Know Before You Go - Wear Your Life Jacket

Published July 13, 2020
Paddle boaters enjoy a day on the water.

Paddle boaters enjoy a day on the water.

As pandemic restrictions ease and sunshine warms the water, boating enthusiasts are weighing anchor and setting sail at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District’s 16 flood-control project lakes and the 23 pools created by navigation locks and dams.

Safety is always the top priority at all the district’s recreation sites. It is a good time to remember Pittsburgh District operates its lakes according to federal and state regulations.

State rules may vary within the district’s footprint, however, when you are getting ready to go kayaking or fishing on any district-managed lake in a boat under 16 feet, you must always wear your life jacket.

Here are a few general rules to remember:

Personal Flotation Devices, or PFDs, are required to be worn at all times for:

1. Boats under 16 feet in length

2. Children 12 and under

3. All canoes and kayaks

4. Non-swimmers

That differs from West Virginia where paddle crafts and vessels under 16 feet only need the PFDs available - not worn. However, non-swimmers should wear PFDs not just because the Corps requires it, but also because 47 percent of drowning victims are swimming.

In West Virginia a boater safety course is required for anyone born after 1986 on lakes inside that state. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 76 percent of boating deaths occurred when the operator nor the passengers had received any boating safety instruction.

“Be familiar with the lake that you are recreating at, grab a map or ask questions to corps staff,” Scott Hannah, Stonewall Jackson Lake natural resource specialist and ranger, said. “Be prepared and have a checklist to assure you have all of the essential and required equipment on your vessel or paddle craft. Always wear your life jacket!”

The statistics supporting the importance of the proper wear of life jackets are staggering - 89 percent of those who drown were not wearing one.

These statistics are why when visiting lakes in Pennsylvania, Nicole Govan, ranger and natural resource specialist at Youghiogheny River Lake, will remind you to take and wear your PFD regardless of the season or time of year.

“Most importantly, make sure you have all of the appropriate safety equipment onboard your vessel,” Govan said.  “We want all of our boaters to have a safe and enjoyable experience while on the lake. Remember to wear a life jacket, it could save your life.”

By state law, in the Keystone State, life jackets are only required to be worn during cold-water months from November to April.

“For boaters, it is extremely important to understand the dangers of aquatic recreation before heading out on a boat, kayak, canoe, paddleboard or any other type of watercraft,” Govan said.  “Here at Youghiogheny River Lake water safety is a top priority. Be sure to educate yourself on the waterways, know how to swim, take a water safety course, and learn to operate a boat safely before getting on the water.”

Know the waterways. Take a safety course. And always wear your life jacket. Because when you are navigating Pittsburgh District waters in boats less than 16 feet in length, regardless of the state --  life jackets or PFDs are required.

Just remember: Know, Take, Wear. Know the waterways. Take a water safety course. Always wear your life jacket.