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Fall and winter water recreationists should be aware of a new regulation that applies to all Pennsylvania waters. Passed by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) in September 2011, the regulation went into effect on November 1, 2012 and continues through April 30, 2013. It requires boaters to wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket while underway or at anchor on boats less than 16 feet in length or any canoe or kayak.
According to Laurel Anders, director of the PFBC Bureau of Boating and Outreach, Pennsylvania’s boating accident reports reveal that almost 80 percent of boating fatalities happen to boaters not wearing a life jacket. A disproportionate number of the fatalities occur during the months of November through April, when boaters are at increased risk due to water temperature and sudden cold water immersion.
Cold water shock is a major factor in boating fatalities. When a person is unexpectedly plunged into cold water below 70ºF, the body’s first response is usually an involuntary gasp. 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. A life jacket greatly increases chances for survival as well as the amount of time for rescue.
For those concerned with the financial burden of purchasing this additional gear, the PFBC notes the following: the cost of a life jacket is a small investment when compared to the value of a life.
Cold water survival safety tips:
• Always wear a life jacket, even when not required. Read the label to be sure it’s appropriate for your boating 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 reduces 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) by bringing the knees to the chest and hugging them with your 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.
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