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Life Jackets - PFD's - Have Them & Wear Them

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To All Loons Paddlers: we have received criticism for promoting paddle outings where some persons choosing not to wear or carry life jackets (PFD’s) create a potentially “liable” situation for our group and associated organization and individuals. The laws of Virginia and North Carolina state that all vessels capable of transporting persons on the water (including canoes and kayaks) must have on-board one USCG approved life jacket sized for each wearer and that they must be readily accessible and ready for use. They do not require that you wear it in all situations but they do require that all children under the age of 13 wear one at all times.

The Loons group is not affiliated with any organization although the Roanoke River Basin Association Upper Reach Program has promoted Loons outings and events in the past. The Loons exists as a volunteer group of paddling enthusiasts whose common interest make us want to paddle together without the burden of liability waivers, insurance and legal oversight that comes with sanctioned events and outings.

The Loons has purposefully opted to suggest and encourage rather than mandate any particular behaviors such as wearing life vests. The reason for this is two-fold: 1) we believe that all paddlers should take personal responsibility for being familiar with and complying with the laws of the state, and 2) adults should be free to make the personal decision whether or not to wear their PFD, and they are always responsible for their children.

If conditions are such that a paddler can “self-rescue” (i.e. swim, walk or drag) themselves to safety in the event of capsize, it is not our responsibility to assume the role of PFD police. They should not expect others to come to their rescue, possibly endangering their lives too.

Personally, I wear my life jacket. I have found that a good quality jacket can be both comfortable, convenient (with many pockets) and are often quite stylish. I have also found that going for a swim and banging my head on a rock can happen with little notice, ruining not only my day but everyone else’s too.

On behalf of both the Loons and RRBA-Upper Reach we ask that everyone take personal responsibility for themselves and their children and carry with them a properly sized PFD. While we will not take on the role of PFD police, we will ask that you comply with all applicable boating laws. Know that when accidents happen on the water, seldom is there enough time to put on the life jacket. We need to set the right example, especially when there are children involved.

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