Rob Stott is a contributing editor to Associations Now.
The National Safe Boating Council turned its simple message—to wear your life jacket—into an annual event where participants around the globe put on their life jackets to help promote boating safety and set a world record in the process.
The mission of the National Safe Boating Council is clear: to promote safer boating through education, outreach, and training. Much of that work revolves around life jacket awareness.
"Wearing a life jacket is the one precaution that can save so many lives during recreational boating," says NSBC Executive Director Rachel Johnson, CAE. "Yet, more than 500 people drown each year in recreational boating accidents."
To help change that, NSBC sponsors an annual Wear It! campaign and hosts National Safe Boating Week every year the week before Memorial Day. In 2010, though, the group decided to mix things up a little.
"That year, one of our organizing committee members suggested we do some sort of world record day event during National Safe Boating Week," Johnson says. "In the past, a lot of groups would do their own thing at the local level, so this could be a way for us to coordinate those efforts and bring them all together." The result: Ready, Set, Wear It! Life Jacket World Record Day, winner of a 2013 Summit Award in ASAE's Power of A Awards competition.
Volunteers host local events on the day, which they can register through NSBC's campaign website. Taking part is easy: Participants sign in and submit a photo or video of themselves wearing their life jackets.
For the first two years, NSBC counted only inflatable life jackets, considered a more comfortable alternative to the bulky Styrofoam versions. Still, more than 1,000 people participated each year.
NSBC wanted to expand the program's reach to include all ages and species (participants have been known to send in pictures of their furry friends in life jackets), so the group opened the day up to all types of life jackets. That's when the event really took off. NSBC has broken its record each year (6,973 in 2014) and has seen boating groups from Japan to Brazil to Finland join in.
While NSBC does a traditional marketing push for the event, most of the buzz comes from local groups. In Finland, for example, participants turned their event into a flash mob in downtown Helsinki and submitted a video.
"What's great about us boating safety professionals is that we're not shy," Johnson says. "We always take the opportunity to educate and inform others about what we're doing, because you never know when it's going to stick."
Rob Stott is assistant editor at Associations Now in Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Jackets By the Boatload."]