Are Life Vests Worn? A Multi-regional Observational Study of Personal Flotation Device Use in Small Boats


  • Linda Quan, MD
    Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine
  • Elizabeth Bennett, MPH, CHES
    Seattle Children's Hospital
  • Peter Cummings, MD, MPH
    Department of Epidemiology, University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine
  • Michaela N. Trusty, MS
    Benton Franklin Health District
  • Charles D. Treser, PhD
    Department of Environmental Health, University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine



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


Boaters were observed in Washington and Oregon and classified by their age, gender, PFD use and boat type.


Among 4,181 boaters, 25% wore a PFD. Use was highest in <5 year olds (91%), lowest in those over 14 years (13%); highest in kayakers (78%), lowest in motor boaters (19%); and more likely in females than males (relative prevalence 1.5, 95% confidence interval 1.3, 1.6) and in children younger than 15 years if at least one accompanying adult wore a PFD (p=.001).


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

Study Publication

Are Life Vests Worn? A multiregional observational study of personal flotation device use in small boats, Linda Quan, Elizabeth Bennett, Peter Cummings, Michaela N. Trusty, Charles D. Treser, Injury Prevention, April 1998, Vol. 4: pp.203-205