The Fish and Boat Commission recently published its annual review of boating fatalities in the May-June issue of Pennsylvania Angler and Boater. In 2012, 11 people died in boating accidents. That's 11 too many, but a big improvement over 2011 when boating accidents claimed 22 victims.
Last year's victims ranged in age from 24 to 71. Eight were men; two victims were non-swimmers. Alcohol may have been a factor in four of the incidents. Five fatalities occurred when water temperatures were so cold water shock may have been a factor. Watercraft involved included kayaks, canoes, an inflatable raft, pontoon boats, a personal watercraft and open motorboats.
The most shocking aspect of these tragedies is that only three of the victims wore life jackets -- also called personal flotation devices or PFDs -- at the time of the accident.
As temperatures warm and boating activity picks up, make boat safety a priority. Boating should be fun. No one should die while enjoying a day on the water.
Promoting National Safe Boating Week, May 18-24, Denny Tubbs, outreach and education coordinator for the southwest region, urges every boater and passenger to wear a PFD.
"It's the law for children under 12 years of age and for non-swimmers. It's just common sense that everyone should wear a PFD while aboard a boat of any type," he said in a recent phone interview. "The biggest complaint about PFDs has always been that they're uncomfortable, too hot or just inconvenient. With the latest advances in inflatable life jacket technology, these excuses disappear. They resemble a belt with an attached pair of suspenders. When the device contacts water, hydrostatic pressure causes a carbon dioxide cartridge to fire and inflate an air bladder."
Tubbs said the primary purpose of any PFD is to keep your head above water, even if you're unconscious. Often, help arrives within minutes of an accident, and without a PFD, victims can slip under water and not be found for days or even weeks.
Search "inflatable life jackets" online. They're more expensive than traditional PFDs, but I'll bet your life is worth it.
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 WMNY-AM (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.