HARRISBURG, Pa. — It's been more than ten years since the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) implemented a cold water life jacket wear regulation.
In that time span, the agency has seen a significant decrease in the number of fatalities that happen annually between Nov. 1 through April 30.
"The majority of our boating accidents happen in the summertime, but a disproportionate number of the fatalities would happen in the cold weather months," PFBC Executive Director Tim Schaeffer said. "Since we put the mandatory requirement in for cold weather life jacket wear, we've cut the fatalities down to a third of those numbers."
In 2012 the agency saw 58% of boat fatalities in the cold weather months. Last year, that number was down to just 17%.
PFBC officials say they want people to know the importance of wearing a life jacket, especially with temperatures fluctuating throughout the winter months.
"We've had a pretty warm winter, but that water is still deadly cold," Schaeffer said. "It may be a 45 or 50-degree day in January or February, but that water can still take your life if you fall in."
Cold weather accidents during that same time remained comparable, though the number of accidents happening annually fell.
"We're at an all-time below for boating accidents in Pennsylvania," Schaeffer said. "We think that that safety message is really getting out there. People are obeying the rules of the road and are wearing their life jackets."
Schaeffer added that this is a promising sign, as the PFBC has seen a growing interest in boating over the last decade.
"There are more boaters than we've seen in a long time," Schaeffer said. "The fact that you've got increased boating activity at the same time the number of accidents is going down, hopefully, it says we're doing something right."