We all know that kids have to wear their PFD while they are on a boat. And we know that adults should also wear theirs too, but we don’t. The best advice is to wear it. Period. However, I know that for any of a number of reasons, you won’t. So let’s discuss this like adults and talk about how competent sailors mitigate risk and when you absolutely should wear your PFD.
Are you the only person on the boat? Single handing any sailboat, from a Laser to Vendee Globe boat is exhilarating. Just you, the wind, and the sails. If you fall off though, you’re going to spend some time in the water. Hopefully, the boat stops itself, and you can swim to it, but if it doesn’t, you’re in for a bit of trouble. Even on a lazy afternoon sail around my local lake, if I’m the only person on the boat, I wear my PFD.
Are you the only person on the boat who can sail? The risk here is if you go overboard, even if you have given instructions to your crew on how to stop sailing, it may be a while until you are safely back in the boat.
Are you going forward or working on something? If you are out of the cockpit, your risk of falling overboard increases. Additionally, if you are working to correct a problem, like trying to get the mainsail out of the in-mast furling, you are likely to be hauling hard on something and when it releases you could be caught off balance and become very wet very quickly.
Is the weather deteriorating? Being prepared for what may happen may mean the difference between a minor problem and a disaster. If conditions are forecast to worsen, PFD up! (Oh and go ahead and put in a reef while you’re at it.)
Going swimming? Got a drifter and want to cool off? Great! Put your PFD on and go for a swim. If you aren’t at anchor or on a mooring, you risk the boat drifting away from you. Someone should always stay on the boat while there are swimmers in the water too.
The point here is to evaluate the risk involved in the activity. And then re-evaluate the risk when you are changing activities, if the weather is changing, or when the crew’s sailing experience is low.