By G. Warren Elliott and Corey Britcher
Kayaks are being sold at more locations and lower prices than in years past, with additional styles and options available as the sport grows in popularity.
At the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC), we are glad to see growing numbers of people on the water. However, we are concerned with the recent rash of tragic deaths related specifically to kayaking.
Pennsylvania has earned a good reputation nationwide through implementing and enforcing boating safety programs. Our annual accident and fatality total has historically been below the national average. Unfortunately, and tragically, that number has spiked this year, largely due to kayaking.
By the end of June in an average year, statistics show that we could expect to have four boating deaths. Alarmingly, as of mid-July, there have been 11 boating fatalities. Of that total, eight involved kayaks.
As chairman of the PFBC boating committee and as the director of the Bureau of Law Enforcement, we are very concerned. We are not sure what to attribute the spike to, but we have some ideas.
We believe individuals are kayaking without understanding the potential dangers – like cold water and the physical reaction to sudden cold-water immersion if you capsize, or the force of high, swift waters and low-head dams. We believe many people overestimate their swimming ability and underestimate the force of moving water.
We urge paddlers to be safe and prepare before they ever get on the water. Check water conditions through the U.S. Geological Survey’s river gauges, National Weather Service or local outfitters. Use water trail maps to mark entry and takeout access points and to identify hazards, like strainers, rapids and low-head dams. Always wear a properly fitting and properly secured life jacket. Use the buddy system and never paddle without a friend. File a float plan – make sure someone knows where you plan to launch and take out, along with your timetable….