Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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It’s Called A Life Jacket

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on March 5, 2014

Green Life JacketRead this PDF about PFDs PDQ!

Read this pamphlet about life jacket use as soon as possible!

Which sentence makes most sense to your mother? Assuming your mother is not in the water safety field, I’m guessing the term PFD has no meaning. The term ‘PFD’, or personal flotation device, is regularly used in the water safety field, both internally and when educating the public. But we’ve forgotten one critical thing. PFD is not a commonly recognized term. In fact I’d be willing to guess that most people are confused or think you are talking about a document in .pdf form when you use the term PFD and only by process of elimination figure out you are talking about a good old, highly recognizable, simple life jacket. That old standby, a jacket that will save your life – easily understood, easily communicated.

I recently published a speech that I gave about Positively Changing Public Behavior: The Role of Social marketing, Consistent messaging, and Social media.   One of the key points is that we need to use positive, simple consistent messages, delivered repetitively, to the public if we are going to get their attention and keep it long enough to change their behavior around water. As a starting point, it means that we all need to use consistent terminology whenever possible.

The U.S. Coast Guard strongly encourages that everyone working in water safety and drowning prevention use the term ‘life jacket’ instead of PFD.  The National Safe Boating Council and others have adopted the term in all of their communications and campaigns, including the  Safe Boating Campaign.  It’s not just a U.S. thing though, not should it be, we are dealing with a global epidemic, we need consistent messages globally. The RNLI in the UK says ‘Wear a life jacket’.  Lifesaving Society Canada covers both bases, referring to life jackets, also know as PFDs, but their great Safe Boater campaign specifically refers to life jackets.  If we are going to get people’s attention, and keep it, to change behavior about using life jackets, we all need to use the term ‘life jacket’.

If you aren’t using the term life jacket, if you are still using PFD, especially in your communications with the public, please make the change.

We can’t change the world unless we have their attention, and we can’t get their attention unless we use positive, simple, consistent and repetitive messages.

Use consistent messages, use the term life jacket’.

And don’t forget to wear your life jacket. The public is watching.

* PDQ is slang for ‘pretty darn quick’ and PDF means ‘portable document format’

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