Can You Drown With a Life Jacket On? What You Don’t Know Could Hurt You

Life jackets can be a lifeline for boaters during water emergencies — but they’re not necessarily a guarantee when it comes to keeping you safe in the water. If you ever find yourself wondering can you drown with a life jacket, you’re not alone.

Unfortunately, just because you are wearing one doesn’t completely guarantee that you won’t drown. It is, in fact, possible to drown even while wearing a lifejacket or other flotation advice. There are various reasons to this, including loss of consciousness, rough water conditions, hypothermia and more.

Today, we’re taking a closer look at some of the drowning risks you can expect even when wearing a life jacket. Knowing what to expect can help ensure the safety of not only yourself, but your loved ones, as well.

can you drown with a life jacket

Can You Drown With a Life Jacket?

Unfortunately, most people assume that wearing a life jacket completely eliminates the probability of drowning. While inflatable life jackets and other flotation devices can lower the risk of drowning, it doesn’t entirely remove it. There are still dangers that can cause an individual to drown, even while wearing an approved life jacket.

Here are a few of these dangers:

Hypothermic Conditions That Compromise Your Ability to Swim

One commonly overlooked risk is hypothermia, since water temperature is a factor that most people don’t consider. In certain regions, the temperature of the water can dip to the point where the risk of hypothermia becomes significant.

It might be surprising to learn that hypothermia can set in at water temperatures as high as 68-degrees Fahrenheit due to long-term exposure. If you remain in the water for a long time at that temperature, you increase the risk of hypothermia. The lower the temperature of the water, the quicker hypothermia sets in.

Hypothermia is linked to drowning as it can cause an individual to lose consciousness. While putting on a life jacket can provide an added layer of insulation, prolonged exposure to low water temperatures can affect that level of protection.

Underwater Entrapment

Underwater entrapment is another potential drowning hazard. The most common form of entrapment is foot entrapment when a person’s foot gets stuck in some underwater debris, and the water current causes them to fall. Since their foot is pinned, mobility is restricted, making it almost impossible for them to come up to the surface.

Foot entrapments tend to happen in shallow water, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. If the water current has enough force, even waist-high water could pose a severe drowning risk.

Another factor to consider is the risk of exhaustion. The water current will continue to flow, regardless of how tired you are. In such cases, life jackets do not prevent drowning, especially if you fall forward. Falling forward means that your head is in the water face down. Since your foot is trapped, there is no way for you to come up for oxygen.

One other type of underwater entrapment is rock undercut. The rocks in rivers can become eroded by the water current, and this can create an overhang. These overhangs tend to have rocks under them as well, which can create a sort of sieve. If the river current pulls someone into the rock undercut, it will be difficult for them to make it to the other side, even if they are a good swimmer.

Loss of Consciousness

Staying conscious is critical for your safety while on the water, regardless of the type of emergency. Losing consciousness can be a danger in and of itself. If someone takes an accidental blow to the head that causes them to become incapacitated, they won’t be able to keep their heads above the water, even if they are wearing a life jacket.

If unconscious wearer is face down in the water, they will not be able to breathe, even in calm water.

Unfortunately, the risk of experiencing head trauma or unconsciousness is high during most boat emergencies. It’s possible to hit your head on a hard rock or watercraft even on your way into the water. This can happen to just about anyone on a watercraft, regardless of swimming capabilities.

Indeed, a life jacket can boost your chances of survival in a boat mishap, but it only does so to a point. There are no guarantees that a life jacket could stop an unconscious person from drowning.

Brain damage and eventual death could occur from just breathing water within only six minutes, making every second vital under these circumstances. If the unconscious person doesn’t receive help within that brief timeframe, the result can be fatal. In some cases, they may experience irreversible brain damage, and resuscitation will be pointless.

Choppy Water Conditions

can you drown with a life jacket
Source: Pexels

The purpose of a life jacket is to help an individual remain close to the surface of the water. However, it doesn’t fully protect against rough water conditions. Those who have found themselves in white water conditions understand that they are at the mercy of the currents or waves. If the conditions are severe enough, flush drowning may become inevitable.

Flush drowning refers to when a fallen swimmer gets pushed downstream and continuously dunked under the water. The repeated submersion will eventually cause the swimmer to lose consciousness, cutting off their oxygen supply. 

The dangers of flush drowning will depend on how severe the water conditions are. Under white water conditions, water inevitably finds its way to the nose and mouth and obstructs these vital organs, regardless of how experienced the swimmer is.

And while life jackets provide buoyancy, they are not created to handle the serious complications of rough water conditions. For this reason, white-water kayakers must take extreme precautions to ensure their craft doesn’t capsize.

Bottom Line

Can you drown with a life jacket? Yes, it is possible. But that’s not to dismiss the crucial role of a life jacket and the importance of wearing one when you get on the water. It is essential to prevent a loss of consciousness in any watercraft emergency. Staying conscious, when possible, can help you take advantage of your life jacket, as well.

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