Sunshine and warm breezes draw winter-weary anglers and boaters to the water each spring. However, despite warm air temperatures, water temperatures in this early season remain bone chilling and potentially deadly. That’s why the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) reminds boaters to always wear a life jacket.
Pennsylvania’s boating accident reports reveal a sad, yet preventable, trend. In 2020, there were 11 boating-related deaths across the state. None of the individuals who lost their lives were wearing a life jacket. Already in 2021, three unfortunate fatal boating incidents have occurred — all on private ponds without life jackets onboard—proving that tragedy can strike in your own backyard. 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 Colonel 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. More importantly, wear them.”
From November 1st through April 30th, 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. This requirement applies even on private ponds. A disproportionate number of boating-related fatalities occur during the months of November through April. Cold water immersion is one of the primary reasons for these deaths, based on Pennsylvania’s boating accident data.
Sudden cold water immersion is one of the main reasons people drown from capsizing or falling overboard in the early spring. When a person is unexpectedly plunged into cold water below 70ºF, the body’s first response is usually an involuntary gasp. It can result in a person inhaling water and hyperventilating which can quickly lead to death. Research on cold water survival indicates that wearing a life jacket significantly increases a person’s chance of survival.
Many boaters don’t wear life jackets because they claim they can swim. However, an American Red Cross survey finds that most Americans overestimate their swimming ability. Overall, the survey finds that more than half of all Americans (54 percent) either can’t swim or lack in 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. This is yet another reason to always wear a life jacket while boating.