Life jackets now mandatory on Pa. waterways until April 30

Pennsylvania News

HARRISBURG — The changing foliage of fall in Pennsylvania attracts a lot of boaters and kayakers to the waters of the commonwealth.

To ensure boaters return home safely, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) is reminding boaters to always wear a life jacket.

Beginning today (Monday, Nov. 1) through April 30, boaters are required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while on the water or at anchor on boats less than 16 feet in length, such as any kayak, canoe or paddleboard.

The requirement applies to all Pennsylvania waterways.

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

Sudden cold-water immersion, or cold-water shock, occurs when a person plunges into cold water below 70 degrees Fahrenheit unexpectedly. This can result in an uncontrollable gasp reaction where water is often inhaled causes panic, hyperventilation, inhalation of water and inhibits the ability of a person to swim. 

According to Pennsylvania boating accident reports, nearly 80 percent of all boating fatalities occurred because boaters were not wearing life jackets.

Prior to this life jacket wear requirement being enacted in 2012, a disproportionate number of deaths happened between November and April. Since then, the Commission has seen a significant drop in the percentage of boating incidents that result in fatalities during the cold weather months.

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

  • 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 before you leave on your trip.
  • Bring a fully charged cell phone with you in case of emergency and store it 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, and always err on the side of caution. Some effects of exposure to cold temperatures can be delayed.

To learn more, visit the Water Safety and Wear It Pennsylvania pages on the PFBC website.

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