Life jackets don’t work unless you wear them, state boating administrator says

Life jackets don’t work unless you wear them, state boating administrator says
Herb Angell, the Nebraska Game and Parks boating law administrator, said people don't think something bad will happen when they go out on the water without a life jacket. (JUSTIN HAAG)

Life jackets are just like seat belts, Herb Angell says: “They can’t save you if you don’t wear them.”

Angell, boating law administrator for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, addressed the topic after two men died in Nebraska lakes over the Father’s Day weekend. Authorities said neither one was wearing a life jacket.

“I can’t comment specifically on either case, but modern technology gives us all kinds of life jackets that you can wear now,” Angell said. “There are even inflatable fanny pack life jackets that you wear around your waist.”

Rescuers on Sunday recovered the body of 28-year-old Christian Montoya at Pawnee Lake. He had been on a flotation device with his 2-year-old son and both ended up in the water. Someone on a personal watercraft picked up the child and brought him to safety, but the father had disappeared when the person went back for him.

On Saturday, the body of 42-year-old Mario Bustamante was pulled from Cunningham Lake. Bustamante had tried to swim to shore after the boat he was on stopped working. Authorities reported that there were life jackets in the boat.

“It’s just sad we have these incidents,” Angell said. “People find all kinds of excuses not to wear life jackets. They say they’re too scratchy, too hot, ruin their tans and not good for swimming.”

The most current statistics available show that Nebraska had 19 drowning deaths in 2016, 13 in 2015, 18 in 2014, eight in 2013 and 24 in 2012, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Iowa Department of Public Health records show that the state recorded 31 drowning deaths in 2016, 32 in 2015, 40 in 2013 and 43 in 2012.

Life jackets aren’t the only lifesaving measures available. Others, Angell said, include taking swimming lessons, swimming with a buddy, knowing whether lifeguards are on duty and following state regulations for life jacket use in boats and on personal watercraft.

“People going out to recreate don’t think something bad will happen,” he said. “But even (Olympic swimmer) Michael Phelps would need a life jacket if something happened and he got hit in the head and went into the water. Life jackets save lives.”

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