When it comes to life jackets, there can be a big difference between what the U.S. Coast Guard requires and what you may need in an emergency. The requirement for having life vests aboard is obvious, but should you go overboard, staying above the water isn’t your only goal. First, you have to be found. That’s why my favorite life jackets have something in common: pockets.
Having a brightly colored life jacket is important, but no matter how bright the material, it gets dark at night. Rescuers searching for even the most colorful life vest will have to put a light directly on you for the color to matter. Pockets allow you to tie in a few modern and extremely effective active signals so that your life jacket, and you, will get found easier and faster.
Wave that Waterproof Flashlight
Absolutely nothing screams “Look over here!” like a waving flashlight. Strobe lights are another great addition to the upper-left pocket of your vest, but having a small waterproof flashlight that you can point in the direction of a searching boat or aircraft can make a profound difference. Professional search and rescue crews use night vision technology, and even the faintest lights can be seen through night vision goggles, but a small LED flashlight with fresh batteries can really draw some attention.
Definitely Flash Other Boaters
Glass mirrors are better than plastic; they last longer and throw a brighter reflection. Using them–like almost anything else–requires some practice, but that can actually be a good time. Sitting on deck trying your best to flash (literally) other boaters is good clean fun. You’ll be surprised how far you can reach out with a 3-by-4-inch piece of glass. It never runs out of batteries, and it can attract a searching vessel or helicopter from miles away.