Pennsylvania boaters required to wear life jacket until April as waters cool off

Regional News

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WTAJ) — Starting Monday, boaters are required to wear a life jacket as water temperatures drop, leaving people at risk of being killed from “sudden cold-water immersion.”

Life jackets must be U.S. Coast Guard approved and work while on any boat, kayak, canoe or paddleboard on all Pennsylvania waters, according to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC). This will remain in effect from Nov. 1 to April 30.

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, the PFBC said. This uncontrollable reaction causes panic, hyperventilation, inhalation of water, and inhibits the ability of a person to swim. 

Nearly 80 percent of all boating fatalities occurred because boaters were not wearing life jackets, the PFBC reported. The life jacket requirement was enacted in 2012, and prior to it, there were a disproportionate number of deaths that happened between November and April. That number has since dropped thanks to the life jackets.

Individuals who plan to fish, boat or hunt from a boat this fall or winter should follow these Cold Water Survival Safety Tips from the PFBC:

• 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.

“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,” PFBC Boating and Watercraft Safety Manager Ryan Walt said.  “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.”

For more information, visit the Water Safety and Wear It Pennsylvania pages on the PFBC website.

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