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Mandatory use of PFDs goes into effect Nov. 1

Published October 27. 2012 09:01AM

MALLORYTOWN, Ontario - For one group of local anglers, they will never forget their biggest catch from the St. Lawrence River while fishing in the 1000 Islands out of Caiger's Resort with co-owner Tom Banditelli of Tamaqua.

While fishing in New York waters west of the 1000 Islands Bridge on a warm October afternoon, the anglers heard splashing and shouts coming from around a point of land they were fishing. Pulling the electric trolling motor on the front of their boat from the water, they started the outboard and went to see what - or who - was causing the disturbance.

Turning the corner, they discovered a 12-year-old boy in the water who had fallen out of his small sailboat. Although it was a warm day, and he was within sight of his family's cabin, he was showing obvious signs of hypothermia when "fished" from the water.

Fortunately, the youngster was wearing a life vest type of personal flotation device which had done its job of keeping him afloat. That information was conveyed to his family when he was delivered, leaving them to deal with the fact he went out alone without permission in the sailboat - which fortunately ran aground before floating out into the shipping lane.

For years, Ontario has had mandatory laws requiring the wearing of PFD when a boat is under power, and beginning Wednesday, Nov. 1, Pennsylvania will have a mandatory law that they must be worn at all times in canoes, kayaks and boats 16 feet and smaller. This law will be enforced by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission through Tuesday, April 30, and is to be observed by both anglers and hunters.

"Life jackets are the most important piece of safety equipment on a boat," PFBC Bureau of Boating and Outreach director Laurel Anders said. "According to Pennsylvania's boating accident reports, almost 80 percent of all boating fatalities happen to boaters not wearing a life jacket.

"A disproportionate number of the fatalities occur during the months of November through April. During these cold weather months, boaters are especially at risk due to the water temperature and the risk of sudden cold water immersion."

When a person is unexpectedly plunged into cold water less than below 70 degrees, 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. And hypothermia can occur even on the mildest of fall and spring days.

This new regulation applies to all Pennsylvania waters, and the PFBC has issued the following survival and safety tips to anglers, hunters and boaters:

Always wear a life jacket, even when not required. Many models also offer insulation from cold air. Read the life jacket's approval label to be sure it is appropriate for the planned boating activity.

Never boat alone, and leave a float plan with family or friends and know the waters being boated.

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 about to fall into cold water, cover the 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.

While in cold water, do not remove clothing.

If unable to get out of the water, get into the Heat Escape Lessening Posture. In this position, individuals bring their knees to their chest and hug them with their 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.

For more information PFDs and cold water survival, visit the PFBC website at

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