When sunny days and fall foliage tempt the boater in you, don’t forget about your life jacket, especially if you are planning to use a canoe, kayak or similar small boat.
Beginning November 1 and lasting through April 30, boaters are required to wear a life jacket while underway or at anchor on boats less than 16 feet in length or any canoe or kayak, under a new state regulation passed in September by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC).
“Life jackets are the most important piece of safety equipment on a boat,” says Laurel Anders, director of the PFBC Bureau of Boating and Outreach. “According to Pennsylvania’s boating accident reports, almost 80 percent of all boating fatalities happen to boaters not wearing a life jacket. A disproportionate number of the fatalities occur during the months of November through April. During these cold weather months, boaters are especially at risk due to the water temperature and the risk of sudden cold water immersion.”
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 without coming back to the surface. If an individual does make it back to the surface, his ability to swim is usually restricted because of a shortness of breath or hyperventilation.
The new regulation applies to all Pennsylvania waters.
Individuals who plan to fish, boat or hunt from a boat this fall or winter are encouraged to 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 the life jacket’s approval label to be sure it’s appropriate for your boating activity.
- Never boat alone.
- Leave a float plan with family or friends and know the waters you plan to boat.
- Bring a fully charged cell phone with you in case of emergency.
- Wear clothing that still insulates 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. This will 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 can’t 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. Some effects of exposure to cold temperatures can be delayed.
To learn more about life jacket wear and cold water survival, visit
- PFBC website – http://fishandboat.com/safety.htm
- Coldwater Boot Camp website – http://www.coldwaterbootcamp.com/pages/home.html
- Safe Boating Campaigns website – http://www.safeboatingcampaign.com/new-jacket-pages/angling-hunting-jackets.htm
- For more information about fishing and boating in Pennsylvania, please visit our website at www.fishandboat.com.