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Commission continues life-jacket message

Bob Frye
| Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Fish and Boat Commission has a simple message for boaters: Wear your life jacket.

It been preached for years by the commission, based on statistics that show the difference life jackets make.

"Each year, 80 percent of boating deaths in Pennsylvania are the result of boaters not wearing their life jackets," commission executive director John Arway said in a new "Wear It, Pennsylvania" video promoting safety on the water.

The latest tragedy occurred Saturday, one day before the start of National Safe Boating Week, when a canoeist from Clarion County drowned on Mahoning Creek in Armstrong County. Harry David Orr, 60, was paddling with friends when their boat was swamped, and he was tossed into the water. The coroner's report listed the cause of death as drowning.

The incident is typical regarding boating fatalities, according to Fish and Boat Commission data.

Formal safety programs help make boating a generally safe activity, Laurel Anders told commissioners at a recent presentation. The director of the commission's bureau of boating and access, Anders said boating fatalities since 1968 have dropped from 40 per 100,000 registered boats to two per 100,000 — about 12 per year. The drop in deaths has occurred despite a rise in boat registrations nearly three-quarters of those years.

"The huge increase in the number of boats registered in the Commonwealth over the last 43 years has been matched by a commensurate increase in boating safety," Anders said.

However, the odds of surviving a boating accident have remained the same.

Of the seven fatalities that occurred last year, only one involved a person wearing a life jacket. In the other six cases, the victims had life jackets aboard their boats but were not wearing them, Anders said.

And commission statistics show water skills to be no substitute for a life jacket: Six of last year's seven fatalities were known swimmers. The message is clear: If you want to stay alive, wear your life jacket this season.

"Be ready to be safe this year while boating," Arway said.

Deadliest days

Statistics from 2010 regarding boating accidents in Pennsylvania:

Deadliest month: May. Three of the seven deaths were in May. April had two.

Deadliest day: Saturday. Five of the seven deaths took place on a Saturday. The others occurred on a Tuesday and a Friday.

Deadliest age: 50 and older. Four of last year's boating deaths involved people in that demographic. The other deaths were spread evenly between the 16, 18 to 29 and 30 to 50 year-old age groups.

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