By MARY ANN THOMAS | Photo: SHANE DUNLAP | TRIBUNE-REVIEW
It’s that time of year. Water temperatures plummet and because of the dangers of drowning, all paddlers and boaters must wear a life jacket now until April 30.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) says U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket are required at all times while underway or anchoring boats less than 16 feet in length or on any kayak, canoe or paddle board. The requirement applies to all Pennsylvania waters.
On Sunday, the water temperature of the Allegheny River at Schenley, Gilpin Township was 53 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
If you fall into the water now, cold shock is as extreme at 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit as it is at 35 F, according to the Center for Cold Water Safety. Cold water shock can result in an involuntary gasp causing an inhale of water, according to the PFBC.
“This means that an unprotected immersion in this temperature range will cause most people to completely lose control of their breathing – they will be gasping and hyperventilating as hard and fast as they can,” according to the center.
Cold water shock becomes an issue when the air temperature is warm on some fall and winter days. “The lure of a relaxing paddle along a scenic river, stream, or lake is hard to resist,” PFBC said in a recent press release on the mandatory use of life jackets for paddlers now.
“This year, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people boating well into the fall months, including many first-time boaters,” said Ryan Walt, PFBC Boating and Watercraft Safety Manager.
“A life jacket can keep your head above water until help arrives,” he said.
According to Pennsylvania boating accident reports, nearly 80% of all boating fatalities occurred because boaters were not wearing life jackets. A disproportionate number of deaths happen between November and April, according to the PFBC.
To learn about clothing and precautions while cold water paddling, visit paddling.com.
Cold water paddling safety tips from PFBC include:
- Always wear a life jacket. Many provide insulation from cold air. Read approval labels to be sure the life jacket is appropriate for your boating activity.
- Never boat alone.
- Leave a float plan with family or friends so that someone knows where you are departing from and where you intend to arrive back ashore.
- Become familiar with the waters you plan to boat in advance of your trip.
- Bring a fully charged cell phone with you in case of emergency and store in a waterproof bag or container.
- Wear clothing that continues to insulate 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 to 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 cannot get out of the water, and you are wearing a life jacket, get into the Heat Escape Lessening Posture (HELP) —bring your knees to your chest and hug them with your arms.
- Once out of the water, remove wet clothes and warm up as soon as possible.
- Seek medical attention when necessary. Err on the side of caution. Some effects of exposure to cold temperatures can be delayed.