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Boat cruise tragedy: When wearing a life jacket is not enough

Rescue mission. A joint team of police and army marine units pull bodies of revellers out of the lake at Mutima Beach in Mukono District on November 25, 2018. PHOTO BY STEPHEN OTAGE

Following the deadly boat cruise that claimed the lives of scores of people on Saturday evening, social media has been abuzz with lots of questions on what should have been done to save the situation.

The boat known as MV Templar capsized about 100 metres from Mutima Beach on Lake Victoria in Mukono District’s Mpatta Sub-county at about 7pm.

The boat was carrying more than 100 revelers including brother to Buganda king Prince David Wasajja, singer Iryn Namubiru and many more people from Uganda’s elite class.

Lake Victoria tragedy: Scores dead, singer Iryn Namubiru and Prince David Wassajja rescued

While speaking to BBS TV Buganda Kingdom owned Television company, Prince Wasajja who was one of the survivors said that most of the people who died were not wearing life jackets.

Sheila Mbonimpa died from after the boat accident. COURTESY PHOTO

“Those who died are those who had not worn jackets. If the police had not insisted, it would have been worse because everyone would have come without a life jacket. When they (other passengers) saw that the police had blocked..[they gave up on going on the boat],” he said.

How life jackets work

For starters, a life jacket is a sleeveless jacket which helps you to float when you have fallen into deep water. Iryn Namubiru and Micheal Kaddu (singer Desire Luzinda’s ex) are some of those who made it out alive because they were wearing life jackets.

According to, when you are in the water, you feel much lighter. That’s because your body has displaced water that is pushing back and creating buoyancy.

Iryn Namubiru and Micheal Kaddu pose for a picture before the boat capsized. They both wore life jackets and survived. COURTESY PHOTO

A life jacket is filled with a very light material, usually foam, that can displace a lot of water compared to its weight. If an object is less dense than the water it’s submerged in, it will begin to float to the water. For example, oil can float on the surface of water due to its low density.

Having a life jacket vest will save your life because the vest keeps you buoyant and allows you to remain above the water instead of being pulled down by the water pressure.

ALSO READ: ‘How we made it out alive’ – deadly boat cruise survivors speak out

The material inside a life jacket traps air to help keep you afloat. It traps in the air when your jacket is submerged underwater. The trapped air weighs less than the water. As a result, the water pushes up more than the jacket pushing down. This allows your jacket to float and remain buoyant and can hold up extra weight without sinking.

Getting the right life jacket for your body size

It is important to get a life jacket that fits you properly. It won’t be much use if it’s too big and you slip out of it. Also, choose a life jacket that’s designed for the activity you are doing.

LIfe jackets come in different sizes and colours. COURTESY PHOTO

Life jackets are categorized and measured based on how much extra weight it can support. Adult jackets usually have a buoyancy range from 15 pounds to 22 pounds. Because the average person needs about 7 to 12 pounds of buoyancy to stay afloat, your life jacket doesn’t have to support your whole body weight.

Instead, the life jacket supports that seven to 12 pounds, with a few extra pounds to spare. You can place an item that weighs less than the minimum buoyancy offered by the life jacket, and your jacket will hold the item without it sinking.

Life jackets also help your body retain heat if you should fall into cold water.

Knowing the use of life jackets and how they work, many are wondering why some of the boat accident victims who wore jackets died.

Why you could drown even wearing a life jacket

These are some of the reasons why you could drown even when wearing a life jacket

Mouth immersions

An unexpected entry into cold water may cause a reflexive “gasp” (cold shock) allowing water to enter the lungs. Drowning can be almost instantaneous. Waves continuously splashing over the victim’s mouth cause a small amount of water to be ingested, some of which may enter the lungs. The more forcefully and completely the waves cover the mouth and nose, the more water is ingested. These are called mouth immersions.

They could happen when waves are powerful (like they were on Saturday) and while gasping for air, you could be getting water in your lungs.

When you realize you’re about to fall into the water, cover your face with your hands. Covering your mouth is an attempt to avoid gulping water into your lungs.


If the person wearing a life jacket, sustains head injury and is incapacitated it could prove fatal to him/her. The life jacket cannot save you in water. It is more suited to keep you afloat while you frantically try to swim to shore.

Trapped underwater

If you get trapped underwater it’s highly possible that you drown even with a life jacket on, because you’ll have minimum access to air if none. In 20 – 30 seconds that can be fatal. Most people resist 45 seconds underwater if calm and not panicked.

Not worn right

You should keep the jacket securely fastened while you have it on. It is common for victims to fall in water and their bodies go under while the jacket remains on the surface. This could happen because the jacket was not well secured or of a bigger size.

SURVIVORS. Singer Iryn Namubiru and Prince David Wasajja are among those who survived. COURTESY/FILE PHOTOS

Avoid an untimely separation between your life jacket and you: make sure you’re securely buckled.

Most people hate wearing life jackets, because they know how hot and uncomfortable they are and how they much ruin some one’s outfit.  Who doesn’t want to look super classy at a boat cruise right?

Why you should learn how to swim

A life jacket keeps you afloat, but that is all it does. It’s quite hard to swim, or propel yourself in any way, with a life jacket on. So you’re just going to be bobbing about, relying on someone else to know you’re in trouble, and come out and get you.

Also, are you going to carry a life jacket with you everywhere you go? A large number of drowning casualties were not even expecting to get wet on the day they drowned. They fell in. Whatever it is, they were not planning on being inside the water.

Being able to swim saves lives.

The writer sourced this information from a number of online media outlets.

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