How big were your kids when you put the boat away last winter?

How big are they now that you’re on the water again—and do they still fit into the life jackets you have onboard?

According to the 2009 Life Jacket Wear Rate Observation Study from the U.S. Coast Guard, which incorporates data going back to 1998, at no time do more than 25 percent of boaters wear life jackets. That’s adults and children combined, one in four, at best. And when you take kids out of the equation and look only at adults going back to 1998, the number wearing life jackets hovers around one in ten.

These numbers translate into tragedy. The Coast Guard reported in its 2008 Boating Statistics report (the most recent available) that about 90 percent of drowning victims that year were not wearing life jackets. That’s 459 souls who otherwise might have been out enjoying a boat ride today.

Sea Tow is a partner in the national “Wear It” campaign because we want to help reverse these statistics. We’re thrilled to be seeing success in multiple states, including Tennessee, California, and Ohio.

No matter where you boat, we urge you to make sure your kids have properly fitting, traditional life jackets. Also consider purchasing inflatable life jackets for adult boaters, since inflatables are generally more comfortable and thus more likely to be worn. (Note that inflatables are never acceptable for children younger than 16 or lighter than 90 pounds.) We like the selection at Defender, which sells more than a dozen styles of adult-size inflatables on this section of its website, with prices ranging from $120 to $300.

That’s about twice the price of a traditional, foam life jacket, but a comfortable PDF that you, your family, and your friends will actually wear is better than one that remains stowed when you need it most.