Drowning Interventions

Personal Flotation Devices


The scenario that a drowning person will make lots of noise while thrashing around in the water and resurface several times before actually drowning is pervasive but entirely false.22 For this reason, personal flotation devices (PFDs) are often overlooked as an additional safety intervention.

Unfortunately, no studies have examined the ability of PFDs to prevent drownings. Several experimental studies have compared the numerous types of PFDs and their abilities to keep the wearer afloat and to prevent water from filling the mouth. 23,24,25 Although a good deal of information regarding PFD standards has been published, no definitive epidemiological answer exists as to their true effectiveness in preventing drownings.

One study reported results of a campaign to increase PDF use.

Review of Personal Flotation Device Campaign:


Treser, 1997

Study design and target population

Ecological time trend, 1992-1994; Seattle-King County, Washington.


2 year educational campaign to increase PFD use & safe boating practices.

Included safety video for elementary schools and life jacket loaner program at beaches plus community educational component.


Observed PFD use among operators of small boats (motor, sail, row, canoes, kayaks etc) in freshwater lakes and salt water.

Jet skis excluded.


Total PFD use increased from 19.8% to 31.3% (p<.0001).

Use differed by age group but not by gender.

Use in toddlers increased 58.3% to 86.8% (p<.0001), children 5-14 unchanged at 69%.

Child PFD use linked to adult use. PFD use rare among adolescents and young adults.

Study quality and conclusions

Observational procedures carefully executed and identical in 1992 & 1994.

Could not rule out secular trend or influence of other safety campaigns (bike helmets, seat belts).

Summary of PFD campaigns

There is some evidence that a multifaceted community campaign can successfully increase PFD use.

Recommendations for future research

Studies designed to evaluate the effectiveness of PFDs should be conducted. A case-control design would be appropriate since drowning is a rare event.