The Department of Natural Resources says conservation officers cited dozens of paddlers earlier this month for not having life jackets on board their kayaks as they floated down the Raccoon River.

DNR paddling instructor Todd Robertson, says it is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. “It is law and we do have to understand that maybe a lot of people when they go out and buy a kayak they don’t reasearch that. And they really, really should, they should know the rules and regulations,” Robertson says.

He says the lifejacket rule has different requirements based on a person’s age. “If you are 12 and under — you absolutely have to have a life jacket on — not just in the boat, but on your person. Buckled, zipped, fastened correctly. Twelve and under, that is the law,” Roberson explains.

The use of the life jacket changes for older people. “Thirteen and over you do not have to have a life jacket, but we highly recommend it,”Robertson says. “Just speaking as an instructor, I don’t care if you are 30 or 40 years old and you know how to swim like a fish, you need to have a life jacket on….It’s gonna save your life.”

While you are not required to wear it, the life jacket has to be available. He says if you are an adult and don’t want to wear a life jacket, you still need to have it on the boat. “So if you need it, you can grab it That’s the law, that’s why the citations were being written.”

He says not wearing the life jacket can be a fatal mistake. “We’ve had four fatalities already this year due to now life jackets. And that kind of stuff needs to end,” Robertson. Robertson says the best way to avoid getting into trouble is to wear the life jacket.
“If something happens to you and you flip in the river — if you don’t have that life jacket secured — number one, it’s going to be long gone. The current is going to take it and you are going to have to swim after your life jacket and you are going to be in trouble,” Robertson says. “It can get caught up under decorating. Some people sit on them, they’re not seat cushions, they’re life jackets.”

Robertson says the currents can change, you could hit debris that dumps you in the water, and it is important to have the life jacket on.