As a parent, you want your child to enjoy the beach safely. So on your way to the sand and sea, you stop at the convenience shop and buy a set of floaties. After all, they will help keep your young one safe in the ocean, right?
This is a must-read for any parent considering using floaties in Phuket’s ocean waters.
What is a ‘floatie’?
‘Floatie’ is a slang term for buoyancy aids, also called personal (PFD) or supplemental (SFD) flotation devices. They are usually pneumatic (filled with air) and are normally worn around the upper arms, torso or neck. In general, these devices are toys and are not durable or reliable enough for ocean use. These devices will not naturally turn an unconscious victim face-up in the water and allow them to breathe.
What is a life vest?
A Type II flotation vest is a pneumatic or flexible material vest worn around the torso (aka life vest), such as those found on commercial aircraft. They are designed to turn an unconscious victim face-up most of the time in calm to moderate sea conditions. They are lighter and less bulky than a Type I flotation vest.
What is a life jacket?
A Type I life jacket is a full, sleeveless jacket that is designed to turn an unconscious victim face-up nearly all of the time, even in severe sea conditions. They usually have a sewn-in neck flap and are found on commercial vessels and naval craft. In the fatal Phoenix sinking last year where 47 tourists died in rough ocean conditions, this is the only type of life jacket that could have saved more lives.
Drowning: a local and international problem
Drowning is a leading cause of unintentional injury death in children, not only in Phuket but worldwide. Drowning remains the number one killer of Thai children under 14. In Australia, it is the leading cause of unintentional injury death in children under three. Worldwide, it is the third-highest cause of unintentional injury death in all age groups.
Floaties and kids don’t mix. Why?
1. They float. This extra flotation leaves children more vulnerable to being drawn into gutters and feeder currents which merge to form rip currents. Without their feet firmly planted on the sand at all times, children using floaties are extremely susceptible to these dangerous currents. At all of Phuket’s beaches, children should only go as deep as their swimming ability permits without any type of flotation device.
2. They are not designed for ocean use. Kids have a way of getting out of everything. Plus, cheap floaties can leak and fail. If a child has inadvertently floated out too far, a failure can lead to drowning in 30 to 60 seconds.
3. They promote a false sense of security. The resulting overconfidence can cause children to get into conditions they can’t cope with. “When in doubt, don’t let them go out.”
Swimming ability and parental supervision: there is no substitute
In the early days of surfing, before ankle ropes, board riders who wiped out had to bodysurf and swim to retrieve their board. Basic swimming skills are essential for everyone in the water, under all circumstances.
Before you enter the water, make sure your kids, and you yourself as their responsible party, have the necessary swimming skills to cope with local ocean conditions without floaties. Keep close to them at all times while in the water.
And enjoy your family time safely at Phuket’s magnificent beaches.
Daren Jenner is a bodysurfer and Ocean Lifeguard in Southeast Asia. He is also a Marine Safety Officer for the International Surf Lifesaving Association.