All boaters must wear life jackets

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry The Allegheny River was running high Friday. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was discharging 10,300 cubic feet of water per second out of Kinzua Dam and the river gage at Hickory Street Bridge was reading almost eight feet. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission requires those canoeing and kayaking between Nov. 1 and April 30 to wear life jackets.

Even if the Allegheny River weren’t running fast and high at Warren, life jackets would be required for all boaters.

On Friday, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission issued a release reminding boaters that they are required to wear life jackets from Nov. 1 through April 30.

“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,” the release said. “The PFBC is reminding boaters that they are required to wear a life jacket from Nov. 1 through April 30 while underway or at anchor on boats less than 16 feet in length or on any canoe or kayak. This requirement applies to all Pennsylvania waters.”

The requirements on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers waters are the same, but are in effect year-round.

“Our rules still apply,” Kinzua Dam Park Ranger Steve Lauser said.

On the Allegheny Reservoir and the river from where boating is first allowed below the dam to the upstream point of the first island, “that’s year round life jacket requirement on any boat that’s less than 16 feet,” Lauser said. “That’s a Corps of Engineers regulation here in the Pittsburgh District.”

“Life jackets are the most important piece of safety equipment on a boat,” PFBC Boating and Watercraft Safety Manager Ryan Walt said. “According to Pennsylvania’s boating accident reports, almost 80 percent of all boating fatalities happen to boaters not wearing a life jacket.”

The reason for the change at this time of year is the water temperature.

“A disproportionate number of the fatalities occur during the months of November through April,” Walt said. “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 70 degrees, the body’s first response is usually an involuntary gasp,” according to the release. “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 (in cold water) his ability to swim is usually restricted because of shortness of breath or hyperventilation,” according to the release.

The commission offers some other cold water safety tips:

¯ 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;

¯ wear clothing that insulates when wet –fleece, polypropylene, and 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;”

¯ stay with the boat — get back into it or climb on top of it;

¯ “while in cold water do not remove your clothing;”

¯ bring your knees to your chest and hug them — the heat escape lessening posture (HELP) — if you can’t get out of the water;

¯ “once out of the water, remove wet clothes and warm up as soon as possible;

¯ seek medical attention — some effects of exposure to cold can be delayed.

More information is available by visiting the PFBC website at