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The numbers are stunning.

The Fish and Boat Commission recently released a summary of last year's fatal boating accidents within the state. It's brutally clear that life jackets are not taken seriously.

It's not a fun topic to discuss. It's not controversial. But it must be discussed. The bottom line is the vast majority of folks who died on the state's waters last year would still be alive if they'd simply put on their life jackets.

The commission's report proved that disaster can strike at any moment while on the water. When it does, your life could be over in an instant. If you're not prepared for the worst, the odds of catastrophe are increased exponentially.

For the last six months, kayakers, canoeists and folks on boats under 16 feet had to wear their life jackets. It's the law during cold-weather months. But as of today, they can legally take those life jackets off and stow them under the seat. My advice keep it on.

The state's list of fatal boating accidents was brutally clear. The majority of folks who died were recovered without a life jacket. And, sadly, in most cases there were more than enough of the life-saving devices aboard their boats.

Too often, we think we'll have time to don a life jacket when trouble erupts. That is rarely the case. Life jackets do much more than save us from a sinking boat.

What happens if a person is suddenly tossed overboard by a large, unexpected boat wake? What if he is thrown from a boat as it hits a shoal or another boat? If the victim is not wearing a life jacket, the consequences are often deadly.

There's absolutely no excuse not to wear a life jacket. Modern personal flotation devices are cheap, comfortable and easy to use. In fact, many of them are so comfortable most folks forget they're wearing them.

We've all seen the big, bulky orange preservers made out of high-density foam. I'll be the first to admit, they're far from comfortable. They make you feel like you are wearing a sumo wrestler's belt around your neck.

Few folks would ever want to spend a day in one of these uncomfortable contraptions. That's fine. They don't have to. There are dozens of other much more attractive models on the market.

My first choice is a self-inflating unit. The vast majority of the time, my life preserver is hardly noticeable and is out of the way. But the instant I need it, it automatically inflates and keeps me on the surface and alive.

When spending a relaxing day on the water, safety is not always our first concern. But when the situation gets nasty or things simply don't go quite as you planned, you'll be glad you took the extra precautions and put on a life jacket.

A life jacket does you no good if it's tucked under a seat and you're in the water struggling to stay alive. Put it on every time you hit the water.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@yorkdispatch.com.

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