on the basis that if i do get in trouble they will never know, so they let me leave. In the Tasman Sea i got caught in a hurricane, the thought of putting on a life jacket never entered my mind. I had to go on deck in 135k winds and get the sails down and the trisail up so i could heave to. I was washed overboard by a huge wave and the boat knocked down, being dragged by the boat i thought this was the end, i did have a safety harness on, but another huge wave lifted me and the next thing i knew is i was laying flat on the deck and finished rigging the sail, a life jacket would have been no use at all. Most sailors don’t know what it is like to be in life threatening weather, even ones who have been offshore. In those conditions i could not launch a life raft or even a drogue and a life jacket would be a joke and just make it more difficult to the work needed to be done. The key to me is having a good seaworthy boat and staying on the boat. Too many times i have seen sailors call for help, abandoned their boats, put others at risk, only to find days or weeks later their boat still afloat and fine. They got scared and did not have the experience to deal with the situation. People get a false sense of security when they were life jackets and it’s a blind analogy to wearing seat belts in a car. A well founded boat and experience is the combination to be safe at sea, if far offshore, coastal cruising or just out for a day sail.

  47. Skip Meisch

    Please remove the “To wear or not to wear – that’s the question”
    article posted by Brian Hancock October 29, 2015
    I found it to be in extremely poor taste and not up to the ethical standards of SAIL.

    Skip Meisch

  48. Skip Meisch

    If I ever see you fall overboard, I’ll be sure to sail over as quick as I can and toss you an anchor. You are welcome! One less idiot to worry about!

  49. Richard Browning

    Liberty! It means I choose for me. You choose for you! Your judgement inflicted on me is tyranny. My crew is encouraged to use more protection of they wish but not less than I specify. If I am on someone else’s boat the roles are reversed. Stop feeling the superiority of judgement to meddle in others choice,

  50. Howard Paul

    Skip and Brian make valid points as well as those with opposing view points. In the very near future I will be going offshore, sometimes single handed. Yes I will have an autopilot and yes if I fall overboard I will see my boat sail away. The real question is why? What I mean is with existing technology the way it is why can’t the autopilot manufacturers follow the lead that the small outboard motor manufacturers have taken with a kill switch. Yeah I know, how am I going to move around the boat with a tether? The answer is you don’t have to. A small transmitter could be talking via bluetooth to the autopilot. If it looses the connection the autopilot stops. Until then when I’m on my own at sea I will wear a harness attached to a jackline so I won’t fall over board!

  51. s.Deane

    I think Brian and his supporters have a bigger issue, anger and fear of being unable to respond to rules and regulations aimed at personal safety.
    B. We dont care if you are sick and tired, but if that happens at sea…put on your pfd.
    ***this is an automated robotic reply

  52. Scott McMillan

    This is the same faulty logic people use to rationalize not wearing seatbelts while driving. It’s laughable. Nevertheless, people have the right to assess their exposure to risk and be responsible to initiate appropriate protective actions. When they guess wrong,…well, that’s what the Darwin Awards are for.

  53. Stev McGowan

    Finally some one speaks up. I do all the things Brian does and have logged over 150,000 miles offshore and inshore. Life jacket wearing is SO overdone. There is a chance you will die when you go sailing…learn to do your best not to. If you want to wear one fine…leave the rest of us alone. Are helmets next?

  54. David

    My wife doesn’t swim, so she wears an auto-inflate PFD. I swim like a fish, but I wear one because if I’m knocked in the head and fall overboard, she may be able to perform a MOB rescue, but it’s a whole lot easier to grab someone bobbing lifeless than one sinking. And if she’s in the water, I have seconds, not minutes to get her out before she begins drowning.

    I understand the author has his opinion, but I fault Sail for providing a forum for such a fringe – and dangerous — opinion.

    And to end his article with an ad hominem attack is to negate any semi-credible point he may have posited.

    A pathetic, little yes-man who wears a PDF

  55. Paul

    We see so many boaters here in South Florida that obviously do not have a clue on how to be safe on the water. Every Public Holiday Death Toll on the water confirms that.

    Wearing a PFD is a choice, but to suggest that we should not wear them except when the going gets bad, is, sorry, but it’s Idiotic!

    The rule on my boat is simple: If the boat is not tied to something, then everyone outside of the cabin wears their PFD.

    If you want to scare the carp out of a newby crew member, just suggest to them “It looks like the going is getting bad, time to put the PFD’s on”

    Sorry folks, I’m firmly on the ‘Wear them’ side of this debate.


  56. Chris Bardwell-Jones

    Regardless of the sea miles that Mr. Hancock claims to have done, he does not seem to have learned very much about safety at sea. It is irrefutable that prudent use of life jackets saves lives. It is also quite asinine to suggest that those that wear life jackets are more likely to be blasé about safety. To the contrary, they are more likely to be thinking safety, and that attitude is likely to permeate their entire participation in sailing, resulting in an all round better experience for both them and the rescue services!

  57. Dave Benjamin

    Part of the reason we sail is freedom. Personally I like making my own decisions regarding PFD usage. Since my first sail in 1967, I’ve been pitched overboard exactly once and that was a docking incident as a youth. Since then, I learned to stay on the boat at all times.

    In much of the offshore sailing I’ve done, going overboard, even while tethered could have resulted in death. And for singlehanding, a PLB isn’t going to summon help quickly enough in many situations but at least the authorities will be able to verify death which will speed up payment of the life insurance. Hopefully the responders won’t be endangered themselves in retrieving the corpse.

    Other than for minors, I’d prefer the decision on wearing PFD’s to be made by the individual. If I ever reach the point where I don’t feel safe on deck without a PFD in benign conditions, I guess it will be time for me to hang up my seaboots.

  58. MarkS

    I learned to sail at a club that required that a PFD be worn whenever on the water. That was in 1980. Five years later I graduated to windsurfing, and for some reason didn’t wear a PFD. One day, during a jibe, my mast separated from my board which shot out from under me and went skating downwind. I was some distance offshore and had to swim for my life. Fortunately, I survived. Afterward, my girlfriend, at the time, bought me a PFD, and made me swear I’d never go out without one again; to this day I haven’t. And, the rule on my boat is that no one else does either.

    Brian Hancock, please feel free to point at us and laugh the next time you see us; just remember the old adage: He who laughs last …

  59. Miguel Ascuña

    Es importante tener chalecos salvavidas en el barco, en número correspondiente a las personas que suelen abordar. Es también necesario ofrecerlo a las personas que suben a bordo por primera vez, con una explicación breve de que es solamente una precaución para una eventual caída al mar, sin crearle miedo. E instruirlo en el modo adecuado de usarlo, lo mismo tener a la mano la boya salvavidas con un cabo largo que pueda ser lanzada al agua por la persona que se encuentre más cerca.
    Aunque es muy común que los que navegamos todas las semanas no usemos chalecos salvavidas, por comodidad y confianza para movernos en un barco, pero hay que pensar en los demás que no tienen experiencia.

  60. Michael

    This is definitely one of the most idiotic articles I have seen in a long time. This reminds me of people who only wear their car seatbelts while on vacation.

    “you look like a fool” So it’s all about vanity or bravado? Sad. Don’t project your lack of self-esteem on everyone else.

    “You can swim.” Most people can’t swim as nearly as well as they think they can. Most people can’t swim 50 yards. Everyone swims far worse, if at all, when the water is cold. You’ll lose even more body heat while trying to swim without a PFD.

    “I don’t want to be bobbing happily in the wake of my boat when the outcome, yes certain death, is going to be the same, life jacket or not.” Maybe you’ll have a certain death, but I won’t. I have a Personal Locator Beacon attached to my PFD, so I can summon help.

  61. Chris

    This article is irresponsible and quite frankly I am disappointed in Sailfeed for sending this out. I will start out by saying that I almost never wear a life jacket, maybe 1 out of 100 trips so I understand where the author is coming from. I feel it is personal preference. I am very comfortable on the water and confident in my swimming abilities and I am willing the take the risk. The problem I have is with bashing or making fun of the people who do wear life jackets. Many of the people I take out have never been on a boat before and may not even know how to swim. One of the first things I do is offer a life jacket to anyone on board. I would never dream of making fun of someone for their choice to wear a life jacket. I know some people who are so afraid of the water and wear their life jacket even on the dock. And you know what? It is perfectly ok with me. In fact, I respect people even more who are afraid of the water and are willing to overcome their fear and go out sailing. It takes a lot of guts to do that. Making fun of someone who wears a life jacket is just immature. You may have 70 thousand miles under your belt but I can tell you that you would never be welcome on my boat.


  62. Gerhard Claassen

    I cannot agree with Brian more!! Thank you for having the guts to say what needs to be said. I’m sick and tired of being told what to do. Is sailing without a PFD riskier than with one? Yes, it is. Thing is though, I’m willing to take the risk because I want to be comfy when I sail. To me the risk is acceptable. If it is not acceptable to you, please feel free to wear a PFD but leave me alone.

    If the circumstances become such that the risk is not acceptable anymore, I will don my PFD. BUT, I do not need you to tell me what to do. It’s the same with all regulations and laws designed for “your safety” or even worse “the children”. It’s all just part of the war on freedom being waged on us by a bunch of interfering busybodies that want to make everyone as miserable as themselves.

  63. ed sterbenc

    I sail on SF Bay where falling off a boat could be fatal. When I have friends out on a day sail, we all put on our PFD’s before we leave the marina. I can’t be sure my guests will be as aware as I am of passing wakes, sudden gusts or quick maneuvers which might catch them off balance. I haven’t lost one yet although we have experienced 3 MOB’s in a bit over 30 years. Putting on my PFD first shortens the conversation immediately.

  64. John

    I worked in the chemical industry for many years and the one thing that was stressed more than anything was safety. We had long list of safety equipment, procedures etc. and 99.99% of the time they were not needed. But that one time made a difference of going home to your family. Sorry, but that was the most irresponsible article that could be published by Sail.

  65. Jack Everett

    The irresponsibility lies with SailFeed for giving this guy the space. He is and extreme adventurer that is ignoring the fact that he is in a minuscule minority of boaters, even the extreme racers. Very much a waste of time. You should be ashamed of giving him the ink(space)!!!

  66. Louis Cohen

    The statistics show that commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs tracked for safety, worse than coal mining. But if you subtract out the deaths of fishermen who were not wearing PFD’s, fishing is about as dangerous as teaching high school.

    Commercial fishermen should certainly be at least as aware of risks as amateur sailors and as skilled at keeping themselves on board. But many of them die because they weren’t wearing PFD’s.

    The article is absurd. The USCG, who knows about these things, says that everyone should wear a PFD any time they are on a boat.

    And not using a tether until the conditions get really bad? Just dumb.

  67. William Merritt, MD

    Quite a remarkable rant. Life is unpredictable, weather is unpredictable, boat motion is unpredictable, our own health and aging is unpredictable – no one should feel ashamed to wear a life vest (the more expensive ones are quite comfortable). Most folks who have car accidents have driven 1000s of miles without incident – but still had an accident – so mileage is a poor measure. But if you can walk on water you do not need anything!

  68. L. B. Carpenter

    I agree partly with the writer. Last year in an Atlantic storm we lost our mast. The life jacket and harnesses got so much in the way of clearing the wreakage in the storm, I took them off and threw them overboard. Then got to the task of saving the ship. I’m still here today.
    Harnesses need a better design and better clip design. They help in moderate seas with no emergency. They get in the way in actual emergency. I’ve tried different ones and always gone for the best no matter the cost. I’m still not impressed by them.

  69. Marguerite Becker

    From an English major point of view, this article gets a D-. Why? Because he did not qualify that he could not be referring children required by law to wear PFDs, the elderly, those who can’t swim, guests on a boat with no nautical sense whatsoever, those who are drinking alcohol, etc. etc.
    If you’re going to write an article that you know “will get some heat”, then for heaven’s sake do a better job of presenting your argument. Or take a writing course before your next installment.

  70. George

    This is only an issue for everyone on the water because of the off and on call to mandate life jacket use. Risk is relative to situation, and as the helmet comment reveals, there are many things we could do to lower risk that are in specific contexts more risky than not wearing a life jacket, but we do not do them. The safest thing is to stay ashore. I wear a life jacket (and a dry suit kayaking) when going in the water poses a serious risk. Otherwise not. I hope this continues to be my choice.

  71. Dr. C.Southerland

    This article is downright absurd. I have served in the Coast Guard Auxiliary for 15 years and attended a number of body recoveries from individuals who have drowned in the South Florida Biscayne Bay area. Virtually all of them were not wearing a PFD (or “life jacket” as is the currently PC term for them). Most of these people did not drown in rough or stormy seas. Most of them fell overboard when they hit a wake or traveling at night in mild to moderate chop. As I recall, a couple of them just fell over at the Marina in perfectly calm waters, striking their heads as they did so. In South Florida, it is only mandatory for children to wear PFDs. I am a firm believer in free agency, and am not necessarily advocating the adults be required to wear PFDs . However, through vigorous ad based and instructional campaigns, many people DO wear PFDs (as your article observes) and many many lives have been saved from them doing so.
    Your article irresponsibly advocates people adapting behaviors which are counter to the saving of lives on the water. Any minor inconvenience caused by wearing a PFD becomes insignificant when you are the one in the water.

  72. Neill Stanford

    What is the goal of telling others that they look foolish wearing a safety device? Would you tell someone to not wear a seatbelt?If the author wants to be sure he doesn’t struggle if he goes over (also against wearing a harness and tether?) just wear a diving belt to make sure you sink fast?
    Pay attention to what the CG says. You’re still alive when your arms and legs stop working. I would like to be floating and give as much time as possible for a solution to present itself. And that’s with over 50k miles offshore cruising.

  73. Darwin

    Whether the author was looking to stroke his own ego or begin a narrative is unclear.

    My view is that we are all free to choose what we do. If one makes a decision, you have to live with the potential outcomes.

    Notwithstanding the PDF use case, his polemical muse of people not thinking for themselves generally speaking is sadly true.

  74. William Swiskow

    I wear a helmet when i ski and when i kite surf but i never were one when i sail. Over the years i have seen several head injures on boats, all of them would have bin less saver if their was a helmet. So why isn’t every one told to were a helmet?

  75. Ed

    Donning your PFD or clipping in does not automatically make you less aware of conditions or how you handle yourself while moving about on the boat. The extra layer of safety is intended as a backup, not the first line of defense against an unforeseen event. Thank you for your opinion, but I’ll continue using good sense safety practices and hope I never need them to save my skin!

  76. Tom Trevor

    When I was about 5 I fell overboard off a small catamaran, My father forced me to wear it even though I was able to swim a bit even then. It is a good thing I had a life preserver on , because I could swim really well then. I later went on to race Sunfish,420s and Lasers. I’ve sailed windsurfers, and did a lot of cruising with my parents, the only time I wore a life jacket, after I could really swim, was if I was forced by a rental company. I’ve capsized more times than I can count. If on a foiling boat I would wear a life jacket, but I not wearing one on the type boats I sail now. It is a matter of common sense , if there is high likelihood of being knocked overboard at 30 knots, wear something.
    The stats that William C Winslow mentioned are not really very useful, because we aren’t told how many times people without life jacket fall overboard and do not drown.

  77. Christopher Jensen

    I agree with the writer, lifejackets are useless at times. I sail Alaska coastal waters and unless you are wearing a full on survival suit you aren’t going to survive the hypothermia before you swim 5 miles to shore.
    I take it case by case as well, but we also practice drills of getting into our survival suits in a timely manner. I don’t see the problem of being clipped into a jack line either.

  78. Christof Marti

    I fullheartedly disagree with this statement. In fact I find it quit irresponsible to say something like this. In our neck of the woods the water is cold and statistics show that over 80% of drowings occur within 5 m of safety and could have been prevented if only a lifejacket were worn.
    To simply wear the PFD when not on a mooring or in port takes the guessing out of “when should I put the PFD on”. I would fully agree with William Winslow above.
    Christof Marti
    Sailing Instructors, Simply Sailing

  79. David Marx

    I couldn’t agree more – leave me the freedom of choice to not wear!! When [if] I’m treading water behind my disappearing boat, waiting for the end I promise I won’t blame or sue the official CMA crowd for not having forced me to wear one.

  80. Firstlast

    To me it is the same as wearing a seat belt. Why have to make a “should I or shouldn’t I” decision. I put it on always and I need not worry about an actuarial study related to not wearing it. Sorry, not wearing a PFD when solo sailing is stupid. The author`s attitude is akin to “my grandfather smoked, drank a six pack a day, etc and lived to be 100. Yeah, one of a few that lived betond the average age.

  81. Betsy

    My entire family always wear PFDs whenever we are sailing or kayaking because unlike the writer, we live with the reality that while the water maybe flat and we may be boringly safe, we are surrounded by inexperienced boaters who see their boats as speeding liquor cabinets. So while the writer’s extraordinarily inflated ego is more than enough to keep him afloat in the off chance his magical mystical instincts fail him and he ends up in the water, I’ll stick with my floaty.

  82. William Winslow

    Let’s consider some figures released annually by the U.S. Coast Guard on recreational marine fatalities. An averge of 600 die every year, most by falling overboard and drowning. 75% of them were not wearing pfds and most of those accidents were in calm waters. Ask their families opinion on life jackets.

    William C. Winslow
    U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Comments are closed.

More from the AIM Marine Group