Aretha Franklin, Water Safety, and Myths that Won’t Go Away

Updated: May 13


Aretha Franklin, an American icon recently passed away. Some of us remember when her 1965 hit song, Respect, hit the airwaves. In that song, Aretha’s powerful voice demanded respect as human being and as a woman.

The word, respect, has several definitions. In particular, it can mean to give particular attention or concern to a thing. Here in the autumn of 2018, it seems like we still have a long way to go in terms of respect for the water.

A short time ago, Alaska went almost two full years without a commercial fishing fatality. As of this past August, we already had 9 fatalities. Last year, we had 10 commercial fishing fatalities in Alaska. The demographics look familiar year to year. Most of the victims are men of all ages. Most were the result of falling overboard, or capsizing or swamping a small open skiff. They are born and raised in Alaska or living outside Alaska, but fishing in Alaska waters. Contributing factors are weather, fatigue, sleep deprivation, inattention, not wearing a personal flotation device (PFD), or to sum it up, not having enough respect for water, especially cold water. For the last few years, non-commercial water fatalities in Alaska are going up again, too. The demographics of those victims are not much different from the commercial water fatalities.​

A myth is a story that is inherently not true or exaggerated. The myths surrounding PFDs still abound, but also lack veracity. Typical myths about PFDs and drowning sound like:​

“I’ll never go overboard.”

“PFDs will get you tangled in gear,” a half-truth, as some will.

“They are too hot to work in.”

“They don’t keep you warm enough.”

“They don’t look cool.”

“They are too expensive.”

“The water is so cold you will die in just a few minutes anyway.”

“They are just good for finding your body.”

My favorite myth is, “If I wear a PFD then the Coast Guard will pass a law saying I have to wear one.” Like all good myths, some are half-truths and some are not true at all.​

PFDs would have prevented most deaths from drowning. NIOSH research has found that out of the 204 last fishermen that fell overboard and drowned, not one was wearing a PFD. The fix to preventing most of these deaths is simple, wear a PFD. The technology is simple and inexpensive, considering the numbers of years a PFD can last. They are readily available. There are numerous styles, many of which are very nonrestrictive. Some lack anything to get hung up on. Some are stylish, some keep you warm, others keep you cool, some look cool, and some don’t even look like PFDs. Do yourself a favor and give rescuers more time to find you.​

Take the pledge, that “On This Boat All Must Float.” Make it a condition of employment. It’s what you demand for taking passengers, family members, or friends on your boat. Have some respect for the water, your crew and yourself.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Aretha even spelled it out for us. She lived a full and amazing life. Wearing a PFD on the water will increase your chances of having a full life as well, even if we can’t all be as amazing as Aretha. Have some respect for the water you are using for work, play, or subsistence activities. Have some respect for the water, for yourself and for your family. The ocean, lakes, and rivers demand respect for your use of them.​

Remember that if you want to increase your odds, wear a PFD, or as Aretha would spell it out P-F-D. Still don’t know what the right PFD is for you or where to get one that is wearable for your situation? Give us a call at AMSEA 907-747-3287 or email us at amsea@amsea.org and we can steer you in the right direction.


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2924 Halibut Point Road ~ Sitka, AK 99835

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