HARRISBURG, Pa. – The beauty of changing leaves can provide an ideal backdrop for a fall paddle down a scenic stream, but things can turn ugly if you don’t wear a life jacket.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) is reminding boaters that beginning November 1 and lasting through April 30, they are required to wear a life jacket while underway or at anchor on boats less than 16 feet in length or on any canoe or kayak. The requirement applies to all Pennsylvania waters.
“No boating trip should ever begin without wearing a life jacket, especially this time of year,” said Ryan Walt, PFBC Boating and Watercraft Safety Manager. “Even on sunny days when air temperatures are comfortable, water temperatures are quickly dropping. Boaters, especially those in kayaks and canoes, are at greater risk for sudden cold water immersion. A life jacket can keep you afloat and alive.”
According to Pennsylvania boating accident reports, nearly 80-percent of all boating fatalities occur because of boaters not wearing life jackets. A disproportionate number of deaths happen between November and April.
When a person is unexpectedly plunged into cold water below 70ºF, the body’s first response is usually an involuntary gasp. Without a life jacket, a victim may inhale while under water and drown. The ability to swim is restricted by shortness of breath or hyperventilation.
Individuals who plan to fish, boat or hunt from a boat this fall or winter should follow these Cold Water Survival Safety Tips:
Always wear a life jacket, even when not required. Many models also offer insulation from cold air. Read approval labels to be sure the life jacket is appropriate for your boating activity.
Never boat alone.
Leave a float plan with family or friends so that someone knows where you are departing from and where you expect to arrive back ashore.
Become familiar with the waters you plan to boat in advance of your trip.
Bring a fully charged cell phone with you in case of emergency, and store in a waterproof bag or container.
Wear clothing that continues to insulate when wet, such as fleece, polypropylene or other synthetics.
If you are about to fall into cold water, cover your mouth and nose with your hands to reduce the likelihood of inhaling water.
If possible, stay with the boat. Get back into or climb on top of the boat.
While in cold water, do not remove your clothing.
If you cannot get out of the water, get into the Heat Escape Lessening Posture (HELP). In this position, individuals bring their knees to their chest and hug them with their arms.
Once out of the water, remove wet clothes and warm up as soon as possible.
Seek medical attention when necessary. Err on the side of caution. Some effects of exposure to cold temperatures can be delayed.
To learn more, visit the Water Safety and Wear It Pennsylvania pages on the PFBC website.