East Grand Outdoor Education students Noah Sixberry, left, and Matthew Cropley, far right, assist with emptying and uprighting a canoe while Aaron Sixberry and Matthew Potter assist from the water. Students discussed the most common ways that boating accidents occur here in Maine and how to avoid include not venturing out on windy days, always wearing a proper fitting life jacket and never mixing alcohol while boating. Credit: Houlton Pioneer Times

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Right around this time each year, as people start to get back out on the water, state officials offer the same advice: Wear your life jacket. And we often echo that advice.

It may seem obvious, it may even seem like nagging. But make no mistake, it is very important. And you might not know exactly how important until you really need one. Just ask Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce.

Joyce, who on any other day might be the one rushing to help someone in danger, was rescued recently after his kayak capsized on Sebago Lake. A man from Turner working at a house nearby heard Joyce calling for help, and leapt into action. Tyler Leonard paddled a canoe out to Joyce and brought him back to shore.

“I just paddled like crazy,” Leonard told TV station WGME. “He was hanging on to his kayak and the buoy and he was breathing heavy.”

Joyce thanked Leonard for saving his life and was briefly hospitalized for hypothermia, but things could have been much worse. He was lucky Leonard was there to save him. That isn’t always the case when unexpected things happen on the water. And that’s part of the reason why wearing a lifejacket is so critical — something Joyce was not doing.

“I didn’t wear a life jacket. I didn’t bring a life jacket. Normally, I bring a life jacket, or I have one on,” Joyce told WGME. “That wasn’t one of my best decisions.”

We can understand how anyone who spends a lot of time on the water — a commercial fisherman, a recreational boater, even a Maine sheriff — might get lulled into feeling like wearing a life jacket isn’t necessary. At least not for them. Not for that moment. But one day, something unexpected might happen, and it could quickly become absolutely essential.

“I was lucky,” Joyce said. “And it just brings back reality that just because you do something repeatedly, it doesn’t mean, in a New York second, things can’t change.”

Maine law requires children 10 and under to wear a life jacket while on boats or other watercraft. People over the age of 10 must have a life jacket with them but don’t need to be wearing one. People of all ages on a motorized personal watercraft must wear a life jacket.

The Maine Warden Service repeatedly emphasizes the importance of wearing a life jacket, along with the danger of hypothermia that exists in Maine’s still-cold water.

“You know, when hypothermia sets in, you don’t have a lot of time at that point,” Maine Warden Service Sgt. Tom McKenney told WGME. “Our staff wear their life jackets. You can’t really always see bad things that are going to happen. So if you wear it, that’s one preventative measure that you can take.”

Again, Leonard’s actions were heroic and thankfully he was there to help Joyce, but there isn’t always going to be someone there to save the day. People can, however, always wear a life jacket.

Tragically, a Perry man was not lucky like Joyce earlier this month. Lindon Rockwell, 75, drowned after his boat overturned while he was tending bait fish traps. He was not wearing a life jacket and was unable to swim to shore, according to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife spokesperson Mark Latti.

“Inland waters are still extremely cold this time of year, and hypothermia can set in quickly,” Game Warden Joe McBrine said. “Wearing a lifejacket can save your life if you find yourself in the water unexpectedly.”

State officials say it a lot. And we’ll keep saying it, because it can make all the difference: Wear a life jacket.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...