Lifejackets could have prevented 32 leisure boating fatalities in the past seven years, but the mortality rate is dropping according to the latest coastguard report

Public awareness of the lifesaving benefits of lifejackets is on the rise, according to the latest fatality report from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

In the last seven years 11 motorboaters and 21 sailors could have been saved if they had worn lifejackets, according to the study.

A total of 148 lives could have been saved by wearing lifejackets, with anglers and commercial fishermen accounting for the vast majority of this number, the report added.

But the good news is that the avoidable fatality rate is on the decline, with a sharp drop-off recorded in 2013, when only 12 preventable incidents were recorded.

Useless unless worn

The MCA’s Casualty Review Panel has suggested that this trend is due to an increased public awareness of the benefits of wearing a lifejacket.

The panel’s report also found that the afternoon was the most dangerous time of day, with 32% of fatalities happening between 12pm and 6pm, compared with just 20% between 6am and midday.

What’s more, 94% of the victims were male and there was a fairly even geographical spread of incidents around the British Isles.

The expert panel was made up of representatives from 11 marine institutions, including the RYA, the RNLI and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch.

Each incident was categorised by whether it was probable, possible or unlikely that a lifejacket could have saved a life.

The panel also commented that other safety measures, in addition to wearing a lifejacket, are also important, such as having the means of raising an alarm and knowledge of weather and tide forecasts.

To illustrate the point, the MCA cites the case of a 60-year-old man who fell overboard from his tender and drowned.

If he had been wearing a lifejacket, his life “may have been saved”, the report concludes.

Which lifejacket is right for me?

Lifejackets come in many different shapes and sizes, and boatowners should ensure that their buoyancy aid is fit for purpose, the MCA advises.

“Recreational boaters should wear an appropriate personal floatation device such as a lifejacket or buoyancy aid at all times whilst on deck,” said Paul Browne, search and rescue standards officer at the MCA.

“There are four main buoyancy levels; 50, 100, 150 and 275. In general terms, level 50 is a buoyancy aid designed for those who are likely to get wet but it will not turn you over on your back or keep your head out of water.

“A buoyancy aid is only an aid to buoyancy, so you still need to be able to help yourself by swimming.

“A level 150 is a general purpose lifejacket used for offshore cruising and motor boating which should under normal circumstances turn the wearer face-up within five seconds.

“All buoyancy aids and lifejackets should be regularly maintained – check that inflation gas cylinders are tightly screwed in,” he added.