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Personal flotation devices are a must. When properly fitted, the PFD should not be able to be pulled slightly. The device should be snug, not tight.

Photo by Charlie Burchfield

The summer season brings with it a wide variety of outdoor activities.

Dad had a boat he maintained primarily for fishing. No horsing around, Dad was strict about that, and with good reason. When you’re out on the water and something goes wrong, a life threatening situation can get out of hand in less than a blink of an eye.

According to the PA Fish & Boat Commission, 80 percent of all boating related deaths could been prevented if the victims had been wearing a lifejacket.

Let’s face it, a plunge into the water anytime can cause anxiety. Then add cold water to the situation and you’re in for big trouble.

Most are unaware of the dangers relating to a sudden plunge into the water, especially the effects cold water has on the human body.

Even during late spring and into early summer water temperatures are surprisingly cold. Research shows that when the human body is placed in waters that are less than 70 degrees, added risks occur.

Sudden immersion in cold water places a severe strain on bodily systems that can lead to cardiac arrest. Survivors of cold¬ water accidents have reported their breath driven from them on contact with the water.

At the same time disorientation may occur. The shock can lead the person in the water not to think clearly or act in a rational manner.

Cold water can quickly numb the extremities. Cold hands may be unable to fasten the straps of a lifejacket, grasp a rescue line, or hold onto an overturned boat.

We hear so much about hypothermia in the winter months, but it can occur under seemingly less severe conditions.

Hypothermia takes place when the body’s core temperature is lowered. When this happens, a person can become helpless in a matter of minutes.

The regulations regarding water safety have been reinforced over the years. Today all children 12 years and younger must wear a lifejacket while on any boat 20 feet in length or under and on all canoes and kayaks.

Anyone being towed behind a boat, no matter what the activity and regardless of age, must wear a lifejacket. All operators and passengers using personal watercraft, sail boaters, and windsurfers must wear a lifejacket.

This includes everyone, regardless of age, boating on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District Lakes in boats less than 16 feet in length and on all canoes and kayaks.

So what kind of lifejacket should you use or buy? Take into consideration the following. Is it comfortable after trying it on? The safety device should be snug but not too tight. Is the lifejacket adjustable? At various times of the year weather conditions require varying degrees of clothing.

Also ask yourself, when wearing the life jacket will you be able to comfortably swim?

Consider where you will be boating. If the primary waters are big lakes, at sea or on whitewater, the choice should include a higher amount of flotation material. When boating on calm, inland waters, choose one comfortable to wear all day.

When it comes to Personal Floatation Devices there are a number to choose from. PFD’s are rated by type and there are five categories.

Regardless of the style of lifejacket that fits your needs, ALL must be identified as approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. An online menu of links to various life vest manufacturers can be found at www.lifejacketassocation.org then click on Life Jackets.

Simply put, PFD’s save lives, but they won’t work if they are not used. Like Dad would say, inexpensive insurance.



The 21st of June marks the first day of summer and not long after that we celebrate the first holiday of the new season, the 4th of July. That’s also another Fish-for-Free Day here in the Commonwealth.

Fish-for-Free Days are great ways for families to “catch” the fun of fishing! This special day allows anyone (resident or non-resident) to legally fish on Pennsylvania waterways on the designated days with NO FISHING LICENSE REQUIRED (Trout/Salmon and Lake Erie permits are also NOT required). All other fishing regulations still apply.

So if you’re looking to have some great family fun, why not go fishing. It’s free.

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Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, an active member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors e-mail is GWOutdoors@comcast.net

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