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Trends in the wear of personal flotation devices (PFDs) in the UK 2009–2017
  1. Sebastian Pitman
  1. Department of Geography, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sebastian Pitman, Department of Geography, University of Canterbury, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand; sebastian.pitman{at}


Around 372 000 people drown every year globally. In countries, such as the UK, a large proportion of these deaths are due to recreational boating accidents, and a dominant factor influencing the outcome is whether the person was wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). The rate of PFD wear is low around the world, with reported rates ranging from 5% to 40%. In an effort to combat this, the UK has been running an education campaign since 2009 to try and increase PFD wear. In this contribution, 9 years of observational data show that the educational efforts have had little impact on the rate of wear over time. Activity type and age both influenced wear rates, with kayakers and children significantly more likely to wear PFDs. This study shows that education has been ineffective and there needs to be some consideration of regulatory approaches in order to reduce drowning.

  • drowning
  • education
  • enforcement

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  • Contributors SP performed the analysis, interpretation and writing.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests SP was previously employed by the RNLI.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are freely available on the RNLI Open Data portal.