HARRISBURG, Pa. – With vibrant, changing foliage as a backdrop to any adventure during the fall season, the lure of a relaxing paddle along a scenic river, stream or lake is hard to resist. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) encourages everyone to enjoy the water and reminds boaters to wear a life jacket during the cold weather months.
Beginning on November 1 and lasting through April 30, boaters are required to wear a U.S Coast Guard approved life jacket at all times 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.
“The water temperature is dropping rapidly beginning this time of year,” said Ryan Walt, PFBC Boating and Watercraft Safety Manager. “Even on sunny days when air temperatures are comfortable and even feel warm, the water can be cold enough to put boaters at risk for sudden cold water immersion. A life jacket can keep you afloat and alive.”
Sudden cold water immersion, or cold water shock, occurs when a person is unexpectedly plunged into cold water below 70ºF resulting in an involuntary gasp where water is often inhaled. This uncontrollable reaction causes panic, hyperventilation, inhalation of water, and inhibits the ability of a person to swim.
According to Pennsylvania boating accident reports, nearly 80% of all boating fatalities occurred because boaters were not wearing life jackets. A disproportionate number of deaths happen between November and April.
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 life jackets 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 intend 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.