HARRISBURG, Pa (WHTM) – With the summer boating season just around the corner, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are joining with the National Safe Boating Council to remind boaters in addition to traditional safety measures, they should also consider how their boating activities this season could be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Safe Boating Council and other boating safety advocates across the country are recognizing May 16 to 22, as National Safe Boating Week.
“Great memories on the water begin with some basic safety steps that include wearing a life jacket,” said Tim Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. “Whether you’re paddling, waterskiing, fishing your favorite spot, or just relaxing on a pontoon boat, we can have fun and stay safe by following a checklist that includes sharing a float plan and never boating under the influence.”
Boaters are reminded to abide by the Governor’s Stay-at-Home Order and follow safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which include social distancing and limiting non-essential travel.
“Boating in a state park, or on any of Pennsylvania’s beautiful rivers, lakes and streams can be the great escape many of us are looking for right now,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “We can enjoy the physical and mental benefits that come with spending time on the water, but we should continue to take steps to protect ourselves and those around us.
If you don’t have a boat, many state parks rent a variety of watercraft for you to enjoy. Pennsylvania has 121 state parks, and 20 forest districts.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission provided a boating safety checklist below:
- To protect others from the spread of COVID-19, boaters should abide by Governor Wolf’s Stay-at-Home Order and follow social distancing guidelines from the CDC. This includes:
- Stay at home if you do not feel well
- Boat close to home
- Limit those on board a boat to people living in the same household
- Remain at least 6 feet apart from other boaters (the length of a canoe or kayak paddle, or fishing rod, is a good measure of distance)
- Do not raft up with other boats
- When touching an item that someone else has touched, such as a marina fuel pump, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands
- Wear a life jacket. Law requires that you have a life jacket on board for every person on your boat. Children ages 12 and under must always wear a life jacket when aboard a boat less than 20 feet in length, including all canoes and kayaks. In 2019, 57 recreational boating accidents in Pennsylvania resulted in 8 fatalities. 7 of the 8 victims in 2019 were not wearing a life jacket at the time of the mishap that resulted in death (87%). According to Pennsylvania boating accident reports, roughly 80-percent of all boating fatalities occur annually because boaters were not wearing life jackets. Life jackets must be U.S. Coast Guard approved and properly fit the individual, including children and infants.
- Never boat under the influence (BUI). Alcohol use increases the chances of having an accident. Alcohol affects balance, coordination and judgment. It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. Just like operating a motor vehicle on the roadway, in Pennsylvania, a person operating a boat is over the legal limit if he or she has a blood alcohol concentration of point-zero-eight (0.08%) or higher. BUI Penalties include loss of boating privileges, significant fines and imprisonment. Waterways Conservation Officers will be on patrol throughout the summer looking for impaired boaters.
- Create a float plan. Let someone know where you are planning to boat and when you expect to return. Plans can change when you’re having fun but keeping someone aware of your location throughout the day can ensure that help arrives quickly if you experience a mechanical or medical emergency while on the water. Carry a ‘dry bag’ in which to keep your cell phone and other valuables while boating.
- Take a basic boating safety course. In Pennsylvania, all boaters born after December 31, 1981 who operate boats powered by motors greater than 25 horsepower must have a Pennsylvania Boating Safety Certificate. A certificate is also required for anyone who operates a personal watercraft (such as a jet ski), regardless of age. Online and classroom-based courses can be found at www.fishandboat.com. (Due to public health concerns, related to COVID-19, classroom-based courses may be limited.)
- Have proper registrations and launch permits. In Pennsylvania, all powered boats must be registered with the PFBC. Anyone operating an unpowered boat, such as a kayak, canoe or standup paddleboard, who wishes to use a PFBC or DCNR boat access, including those at state parks, may either register their boat or purchase an annual launch permit. Launch permits are available for purchase online.
To learn more about boating in Pennsylvania, including complete rules and regulations, registration, and title information visit the Boating Basics page on the PFBC website.