In the May-June issue of "Pennsylvania Angler and Boater," the state Fish and Boat Commission reported that 17 people died in boating accidents in 2013. That's up six fatalities from 2012, but better than 2011 when boating accidents claimed 22 lives.
Last year's victims ranged in age from 20 to 74. All were men. Watercraft involved included kayaks, canoes an inflatable raft, a pontoon boat and open motorboats. Alcohol may have been a factor in two of the incidents.
Eight fatalities occurred when water temperatures were cold, so cold water shock may have been a factor.
New cold weather regulations require all occupants of boats 16 feet or less in length and all canoes and kayaks to wear personal flotation devices Nov. 1 through April 30.
"Even when the air is warm, cold water can kill quickly," said Ryan Walt, Fish and Boat watercraft safety manager and author of the Angler and Boater article.
"Boaters should never underestimate the power of water, and every boater should take a boater education course," he said.
The most shocking aspect of these tragedies is that only two of the victims wore life jackets at the time of the accidents. And when their bodies were recovered, neither victim still wore his PFD. This suggests that though the victim wore a flotation device, it was not buckled.
In one accident a canoe carrying four people capsized. The 70-year old paddler was not wearing a PFD and drowned. The three passengers wearing PFDs made it safely to shore. Sadly, there was another PFD on board the canoe.
If all the 2013 victims had worn and buckled their PFDs, it's possible that none would have died.
As water temperatures warm and summer approaches, make boating safety a priority. It's supposed to be fun, not tragic.
Dennis Tubbs, Fish and Boat southwest regional outreach and education coordinator, said reducing the number of deaths in boating accidents simply requires common sense.
"It's simple," he said. "Always wear a PFD. In Pennsylvania it's the law for children 12 years of age and under and for non-swimmers."
Biologist, author, and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 8-10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and online at www.wvly.net. He can be reached at www.drshalaway.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, W.Va., 26033.