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Are life vests worn? A multiregional observational study of personal flotation device use in small boats
  1. Linda Quan1,
  2. Elizabeth Bennett2,
  3. Peter Cummings3,
  4. Michaela N Trusty4,
  5. Charles D Treser5
  1. 1Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine
  2. 2Children's Hospital and Medical Center
  3. 3Department of Epidemiology, University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine
  4. 4Benton Franklin Health Department
  5. 5Department of Environmental Health, University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Linda Quan, Emergency Department CH04, Children's Hospital and Medical Center, 4800 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105, USA.


Objective—Although life vest use is thought to prevent drowning, their use by boaters has not been described. This study sought to determine the use of personal flotation devices (PFDs) in small boats.

Methods—Boaters were observed between April and June 1995 in Washington and Oregon and classified by their age, gender, PFD use, and boat type.

Results—Among 4181 boaters, 25% wore a PFD. Use was highest in <5 year olds (91%) and lowest in those over 14 years (13%). Those in kayaks were most likely (78%) and those in motor boats (19%) were least likely to wear a PFD. Females were more likely to wear a PFD than males (relative prevalence 1.5, 95% confidence interval 1.3 to 1.6). When a child less than 15 years was in a boat with an adult, PFD use was 65% if no adult wore a PFD and 95% if at least one accompanying adult wore a PFD (p=0.001).

Conclusions—Generally, PFD use by boaters was low in the Northwestern US. Efforts to increase PFD use should target adolescents, adults and specific boating populations, especially those in motor boats.

  • drowning
  • submersion

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