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Boaters are urged to wear PFD's even during warmer weather

A few weeks ago one kayaker drowned and another nearly drowned here at the Chain Dam on the Lehigh River in Easton. Wearing a life jacket even during warmer temperatures and staying clear of hazards like low-head dams are imperative.
A few weeks ago one kayaker drowned and another nearly drowned here at the Chain Dam on the Lehigh River in Easton. Wearing a life jacket even during warmer temperatures and staying clear of hazards like low-head dams are imperative.
Duane Sedlock

With the summer boating season underway, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) strongly encourages boaters to check water conditions in advance and to always wear their life jackets on Pennsylvania waters.

“According to Pennsylvania’s boating accident reports, almost 80 percent of all boating fatalities happen to boaters not wearing a life jacket,” said Laurel Anders, PFBC Director of Boating and Outreach. “During late spring and early summer, boaters can expect to encounter high and cold water due to frequent rain events. These factors can be a recipe for disaster for boaters who underestimate the power of water.”

Sudden cold water immersion is one of the main reasons people drown. When a person is unexpectedly plunged into cold water below 70ºF, the body’s first response is usually an involuntary gasp. This is something no one can control and ruins the ability to swim because the person hyperventilates.

“There is a wealth of new research on cold water survival which states that wearing a life jacket significantly increases a person’s chance of survival,” Anders said. “Without a life jacket, a victim may inhale while under water and drown without coming back to the surface. This can only be prevented by wearing a life jacket at all times while on the water.”

So far in 2014, six people have died in recreational boating incidents in Pennsylvania, several of which occurred in high water following rain events. At least two of the victims were not wearing life jackets.

Locally, one kayaker drowned and another nearly drowned after going over the Chain Dam at Hugh Moore Park on the Lehigh River in Easton on May 21. The kayakers were caught in the boil at the base of the dam. The dam is 20 feet in height and 700 feet long. Avoid all low-head dams or "widow-makers" as they are known.

Many boaters don’t wear life jackets because they claim they can swim. However, a recent American Red Cross survey found that most Americans overestimate their swimming ability. Overall, the survey found that more than half of all Americans (54 percent) either can’t swim or don’t have all of the basic swimming skills.

Water survival safety tips include:

  • Always wear a life jacket, even when not required. Many models provide insulating qualities against cold air and water.
  • Never boat alone.
  • Leave a float plan and know the waters you plan to boat.
  • Always check the weather and real-time river forecasts for the potential of hazardous high water.
  • Bring a fully-charged cell phone with you in case of emergency.
  • If you are about to fall into the 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.

To learn more about life jacket wear and cold water survival, visit the PFBC website.