HARRISBURG, PA. (WENY) – The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission reminded boaters the lifejacket requirement will go into effect on Monday.
From November 1 through April 30, boaters in Pennsylvania are required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while in a boat less than 16 feet in length or in any kayak, canoe or paddleboard. The requirement applies to all waters in Pennsylvania.
“The interest in boating, especially paddling, in Pennsylvania, has continued to increase over the past several seasons, and people will stay busy on the water well into the fall months,” said Ryan Walt, PFBC Boating and Watercraft Safety Manager. “Boaters should be aware that water temperatures begin to drop rapidly at this time of year, and even on sunny days when air temperatures are comfortable and warm, the water can be cold enough to put boaters at risk for sudden cold-water immersion. A life jacket can keep your head above water until help arrives.”
Sudden cold-water immersion, also known as cold-water shock, happens when a person is unexpectedly submerged into cold water below 70 degrees, resulting in an involuntary gasp where water is often inhaled. The reaction can cause panic, hyperventilation, inhalation of water and reduces a person’s ability to swim.
According to the Commonwealth, nearly 80% of all boating fatalities happened because the victims were not wearing lifejackets. A disproportionate amount of those deaths were occurring between November and April, so the PFBC enacted this lifejacket requirement in 2021. Since then, the commission says it has seen a “significant drop in the percentage of boating incidents that result in fatalities during the cold weather months”.
The PFBC also released the following cold water survival safety tips:
- Always wear a life jacket, even when not required. Many life jackets offer insulation from cold air while boating in addition to insulation from cold water if a person falls overboard. 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 when 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, and you are wearing a lifejacket, 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.