Outdoors

Fish and Boat Commission Reminds Boaters to Stay Safe, Sober This Labor Day Weekend

U.S. Coast Guard Report Lists Impairment, Failure to a Wear Life Jacket as Top Contributors to Fatal Boating Accidents

HARRISBURG, Pa. (August 28) – As many boaters will bid an unofficial farewell to the summer season this Labor Day weekend, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) reminds everyone to keep safety in mind and boat sober.

“As much as everyone is looking forward to getting out on the water this holiday weekend, our goal is to make sure they get home safely,” said Col. Corey Britcher, Director of the PFBC Bureau of Law Enforcement. “Waterways conservation officers (WCOs) will be patrolling rivers and lakes across the Commonwealth checking for required safety equipment and signs of impaired boating.”

A new report from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) concluded that in 2018, more than 100 (19%) of the 633 boating fatalities across the country were alcohol related, and impairment was the leading contributor to deaths where the primary cause was known. In Pennsylvania, statistics were similar, with 3 of 14 (21%) of boating related fatalities in 2018 attributed to alcohol or drug impairment.

The same USCG report found that nationally, 84% of boating accident victims in 2018 were not wearing a life jacket, and that 74% of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had not received any boating safety instruction.

In Pennsylvania, 11 of 14 (79%) victims in 2018 were not wearing life jackets, and 12 of 13 (92%) boat operators involved in fatal accidents had not taken, or it was unknown if they had taken a boating safety education course.

To date in 2019, there have been seven boating related fatalities in Pennsylvania. Alcohol use is suspected in one (14%) of the cases. Six (85%) of the victims were not wearing a life jacket, while the body of one victim has not yet been recovered. Six (85%) of the victims had either not taken, or it is unknown if they had taken a formal boating education safety course.

Know the Law

In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to operate any watercraft, powered or unpowered, while impaired. The blood alcohol limit for boat operators is .08%, and WCOs are trained to recognize signs of impairment and conduct sobriety tests on the water. Penalties for BUI include fines, loss of boating privileges and imprisonment.

So far in 2019, the PFBC has arrested 37 individuals for BUI. While conducting the annual “Operation Dry Water” enhanced BUI enforcement effort over Memorial Day weekend, WCOs arrested six individuals for BUI, including one for drugs, with the highest level of alcohol intoxication measuring .247 (BAC).

“Enhanced BUI enforcement happens every weekend of the year,” said Britcher. “Our officers are highly trained to detect impairment and perform sobriety checks on the water. Unfortunately, statistics prove that some boaters will ignore the law and put themselves and others at risk of injury or even loss of life.”

The PFBC recommends that boaters avoid alcohol altogether, or at minimum, choose a designated boater who will not consume any alcohol during the duration of the boating trip.

Pertaining to PFDs, Pennsylvania law requires that a U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable life jacket is present on the boat for each person aboard. Children ages 12 and under must always wear a life jacket when underway in any boat 20 feet or less in length and in all canoes and kayaks. A life jacket must be properly fitting, in good serviceable condition and used in accordance with activities specified on its label.

In Pennsylvania, anyone born on or after January 1, 1982 is required to have a Boating Safety Education Certificate (BSEC) to operate a boat powered by a motor greater than 25 horsepower. All persons, regardless of age, are required to have a BSEC to operate a personal watercraft. A BSEC can be obtained by successfully completing a PFBC-approved boating safety education course, available online or by registering for an in-person class held at various locations throughout the year.

Boaters are encouraged to review all current boating regulations, which can be found in the free Pennsylvania Boating Handbook at www.fishandboat.com.

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