This year make a commitment to better boating safety, especially when paddling as increased numbers of people take up kayaking. The four major causes of drowning are: not wearing a life jacket, abuse of alcohol, lack of sufficient swimming skills and hypothermia.
Always wear a life jacket, even when not required. Over 80% of all recreational boating facilities happen to people who are not wearing a life jacket. Many boaters don’t wear life jackets because they claim they can swim, they want to look “cool” or they simply forget to carry them onboard. Many newer models are cool and comfortable for warm weather boating. In Pennsylvania, life jackets must be worn by all children 12 years old and younger on all boats 20 feet or less in length while underway and on all canoes and kayaks.
In states where no children’s life jacket law is in place, a U.S. Coast Guard interim rule requires children under 13 on moving boats to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket that fits. This rule does not change or supersede the existing law in states which have life jacket laws; it only applies to states that have no laws.
Even though the air temperature could be warm, the water temperature could still be cold. Falling into water temperatures colder than 70 degrees F can cause hypothermia. So remember in Pennsylvania, life jackets are required to be worn from November 1 to April 30 by all boaters on boats less than 16 feet in length or on any kayak or canoe (regardless of air temperature).
A properly fitted life jacket is more comfortable and functions better. All boats must have a USCG-approved wearable life jacket on board for each person. Life jackets that are too small or too large can ride up or even come off when you are in the water. Get a good fit with the touchdown test. Raise your arms like you are signaling a touchdown in a football game. Have a partner lift the life jacket by the shoulders. The life jacket should come no higher than your chin. If it does, tighten the straps and try again. Try a different size life jacket if you are unable to get the correct fit.
Keep a proper lookout when boating. Always be aware of your surroundings. Look for hazards such as rocks, strainers (strainers can be anything that block passage but lets the water flow through) low-head dams, heavy current, lightning and other bad weather. (Always check the weather and real-time river forecasts for the potential of hazardous high water before leaving home.)
Never boat alone. Leave a float plan, so others know where you will be boating and when you will be returning. Know the waters you plan to boat.
Know the law. Know if boats need to be registered or if a launch permit is needed. All motorboats must be registered in PA, regardless of where they launch.
All boats are required to have a sound producing device. Athletic whistles are appropriate. Bring a fully-charged cell phone with you in case of emergency. Boat smart and take a boating safety education course.
Never drink and boat. According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) in 2014, 92 boaters were charged with BUI’s (Boating Under the Influence). “Many boaters may not know that the threshold for BUI is the same as with motor vehicles – 0.08 percent,” says Jeff Bridi, assistant director of the PFBC Bureau of Law Enforcement. “Fish and Boat officers regularly patrol waterways. If officers suspect someone is boating under the influence, they can arrest the individual on the spot.”
Please watch this video of family and friends as they speak about the impact of a double-fatal boat accident. Their hope is that their story will make other boaters think twice, boat smarter and prevent another tragic boating accident from occurring. Boating Safety Video