Objective: To identify barriers to life jacket use.
Design: Cross-sectional survey.
Setting: Nine public boat ramps in western Washington State, USA, August-November, 2008.
Participants: 675 adult boaters (>18 years) on motor boats <26 feet long.
Main outcome: Low or no life jacket use (0-50% of time) versus high life jacket use (51-100% of time).
Results: Low/no life jacket use (0-50% of time) was associated with longer boat length (per foot, risk ratio [RR] 1.03, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.05), alcohol use (RR 1.11, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.20), perception of life jackets as 'uncomfortable' (RR 1.29, 95% CI 1.09 to 1.52), perceived greater level of swimming ability (RR 1.25, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.53 for 'expert swimmer') and possibly with lack of confidence that a life jacket may save one from drowning (RR 1.13, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.32). Low life jacket use was less likely when an inflatable life jacket was the primary life jacket used by a subject (RR 0.77, 95% CI 0.63 to 0.94), a child was onboard (RR 0.88, 95% CI 0.79 to 0.99) or if the respondent had taken a boating safety class (RR 0.94, 95% CI 0.87 to 1.01).
Conclusions: Life jacket use may increase with more comfortable devices, such as inflatable life jackets, and with increased awareness of their efficacy in preventing drowning. Boater education classes may be associated with increased life jacket use among adults.
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