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PA Fish & Boat Commission urges residents to boat safely over Labor Day weekend

Alcohol continued to be the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2019, accounting for over 100 deaths, a U.S. Coast Guard study says.
Credit: FOX43

HARRISBURG, Pa. — With favorable weather expected throughout the Labor Day holiday weekend, many boaters will be taking to the water to celebrate the unofficial end of the summer season.  

With heavy boating traffic possible on waters statewide, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission on Friday reminded everyone of the importance of safety and sobriety.

"We know that a lot of people are looking forward to getting out on the water this holiday weekend," said Co. Corey Britcher, director of the PFBC Bureau of Law Enforcement. " Our goal is to make sure they get home safely. "Waterways conservation officers will be patrolling rivers, lakes, and streams across the Commonwealth checking for required safety equipment and signs of impaired boating."

According to an annual report from the U.S. Coast Guard, there were 613 boating fatalities recorded nationwide in 2019, the PFBC said. Of those fatalities, where the cause of death was known, 79% of victims drowned. Of those who drowned, 86% of victims were not wearing a life jacket.  

Alcohol continued to be the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2019, accounting for over 100 deaths, or 23% of total fatalities, according to the PFBC.

In Pennsylvania last year, there were eight boating fatalities, the PFBC said. Seven of the eight victims in 2019 were not wearing life jackets, and in one of the incidents, alcohol may have been a contributing factor.  

In addition, the PFBC said, seven of the eight victims in Pennsylvania had not taken, or it was unknown if they had taken a boating safety education course.

So far this year, there have been nine boating-related fatalities in Pennsylvania, the PFBC said. Alcohol use is suspected in three of the cases, and none of the nine victims were wearing a life jacket.  

At least five of the victims had either not taken, or it is unknown if they had taken a formal boating education safety course, according to the PFBC.

Know the Law

In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to operate any watercraft, powered or unpowered, while impaired, the PFBC said. 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, according to the PFBC.

So far this year, the PFBC said it has arrested 43 individuals for BUI. While conducting the annual "Operation Dry Water" enhanced BUI enforcement effort over Independence Day weekend, WCOs arrested 14 individuals for BUI, including one for drugs, with the highest level of alcohol intoxication measuring .237, the PFBC said.

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 USCG-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, according to the PFBC.

In Pennsylvania, anyone born on or after January 1, 1982 is required to have a Boating Safety Education Certificate to operate a boat powered by a motor greater than 25 horsepower, the PFBC said.

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.  

Due to COVID-19, in-person instruction is limited at this time, the PFBC said.

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

$1 Fishing License

On Labor Day, September 7, resident and non-resident adult anglers (age 16 and older) will be able to purchase a fishing license for $1, the PFBC said.

The license - good for Labor Day only - provides an easy and affordable way for everyone to enjoy a special day of fishing on the Commonwealth's waters. All seasons, sizes, and creel limits apply.  

The special license is now available for purchase online through The Outdoor Shop (www.pa.wildlifelicense.com), which is accessible from the FishBoatPA mobile app, or the PFBC website.  

Fishing licenses may be printed or saved digitally and displayed on a phone or other smart device.