Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

DEAR ABBY: This letter is in response to "Careful Mom in Washington," whose father-in-law thought she was crazy because she refused to take her young son on an old boat without an infant lifejacket.

On a lovely day in June 1986, my husband, who couldn't swim but refused to wear a lifejacket, took our 3-year-old son, "Ronnie," fishing in the new "unsinkable" boat I had bought to protect them. My rule from day one for Ronnie was "no lifejacket, no water."

While they were fishing, my husband somehow fell out of the boat. Ronnie went into the water to look for his father. He couldn't find him. Ronnie floated aimlessly for an hour before a wonderful teen-age boy spotted him and rowed to his rescue.

Had I not insisted that my son wear a lifejacket, I would have tragically lost both my husband and Ronnie.

My husband was an adult who had a right to make his own choices in life. However, those choices ended his life far too soon.

Our son could not make his own choices. As a parent, I made them for him. Fortunately, I made the right ones to protect him.

I hope "Careful Mom" shows this letter to her father-in-law, and I hope she'll stick to her rules even if it means being ridiculed. -- ANOTHER CAREFUL MOM IN WASHINGTON

DEAR ANOTHER CAREFUL MOM: Please accept my sympathy for the untimely death of your husband, and please also accept my congratulations for your strength in insisting that your son be protected.

Now that Ronnie is 17, you might suggest some counseling if he feels responsible for his father's death or has "survivor guilt." Read on:

DEAR ABBY: This is to "Careful Mom in Washington." You were not out of line by refusing to let your 13-month-old son go on your father-in-law's boat without an infant lifejacket. I commend you for your decision!

Inform your father-in-law that the state of Washington has a law that requires lifejackets for children up to 11 or 12; and a federal law requires a device of the "appropriate size" for each person on board (including Coast Guard-approved lifejackets that fit children).

It's critical that parents try a lifejacket in a pool to be sure it fits the child properly.

My advice to your father-in-law is either to take a Coast Guard-approved boating safety course, or sell the boat and take up knitting! -- RONNIE ON THE RIVER

DEAR RONNIE: Many readers felt compelled to write in support of the mother's decision. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I have just finished reading the letter from the woman whose father-in-law is giving her the cold shoulder because she refused to take her infant on his rickety old boat after he had a couple of beers -- and without an infant lifejacket!

I once worked in a maritime law firm. One of my jobs was typing notes into computer files. About 80 percent of the boating accidents were alcohol-related. More than half resulted in deaths, paralysis, brain damage, lost limbs, etc.

Let that father-in-law stew. He was wrong, and she was right to put her own and her child's safety first. -- SAFE ON PUGET SOUND

DEAR SAFE: If your letter doesn't convince people to wear lifejackets, and to refrain from mixing alcohol with boating, nothing will. Please, readers, have a safe and sane summer on our nation's waterways.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like Dear Abby