Most likely you can not think of one good reason for not wearing a life jacket while boating in cold water, yet many people do it. We are reminded all to often of the hazards of boating during the cold water months. The Allegheny Reservoir has claimed too many lives during the cold water period, as has the Allegheny River.
In addition to the new cold water boating regulation, there are other boating regulations that must be heeded. Sometimes it has been hunters who ignored common sense and paid the price. Causes have been overloading small boats and failure to wait for storms to subside.
Even a life jacket might not save your life if you are dunked into the water several hundreds of yards from shore. Certainly it is better than being without a life jacket, but you still must contend with being in cold water which probably will cause hypothermia before long. Then your ability to swim is greatly diminished.
Maybe life jackets can not prevent all loss of life due to cold water, but now it is the law.
The new cold water life jacket rule went into effect November 1, 2012. According to this new regulation, from November 1 through April 30, anyone in a boat less than 16 feet in length, or in any canoe or kayak must wear a life jacket when the craft is either underway or at anchor.
Since my pre-teen years I have been a year-around hunter and fisherman. Doing both a lot, I have seen cases in which people got into trouble because of cold water. I have been involved in cases in which I got a dunking in cold water. It is always disturbing because the line between life and death becomes so much more thin and fragile as the water gets colder. Being on that line yourself is extremely disturbing, especially when you see other cases that were nearly identical, but in which people lost their lives.
Death from immersion in cold water can come from drowning, or in other ways. ?Cold water shock can occur any time the water temperature is lower than 70 degrees. So by the time the new cold water life jacket rule went into, the water temperature was well below the dangerous point. Cold water shock causes an involuntary gasp, which might result in taking in water. It causes breathlessness, hyperventilation and greatly reduces the ability to do anything including swimming and even breathing.
Immersion in cold water is very likely to cause hypothermia. Once hypothermia sets in, the body does not respond well to the things you want it to do. Watch for fumbling, mumbling or grumbling in your companions as signs of hypothermia. Other symptoms may be shivering or the inability to do simple things. More severe hypothermia symptoms may be slurred speech, violent shivering or shivering in waves, pale skin or a lowered pulse rate.
Learn all you can about hypothermia if you spend time outdoors in cold weather. In this case cold does not necessarily mean temperatures below freezing. It can occur in water that is less than 98.6 degrees.
After effects of immersion in cold water can include pneumonia.
Even if none of those things happen, wearing a life jacket will increase the amount of time for being rescued.
This is a matter of life and death. Think about how many more people would be alive today if they had been wearing life jackets in cold water situations.
Life jackets made specifically for hunting are available, something that often comes into play in our area. Some also may offer insulation from the cold. Inflatable life jackets probably are not a good choice in cold weather which reduces the chance they will perform as intended. Some are marked 'DO NOT USE BELOW FREEZING'.
Statistics clearly show that boating accidents that occur during the cold water period are much more likely to result in death than accidents in warmer water.
During 2011, there were 22 boating accidents that resulted in 22 fatalities. Hypothermia or cold water shock were possible factors in seven of the fatalities.
The telling statistic is the relative rates of fatalities. Over the past 10 years the percentage of accidents which resulted in fatalities is higher from November through April. The greatest number of accidents occurred during June, but the percentage of fatalities was only about 20%, whereas the least number of accidents was during January, but about 100% resulted in fatalities.
This shows the reasoning behind the new cold water boating regulation. If people obey this regulation and wear life jackets during cold water months, lives will be saved. If you are smart, you will not wait for the law to kick in, you will wear your life jacket whenever the water is cold, or even cool.
Also keep in mind that at all Corps of Engineers lakes in the Pittsburgh District, which includes the Allegheny Reservoir, life jackets must be worn year around by the same group that is affected by the new cold water boating regulation.