Different personal flotation devices are seen at Old Town Canoe Company in this April 14, 2015, file photo. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

That’s a bold headline, isn’t it? Did it get your attention? Are you determined to prove me wrong?

Good. We’re getting somewhere already.

Because today, we’re going to stop beating around the bush and tell a hard truth. Many of us have been downright stupid when it comes to how we go about recreating on the state’s lakes and ponds.

Do me a favor: Go to your local lake, pond or brook. Grab your phone, and set a timer for 10 minutes. (That’s about how long it’ll take you to get back in your boat, or to shore, or to be rescued, if you happen to capsize your boat and you happen to be extremely lucky).

Then put your hand in the water and leave it there until your 10 minutes are up.

How’d that feel?

Think about this. How do you think it would feel if your whole body was in the lake, and you had to tread water waiting for help?


And how often do you go out on the water, even at this time of year, and decide not to wear your personal flotation device?

Again, exactly.

A cold, hard fact: Up in these parts, few folks think water safety is a big deal. Or perhaps they don’t think it’s a priority for them. Or maybe they just think nothing bad can possibly happen to them.

In a state with thousands of lakes and ponds, you would think that at least a few avid boaters would show up to learn more about keeping them and their loved ones safe on the water. Wouldn’t you?

So would I.

And here’s the truth: During the first five months of 2018, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary organized five safety training opportunities in the Bangor area alone.

You know how many people showed up?

A grand total of zero. None. Zilch.

Think about that the next time you put your kids in the boat and head out for a spin. Think about that the next time you gather up a buddy or two and head out for some early-season trolling.

Think about that.

Then, ask yourself this: Am I as safe as I think I am? Do I take safety as seriously as I should?

Or better yet, ask this one: Why, in God’s name, am I not wearing my life jacket?

Yes, your life jacket is “only” over there, under the seat, or on top of the cooler. Yes, it would be easy to get your hands on it, if you had to do so.

Or maybe it wouldn’t be such a simple task after all.

Maybe you end up in the lake. The water’s 45 degrees. Your clothing is waterlogged. You’re worrying about saving your fishing rod, or your buddy, or your son. Then, you realize that you can’t get to the life jacket. It dawns on you that you’re a long way from shore. That you’re never going to swim that far.

Then, in those final minutes, you realize that your survival depends on the answer to two more very simple questions: Can anybody hear you scream? And if they can, are they equipped to save your life?

That’s what it all comes down to, you see. Spending time out on a boat on a beautiful Maine lake at this time of year can create some of your fondest memories. There’s no doubt about it.

Unfortunately, most of us do not consider the opposite of that.

All it takes is one bad move, one medical emergency, one piece of bad luck, for a day on a beautiful lake to turn into the source of your family’s worst nightmare.

Do yourself a favor. Do your loved ones a favor.

Think about that.

Wear your life jacket.

Return safely.

It’s the least you can do.

John Holyoke can be reached at jholyoke@bangordailynews.com or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” will be released by Islandport Press in October.

Video: Why PFDs are essential for any water activity

[bdnvideo id=”1932568″]

John Holyoke

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their...