Pa. boat commission emphasizes safety to avoid COVID-19 — and drowning

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — With the Memorial Day weekend nearly here, some Pennsylvanians may be planning to venture out on lakes and rivers. The top executive for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission advises: Make safety a priority. 

Tim Schaeffer says, whatever kind of boat you’re boarding, everyone getting on board should be wearing a life jacket, also known as a PFD, or Personal Floatation Device.

“Eighty percent of the boating fatalities that we see on an annual basis are simply because people weren’t wearing their life jacket,” Schaeffer said. “They’re easier to wear than ever. They’re more comfortable. They’re not the big, orange, bulky thing you might remember. … There’s really no excuse not to wear your life jacket on the water.”

It’s not just advice. It’s the law.

“Pennsylvania law requires you to have a life jacket on board for everybody on your boat. Kids 12 and under must wear a life jacket when aboard any boat – 20 feet or less – and all canoes and kayaks,” he said.

And, Schaeffer advises, get the right one. Make sure it doesn’t slip over the wearer’s head.

“If that’s happening, it doesn’t fit properly. You really want it to be nice and snug to your body,” he said.

He says it’s a good idea to tell your “float plan” to a family member or friend who is not going on the trip.

“Essentially letting people know where you’re going to be if you’re going to be spending some time out on the Schuylkill River or Delaware or somewhere else,” he said. “Let somebody know when you’re going to be getting in the water, where you’re going to get out. So if you’re not home on time, they can come look for you. Also, that cell phone that we all have these days is another great safety tool.”

And, because of COVID-19, Schaeffer says, the same rules apply on the water that apply on land, with social distancing a must.