Whether a person should wear a life jacket while sailing seems like a no brainer. It should be worn. The truth is most windsurfers do not. Once you get confident that you can go from point A to point B it’s easy to feel secure with a big board under you. The sailor is already required to wear some type of harness that easily attaches to the sail so adding more clothing when your out in the sun and on the water just feels a bit too much. I was a windsurfer for over 23 years and did not use a life jacket until I was involved in an intense, life saving, drama.
I was enjoying a very beautiful day of windsurfing with a few friends. For the story, I’ll call them Mort and Shannon. The trade winds were blowing and we were flying across the water. After making a turn and starting to build up speed again I noticed someone in the water looking like they might be adjusting their gear or having an equipment problem. From a distance it was hard to tell. I continue to sail along a bit and decided to turn around again. This time as I approached the guy in the water I could see that there was now two people. As I was just starting to sail by I heard my friend Mort scream out to me that he needed help. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized this was an emergency. I was maybe 20 to 30 feet away when I ditched my windsurfer and swam over. As I got there I could see Shannon thrashing in the water with a blank look on his face while Mort was trying to save him. There was one windsurf board there but we could not get our buddy to recognize it or hold it or anything. He just thrashed around. Twice I had to reach underwater and grab him by the hair and pull him up. All the time we’re screaming at him to hold on to the board. While I was wrestling with Shannon, I realized I was losing it. This could get down to saving him or myself. It was about that time Mort had jumped up on the board and reached down and together we shoved Shannon up and into the Mort’s arms who bear hugged him and got him to relax. All three of us did nothing for a while. We were just catching our breath and realizing how close we’d come to drowning. We were able to flag down some help from a jet skier and got our friend to shore and to the hospital. We pretty much felt it was a stroke but later confirmed it when we visited him.
Shannon eventually healed pretty well but couldn’t get the confidence back to sail anymore. Mort and I went out and bought the latest in windsurfing life jackets. Neither he or I sailed again without one. We learned that the unexpected could happen to us or while we are out and about we again could be called on to help another.
If we were wearing life jackets that day we still would have had an emergency drama but it would be on top of the water and not fighting for our lives to keep from sinking.