Know the Difference: Pool Toys, PFDs, and Watercraft
Anyone who is educated on safety on the water knows that inflatables like this are toys – not PFDs and not watercraft. They are meant for novelty and relaxation. They are not intended to help save your life, and they are not built for serious recreation.
There are times, however, where the line between proper craft for recreation and toy gets blurred. Inflatables you see at the store often have a design that makes them look secure, and in some cases they may be molded to look like actual watercraft.
When you’re in the open water, you put a lot of faith in your flotation of choice to keep you safe. Riding the pegasus down the river may be fun in theory – but if things get hairy and it gets cut by some debris, you better hope you can swim to shore.
A public service announcement from the National Park Service in 2015 says it all: “Pool Toys are not Watercraft”. You’ll see in this article a picture of an Australian officer holding up an inflatable tube. A young man died using that tube in a river.
You have no idea what can happen out on the open water, even if it’s the laziest river in the USA. If the weather turns or if you confront rough water, you want to be in a craft that stays on top of the water and gives you control. No matter how slick and professional a cheap pool toy looks, it is still flimsy and it will not easily maneuver when you need it to.
How you enjoy the water within the limits of the law is up to you. What we want to bring home is that very small decisions can make a lot of difference when it comes to water safety. No matter what you choose to do, it’s important to calculate the risks. Educate yourself, read the warning labels, and make sure you are prepared for the unexpected.
Finally, to prove that I don’t have a vendetta against inflatables, here is a picture of me riding a duck inflatable in a swimming pool. Enjoy.