Lawson Center Hosts First Of Summer Lecture Series

Ro Woodard, left, explains to Sharon Graper, right, the benefits and limitations of a type two life jacket. P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb

BEMUS POINT — On Thursday, the Lawson Center hosted the first of its free educational lectures.

The topic, boating safety, focused upon five principles: taking a boating safety course, wear your life jacket, know the rules of the road, boat sober and leave a float plan.

Ro Woodard from the Office of New York State Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation through the Bureau of Marine Services led the lecture.

“Safety on the water never spoiled a fun day,” Woodard said, “but the inverse has certainly happened.”

The lecture was comprehensive on all of the aforementioned aspects of boating safety, but the greatest portion of the lecture was spent on proper life jacket use and identifying the five different types of life jackets, as well as each situation for which they are best suited.

In an entertaining exercise, each member of the audience seated in the front row was given a life jacket and asked to put it on as quickly as possible, as the hypothetical boat they were on was sinking quickly. Some attendees were very successful in accomplishing this task; others, not so much.

“When accidents happen, they happen very quickly,” Woodard said. “I think we’ve gotten past the idea of, ‘I’ll put my seatbelt on before I have an accident.’ You can’t do that, accidents occur too quickly. It’s the same thing that happens with a boating accident. You can be thrown from a boat in a second, and if your life jacket isn’t already on, it won’t be there to save you.”

The first attendee was tasked with putting on a type four life jacket, which looks a bit like a seat cushion with two straps. Woodard was quick to point out that the type four life jacket isn’t truly a life jacket at all, but an emergency flotation device, as it is not intended to be worn at all times. Every boat over 16 feet is required to have one on board, and it is primarily intended as a throwable device for an already overboard passenger in distress.

The second guest had a type three life jacket, which is mostly intended for personal watercrafts such as jet-skis. Although it fit well, it took a significant amount of time for her to adjust the straps, which raised the question whether her life jacket was readily available.

“A life jacket has to be Coast Guard approved, it has to be properly sized and it has to be readily accessible,” Woodard said. “Because she had to adjust things, it wasn’t ready for her to just buckle up and get in the water. Everyone should have a life jacket they know is theirs, and they should fit it to themselves before an emergency happens.”

Another guest found a type one life jacket during the simulated accident. Woodard was quick to state that type one jackets are the safest jackets on the market. Most have between 32-35 pounds of flotation, they are designed to float so the wearer’s face is always pointing up and they often have reflective patches attached in the event of a nighttime accident. They are very bulky, and can be difficult to put on, however. Mostly, these life jackets are found on vessels such as cruise ships, and usually passengers are required to practice putting them on before any type of boating begins.

Sharon Graper, a Lawson Center trustee, was asked to put on a type two life jacket, which looks like a rectangle with a hole for the head, and might bring back memories of summer camp.

“Type two life jackets will turn most people face up,” Woodard said. “There are kid sizes and adult sizes, and they’re relatively inexpensive, so it’s easy to make sure that everyone in the boat has one.”

Finally, the last attendee was given a type five life jacket. These jackets are relatively new, and contain a small CO2 cylinder, which will rapidly inflate the jacket when a ripcord is manually pulled. Some more expensive models will contain a tablet that will dissolve upon contact with water, inflating the jacket, as an unconscious victim of an accident wouldn’t be able to pull the cord. This specific model also contained a distress whistle, which is always required when boating.

Other important life jacket rules explained included: all boats must have one life jacket person, all children under 12 must wear a life jacket at all times, anyone on a personal watercraft such as a jet-ski or a towed craft such as a wakeboard must wear a life jacket at all times and anyone boating between the dates of Nov. 1 and May 1 must wear a life jacket at all times.

Each lecture takes place on the last Wednesday of every month through September. The topic of the next lecture series on June 28 is: The history of Chautauqua Lake’s ice industry.