Lifeboats and Life Jackets

By Debbie Hersman

Lifeboat from the Titanic, as seen from the RMS Carpathia

Ninety-nine years ago today, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic. While 700 people survived, some 1,500 passengers and crew members were left behind to perish at sea. In that iconic accident, the heart of the tragedy was that there were not enough lifeboats for the passengers.

From my office in Southwest Washington, DC, if I look due south I can see Washington Channel Park where the Women’s Titanic Memorial is located. This is a memorial dedicated “to the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic … they gave their lives that women and children might be saved.”

Over the past century, numerous improvements, including international regulations (Safety of Life at Sea Convention) for stability, watertight integrity, and lifesaving equipment for all persons on board have made merchant vessels safer.

Here in the United States, commercial safety on our inland waterways is improving, but, tragically, there are still many accidents in recreational boating. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that in 2009, 736 people died and 3,358 were injured in recreational boating accidents. Of those fatalities, about three-fourths were from drowning. Many of these could have been prevented. In those fatality statistics is the hard fact that 85 percent of the people who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

I applaud the resolution the National Boating Safety Advisory Council issued earlier this month calling for the U.S. Coast Guard to mandate wearing life jackets in certain segments of the boating community.

The next time you go boating, take some precautions so that the women and children — and everyone — onboard might be saved if calamity strikes. Make sure there are enough life jackets for everyone on board. Better yet, wear them.

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