Even on unseasonably warm days in northwestern Pennsylvania, it's always a good idea to put on a life jacket when venturing out onto the river or reservoir, just in case.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) agrees.
Under a new regulation passed in September, boaters on Pennsylvania waters will have to put on a life jacket.
Beginning on Nov. 1, boaters are required to wear a life jacket when in any boat under 16 feet in length or in a canoe or kayak.
The regulation is in effect through April 30.
"According to Pennsylvania's boating accident reports, almost 80 percent of all boating fatalities happen to boaters not wearing a life jacket," PFBC Bureau of Boating and Outreach Director Laurel Anders said in an Oct. 23 press release. "A disproportionate number of the fatalities occur during the months of November through April."
The regulation, according to the PFBC website, is in part designed to reduce the dangers of cold-water shock.
"When a person is unexpectedly plunged into cold water below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the body's first response is usually an involuntary gasp," the site notes. "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."
"During these cold weather months," Anders said in the press release, " boaters are especially at risk due to the water temperature and the risk of sudden cold water immersion."
The regulation change was passed by the PFCB without legislative action under its authority to, "promulgate such rule and regulations as it deems appropriate to provide for the operation and navigation of boats, including the rules of the road for boating, the ways, manner, methods and means of boating, the management of boats and the use thereof and the protection of waters for boating purposes."
While there are constraints as to the scope of this power, the PFCB is specifically granted the ability to pass regulations relating to, "protection of the health and safety of persons in boats, towed by boats, or on, in or along the waters of this Commonwealth (Pennsylvania)."
The PFCB press release gives the following tips for cold-water boating safety:
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 the 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 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.