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Beating Boating's Deadly Duo

Updated on July 31, 2012
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Just the facts

You don’t need to be a special agent or highly trained forensic expert to figure out what the most significant contributing factors were in the fatalities of 22 Pennsylvania Boaters last year. You just need to know how to count.

Admittedly, sudden emersion into cold water was a factor in seven of the 22 deaths, and in four, alcohol was an issue.

But the stark facts remains: of the 22 boating-related fatalities on PA waterways in 2011, 19 of the victims— 86%, were not wearing life jackets. Additionally, at least 16 out of 22-- nearly 73%-- had no formal boating safety instruction. In five cases, the level of boat safety instruction was unknown. Only one of the 22 fatal accidents involved a boater who had formal boating safety instruction.

Think you can swim?

“Boaters are required to have personal flotation devices (PFDs) on board and immediately available for use,” according to Andrew Desko, Environmental Education Specialist for the Southeast Regional PA Fish and Boat Commission.

“The trouble is that people who can swim, or think they can swim, typically choose not to wear them. In the middle of an accident things are happening so fast that they may not be able to get one on in time. Also, once you’re in the water, they’ve very difficult to put on,” said Desko.

Lots of High Water = More Accidents

“This year, so far, there’s been one boating fatality in Lancaster County in January,” said Ryan C. Walt, Boating and Watercraft Safety Manager for commission, who authored the 2011 PA Boating Accident Analysis report.

In 2011, we had lots of high water. With high water, you get more moving water and more people boating and more accidents. Also, we’re seeing a real increase in the popularity of paddle sports and novice paddlers getting into emergencies that they don’t have the knowledge or experience to cope with,” said Walt.

Unlike power craft and personal watercraft operators, paddle sports enthusiasts are not required by law to have Boating Safety Education certification, so many don’t take the course.

But Desko and the commission are trying to change that. “In our Basic Boating course we take time to cover basic safety for canoes and kayaks, as well as power craft,” said Desko. “No matter what kind of vessel you have, or level of experience, I guarantee you will learn something that could help you make a life-saving decision for you and your crew.”


Boating safety saves lives

For more information about scheduled PA Fish and Boat Commission Basic Boating Safety courses go to

Other sources of boating safety education include the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the American Canoe Association, for skills courses for canoe, kayak, raft as well as safety and rescue instruction.


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    • Ann M Reid profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann M Reid 

      6 years ago from Lancaster County, PA

      I was amazed when I was doing the research for this article that clearly and demonstrably, there are two things-- wearing a life jacket and taking boating safety instruction--that overwhelmingly increase one's chance of surviving a boating accident. And these are things that are within our control! Thanks, Redberry, for your insightful comment!

    • Redberry Sky profile image

      Redberry Sky 

      6 years ago

      Scary to think of the risks people will take on some vast and fast-flowing expanses of water. I see it on a boating lake near where I live - people think it's safe because it's quite small, but then a few people get out the speed boats when the weather's nice, and it suddenly looks a lot more dangerous. A brilliant Hub as always, Ann, and much food for thought for anyone who spends time on the water.

    • Ann M Reid profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann M Reid 

      6 years ago from Lancaster County, PA

      Absolutely. Safe boating is smart boating!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Nice reminder that all boaters need to respect the water that they navigate on - if not the consequences are not good!


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