Mandatory life jacket law takes effect

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Ben Miller never let a life jacket get in the way of a good time.

As the owner of Cocoa Kayak Rentals of Hershey continues to book paddling trips along the Swatara Creek this fall, he says it’s his responsibility to keep boaters compliant with state laws. Beginning Tuesday, that means instructing kayakers to wear their life jackets at all times.

“We always give them a life jacket, no matter what time of year they’re going out,” Miller said, “but after November 1st, we make sure they’re wearing it the entire time.”

Annually from November 1 through April 30, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission requires anyone operating a boat under 16 feet in length, including all kayaks and canoes, to wear a personal flotation device. During other times of the year, adult boaters are only required to carry one flotation device per person aboard the vessel.

Children ages 12 and under are required to wear life jackets at all times, all year round, when aboard a boat under 20 feet in length.

The law is designed to prevent cold water deaths. According to PFBC statistics, 80 percent of people who die in boating-related accidents were not wearing life jackets.

Miller says fall business is hardly peak season, but many people will still book trips into mid-November in order to enjoy a dramatic view of the changing fall foliage as it reflects off the often still, shallow water. Wildlife sightings are abundant this time of year, including bald eagles, which nest along the Swatara as it flows through Lebanon and Dauphin counties. He says while some kayakers would prefer not to wear a vest in hot summer temperatures, he rarely hears an argument when the air temperature is cool.

“Usually, this time of year, people will want to wear it anyway for an extra layer to keep them warm,” he said. “You always want to be prepared. You know, err on the side of safety and wear your life jacket. I think it’s pretty stylish.”

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