As the weather continues to improve, the state Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Raystown Lake are reminding boaters that the requirement to wear personal flotation devices (PFDs), or life jackets, is still in effect.
“From Nov. 1 through April 30, boaters are required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket while underway or at anchor on boats less than 16 feet in length or on any kayak, canoe or paddle board,” Mike Parker, PFBC communications director, stated. “Although the weather outside of the water might be nice, the water temperature is still extremely cold and will cause cold water shock.”
Sudden cold-water immersion, or cold-water shock, occurs when a person is unexpectedly plunged into cold water below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, 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 the PFBC, there were 11 boating-related deaths across the state in 2020 and none of the individuals who lost their lives were wearing a life jacket. So far this year there have been three fatal boating incidents — all on private ponds without life jackets onboard. Many of these deaths could have been prevented by simply wearing a life jacket.
“Boating safety is something we take very seriously during every season in Pennsylvania, and these recent tragedies have again proven that this is extremely important in early spring,” said Col. Clyde Warner, PFBC director of law enforcement. “Not having the required life jackets on board or not wearing them in instances where they’re required is not only a serious infraction, it could cost you or a loved one their life. These life jacket requirements are in place to keep boaters safe whether they’re on large lakes, small creeks or private ponds. Abide by the law and always carry life jackets onboard your boat, even when not required. More importantly, wear them.”
Many boaters do not believe they need to wear a life jacket because they can swim. However, an American Red Cross survey finds that most Americans overestimate their swimming ability. Overall, the survey finds that 54% of Americans either can’t swim or lack basic swimming skills. Cold, fast-moving waters often present in the spring can make treading water very difficult even for those with moderate or better swimming abilities.
Jenna Conner, a park ranger in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Raystown Lake, emphasized the importance for people to follow the mandate.
“Cold water shock can occur in any water temperatures below 70 degrees and the current lake temperature is 55 degrees,” she said. “Even though the air outside of the water might be warm, the water is still extremely cold and will cause cold water shock if anyone is submerged in it. Wearing a life jacket decreases the chance of inhaling water when going through cold water shock. A life jacket could easily save your life.”
Conner also believes new boaters might not be aware of this mandate.
“We have seen a great increase in kayakers, canoers and paddlers because of COVID-19,” she said. “Many of the new boaters might not be aware that wearing a life jacket is mandatory right now. It is important to inform people of this mandate because it could save their life.”
To learn more about life jacket wear and cold water survival, visit the PFBC website at www.fishandboat.com/Boat/BoatingRegulations/Pages/PersonalFlotationDevicesPFD.aspx.
Kylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.