Safety Lesson

Title: River Safety Lesson Plans Introduction

Grades: High School

Instructor will present the pretest, overview and the objectives.

Overview: Presentation to students

Importance of PFD’s

Personal flotation devices (or PFDs for short) are the most important piece of safety equipment you can have on a boat. Most boats are required to have a wearable PFD on board for each passenger, but PFDs are like seatbelts in a car: “It won’t work if you don’t wear it.” PFDs are very important because in the event that you fall overboard, a personal flotation device will help to prevent you from drowning. One of our favorite sayings about PFDs is: “They float-you don’t!” Everyone on a boat must have a wearable PFD on board that is US Coast Guard approved, in good condition, and is the correct size for the person it is intended for. Children age 12 and under must wear their PFD on all boats 20 feet and under and on all canoes and kayaks. In addition, one type 4 throwable PFD is required on all boats 16 feet and over.

The U.S. Coast Guard's 2002 statistics confirmed the importance of PFD use; 85% of the fatalities that drowned in recreational boating accidents in 2002 could have survived if they had taken the simple step of wearing a lifejacket.

People will be more likely to wear a PFD if they are aware of the risks and benefits. Because of the nature of the canoe, the paddler is more likely to end up in the water than other types of boaters. A responsible paddler should always assume that he or she is likely to get wet. A vital part of enjoying canoeing in a safe manner is the awareness that water can be cold and deadly. A serious obstacle to this idea is that many potential victims don’t consider themselves as 'paddlers' and don't seek out instruction, and often ignore paddler-specific safety education. The idea "I'm not a paddler, I don't need instruction" is at the heart of boating accidents. If a paddler is not aware of the danger that cold water and hypothermia present, that paddler is less likely to dress appropriately. In fact, 71% of boating fatalities were in water less than 65 degrees. It should be of serious concern to all boaters.

Other obstacles face paddlers as well. Low-head dams, strainers, bridge abutments, sieves, undercut rocks, and powerful hydraulics are only a few of the most common dangerous conditions of which paddlers need to be aware. Distance from shore, as well as distance from aid, is also a factor for paddlers who like to explore places most powerboats cannot. These are all examples of conditions which require education. Through this education it will become clear that there is a need to wear a PFD. PFD use is important for the safety all paddlers.

What’s the “Best” PFD?

In terms of risk of drowning, the safest Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is the one you’re willing to wear!

"I only need a PFD in case I’m unconscious or incapacitated, right?"
Wrong. You need your PFD before you're unconscious, otherwise, how would you put it on? Obviously, the best PFD is the one that saves your life every time it’s needed. To accomplish that task, a PFD must be available for proper use at the time of an accident, must be designed to perform well enough to keep your head out of the water, and must be reliable enough to provide its design performance when needed. It is the combination of these three characteristics that define the life-saving potential, or safety, of your PFD. If a PFD fails to do any one of these three essentials tasks, it can’t save your life.

Accident data clearly shows that Type III PFDs have very significant reduced fatalities overall, as well as those fatalities in which a PFD was somehow used.

It can’t save you if you don’t use it. Research and boating accident statistics have shown that the most frequent failure resulting in drowning is not having a PFD available when needed. About 423 people drowned in 2006, apparently because they didn’t have a PFD that they were willing to wear.

Method: Selecting a PFD for Your Needs

Select your PFD by reading the label and ensuring that it is U.S. Coast Guard approved for your size and weight, the type of activities you'll be doing, and the kind of water you'll encounter.

Fitting Your PFD 

The next step in selecting a PFD is ensuring it fits properly and is comfortable. Try on several types with different amounts of clothing to gauge how the PFD will feel when worn at different times throughout the year. Adjustable straps will help you alter the fit for the amount of clothing you'll wear. The PFD should fit snug; if it is too loose it will not provide proper flotation in the water. A common fitting practice is to put on the PFD, and tighten all straps and close zippers. Next, raise your arms above your head and have someone try and lift the PFD up by the shoulders. The PFD is not a proper fit if it is too loose; signs of this are if the PFD moves and almost comes off, or if the main zipper or strap touches your nose.

Types of PFDs

You can use material from the National Safe Boating Campaign or the overview provided in the "PFD Fashion Show" below (it can be downloaded from the attachment section at the bottom of the page and  printed out on a 5 x 8 card).

The United States Coast Guard approves different types of Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) for different activities—check the label on your PFD to make sure it is approved for what you are planning to do with it. Also make sure the PFD is the right size for the person who will be using it (they are rated by weight), and if is for a child make sure you use a PFD that is specially designed for children.

Type I: Off shore life jackets provide the most buoyancy. These are very thick and will keep you face-up when unconscious for long periods of time. They are used in large lakes (like Lake Superior) and the ocean.

Type II: Near shore life jackets are used by boaters on lakes like Clinton and rivers like the Kaw where you can expect a fairly quick rescue. They will float you face up if you are unconscious. They are the ones you typically see in use in Kansas.

Type III: Floatation Aids are vests or jackets that are designed for active sports like fishing or kayaking on inland waters like Clinton Lake or the Kaw. They are worn all the time and are designed to be comfortable and to move easily when you are paddling. They are not designed to float you face up if you are unconscious or in rough water.

Type IV: Throwable Floatation Devices can be a circular ring or a cushion and are not meant to be worn; they are thrown to people in the water to help them stay afloat during a rescue.

Type V: Special Use or Hybrid Devices. These are for specific activities and may do things like provide protection from hypothermia in cold water. The Type V PFD shown in the photo is inflatable, and will automatically inflate when it gets wet. Types I-III also come in inflatable models—inflatable vests should not be used for activities that could result in high speeds and the possibility of a high impact since they can be damaged and may not inflate fast enough to save an unconscious person. Inflatable PFDs should also not be worn by children. 


1. Students will complete Pretest (see attachment section below) and demonstrate how to put on a PFDs appropriately.
2. Alternatively, students will be scored on their presentations (see below)

Title: Safety Jigsaw

Grades: High School


  • Students will understand that a personal flotation device (PFD) should be worn when in a boat or canoe.
  • Students will be able to put on a PFD and test to determine if the fit is appropriate.
  • Students will recognize the importance entering a canoe safely.
  • Optional; Students will complete a short canoe ride.


The lessons covered in this section are on the website on these pages:
Be safe on the river
Kansas Laws 

You can download the icon cards at the bottom of this page in the attachment section, they print out in landscape orientation on 5" x 8" index cards (you can laminate them if you want to waterproof them and you can use book rings to make them into notebooks).


Divide students into manageable sized groups (4-5).

Provide each student with a copy of an icon card and assign one section of the water safety information to each group (i.e. importance of PFD's, putting on a PFD and test, canoe safety rules) to research and become an expert on.

After students have read and understood the information with their group, create a "jigsaw" of learning. Divide students up like you would a jigsaw puzzle, one student from each group joining with one from each of the other groups so that each group now consists of an expert in each section of water safety.

Have the members of these newly assigned groups share their area of expertise. When finished, each member of the class should have learned about all water safety areas on the icon card.

Now that the students are experts, they are ready to create Safety Sticker to share with friends and family.


Instructor will present the Pretest (see attachment section below), project and the objectives.


The canoe is one of the oldest means of water travel. These boats have remained virtually unchanged in design for thousands of years.

But don't let a canoe's simplicity fool you. As easy as it may seem to leisurely paddle a canoe, a journey can quickly become dangerous if appropriate safety guidelines are overlooked.

You can minimize your risk of danger by being smart about where and when you canoe. Choose a lake or river that is appropriate for your skill level. Try to avoid high water (it makes a river run faster), high winds, and storms. And don't go out alone -- there's safety in numbers. It is recommended that you canoe with a minimum of three people or two crafts.

Before you even step into your canoe, make sure your craft is in good condition and that you take along the following items:
  • At least two paddles, plus an extra in case you drop or break one.
  • Extra ropes or lines.
  • A bail bucket.
  • A first-aid kit.
  • A dry change of clothes in cooler weather.
  • Plenty of water and food.
  • A light if you will be out in low-light conditions.
  • A personal floatation device (life vest), with a whistle attached, for each passenger.
  • Sun protection – hats, sunscreen, long sleeves and pants.
  • Map – be sure you know where you are so you do not get lost!
  • Do not litter – carry out everything you bring in.

PFDs are an absolute must, particularly considering the how unstable a canoe is and the risk of drowning and hypothermia.

Tie all equipment to your canoe – put your equipment into a waterproof bag to keep it. dry and tie it to one of the center beams in the canoe so that you don’t lose everything.

To get into your canoe, have someone hold it steady. As you step in, bend your knees and grab the sides of the canoe for balance. Walk to your seat along the center of the boat. Remember to remain on your seat; don't stand or side on the sides of a canoe. The slightest shift of weight can make a canoe tip. It is important to keep your load balanced. Avoid sudden movements or rocking from side to side.

Once you are paddling:
  • Keep an eye out for other boat traffic and keep appropriate distance.
  • Heed all safety warnings.
  • Be aware of water currents and try to keep your canoe at right angles to big waves.
  • Look out for water hazards such as low branches, fallen trees, rocks and debris.
  • Keep your shoes on to avoid slipping or stepping on sharp objects near shore.
  • Be aware of the currents in the water – you don’t want to end up floating farther downstream than you planned.
  • Always sit on the seats or in the center of the canoe – sitting on the side of a canoe will cause it to tip over.
  • Stay away from low hanging trees and branches near the shore.
  • Do not canoe in bad weather.
  • Avoid letting big waves hit the side of your canoe – always try to keep your canoe at a right angle to the waves.

If your canoe does tip over, don't panic. Stay with your canoe and paddle or push it toward the shore. When you get to shallow water, flip the canoe with the help of another person and carefully climb back in. Your canoe will float even if it’s full of water until you can get to shore to empty it.

Additional material can be found on our Canoe Safety page.

Laura Calwell,
May 10, 2011, 2:43 PM
Laura Calwell,
May 20, 2011, 1:20 PM
Laura Calwell,
Apr 22, 2010, 1:18 PM