Life Jackets: Saving a life

In 2013, drowning was the number one cause of death on the water. 82 percent of those victims did not have one crucial item – a life jacket. Below, we share the story of one man who encourages all boaters to take necessary safety precautions. He thought this encouragement would one day save a life on the water – but never thought it would be his own.

Jose Mendoza recognized the importance of having a brightly colored kayak and wearing a life jacket. Both of these safety measures contributed to his recent rescue. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Jose Mendoza recognized the importance of having a brightly colored kayak and wearing a life jacket. Both of these safety measures contributed to his recent rescue. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by Aux. David Glaser

It was a normal sunny day out on Sandy Hook Bay in New Jersey for two-year kayaker Jose Mendoza until a fellow boater’s wake capsized Mendoza’s kayak.

“It happened all so quickly. I was in my kayak relaxing about a half-mile off shore when a wave knocked me into the water,” recalled Mendoza. “I tried to get back into my kayak but it had filled with water.”

To make matters worse, his left leg began to cramp as soon as he fell into the water. Luckily, he was wearing his life jacket.

“I tried to swim but the shore was too far away,” said Mendoza. “My life jacket kept me up and I was able to hold on to my kayak.”

He didn’t have a radio with him but he had the next best thing – his cell phone in a zip locked bag.

“I called 911,” he said. “I told them I lost balance and that I could not swim. I said I was in the middle of the ocean and the weather and wind was pushing me away from shore.”

While Mendoza made the call, water was splashing over his head. He decided the best thing was to grab onto his kayak and wait for help to arrive.

The Wear It campaign, run by the National Safe Boating Campaign, reminds boaters of the importance of boating safety. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Wear It campaign, run by the National Safe Boating Council, reminds boaters of the importance of boating safety. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

911 operators called Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook, New Jersey, for assistance and a boat crew was sent out to assist Mendoza.

“I always thought if something happened to me I needed to wear something bright for them to see me,” said Mendoza. Luckily, this thought paid off.

It wasn’t long before Coast Guard crewmembers found Mendoza and his bright orange kayak floating in the water.

“It was a really good thing that he was wearing his lifejacket and stayed with his kayak, which was bright orange and a larger object for us to be able to locate,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class David Snyder.

Coast Guard crewmembers threw Mendoza a line and pulled him aboard. “They said if I hadn’t had a life jacket on it would have been a different story,” said Mendoza.

Mendoza admitted he wasn’t the most experienced kayaker but even he knew the importance of wearing a life jacket.

“If you’re going out on the water, safety is the first thing you need to consider,” Mendoza said. “I am thankful for the Coast Guard for rescuing me. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.”

For more information about safe boating, visit the Coast Guard’s Boating Safety webpage.

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