Indiana needs to alter life jacket standards
Written by The Indianapolis Star   
Monday, 16 May 2005 02:29
David S. Knisley and his son, Brandon Lee Knisley, drowned last week in a boating accident on the White River.

Investigators speculate that the boy fell from the small, two-seat pontoon boat. A sheriff's deputy at the scene called the boat "fairly tippy." An outfitter that sells the boats calls the 9-foot, 6-inch, 125-pound boat "extremely stable."

But the stability of the 4-foot-wide boat is not the issue. For inside the green and gray boat, along with a tackle box, a trolling motor battery, a landing net and a couple of coolers were two personal flotation devices (PFD) -- life jackets.

That's the issue. Sheriff's investigators speculate that David Knisley lost his life by trying to save his son. There's a lesson to be learned by this tragic loss of lives.

Perhaps the Knisleys would be alive today had they been wearing their personal flotation devices.

One of their friends said that the dad normally required his son to wear his PFD but that the boy had complained during an earlier fishing trip that a jacket strap had rubbed against him and cut him. The dad had allowed his son to remove the jacket for a short time on that trip, the friend said.

There are some things that just should be mandated by law, and I believe Indiana should follow what the U.S. Coast Guard requires of state boaters.

Indiana requires one Coast Guard-approved PFD for each person in a boat. A throwable flotation device is required on boats 16-feet and longer, except for canoes and kayaks.

Indiana does not require that people in the boat wear a PFD -- only that it be readily accessible.

However, the Coast Guard requires that children age 12 and under wear a PFD if they are on "waters of concurrent jurisdiction," which means Lake Michigan, the Ohio and Great Miami rivers and the portion of the Wabash River that forms a boundary between Indiana and Illinois.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources director Kyle Hupfer and Sgt. Dean Shadley, of the department law enforcement division, said in telephone interviews last week that they are in favor of Indiana adopting the Coast Guard standards.

An attempt to do that failed in this session of the Indiana General Assembly.

Shadley said the DNR will begin an experimental "life jacket loaner" program in June that will allow people to borrow jackets for youths and infants.

"We will have 200 life jackets in 10 locations around the state," Shadley said. "Marinas are allowing us to put them in their shops and people will be able to borrow them."

He said this will serve two purposes. It will provide PFDs that fit youths. Plus, people who don't want to spend $50 for a PFD for a day on the water can borrow one at no cost.

Shadley sees no difference between requiring youths age 12 and under to wear PFDs and the seat-belt restraint law for youths.

Shadley said that most children ages 6 to 8 that he sees riding in boats are usually wearing a PFD. Older kids are reluctant to wear them, but he said they are less likely to resist now that they see new PFDs that are "flashy and stylish" and being worn by young adults on personal watercraft.

When buying a PFD for a child, have him or her try it on. It should fit snugly. Pick up the child by the shoulders of the PFD. A child's chin and ears should not slip through.

Lifetime licenses to end

A General Assembly bill that will end the sale of Indiana lifetime hunting, fishing and trapping licenses July 1 has been approved and sent to Gov. Mitch Daniels for a signature.

Revenues from lifetime licenses now go into the Lifetime Hunting and Fishing License Trust Fund. There is about $12 million in the fund. Each year, the accumulated earnings from the fund, plus a small percentage of the fund money, can be used only for fish and wildlife purposes.

A couple of years ago, the DNR was overwhelmed with lifetime license sales before the DNR increased its annual fishing and hunting fees from $8.75 to $14.24. Annual sales, along with yearly income, dropped.

Lifetime licenses sold before July will be honored by the DNR.

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