The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


May 12, 2012

Boating can take a deadly toll

If you are a recreation boater, May marks the beginning of the most dangerous time of year. The sultry days of summer make cool lakes and rivers an inviting refuge, but they can be deadly.

Last year in Pennsylvania, for example, recreational boating accidents claimed 22 lives. That almost doubles the last 10-year average of 12 victims per year; that’s 15 more boating deaths than reported in 2010; and it’s the second highest number of boating deaths in Pennsylvania since 1992.

Such numbers make boating seem extremely dangerous. Too often, however, boaters are their own worst enemy. Only three of the 22 Pennsylvania victims wore a life jacket at the time of their accidents. And in 16 of the other 19 accidents, there were functional life jackets on the vessel. Violate the first rule of safety in any activity, and tragic disasters can follow.

Each of the fatal incidents is described in the May/June issue of Pennsylvania Boater & Angler. The story, by Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission Boating and Watercraft Safety Manager Ryan Walt, should be required reading by all recreational boaters (

Spring and summer are the most dangerous times of year simply because that’s when conditions are best for boating. Of the 22 Pennsylvania fatalities, 20 occurred May through August. But warm air temperatures do not ensure safe boating conditions.

Water has a high specific heat. That means it takes a lot of energy to raise its temperature. So even on hot summer days, water temperatures might only reach the mid to upper 70s. Prolonged immersion in sub-body temperature water can induce fatal hypothermia. In fact, sudden immersion into cold water was a factor in seven of the deaths, and six of those accidents involved canoes or kayaks.  

Alcohol was also a factor in four of the fatalities. Drinking while boating is no safer than drinking while driving. Just a little self-control can save lives. Boaters should also consider the safety of their passengers as well as other boaters when on the water.

All but two of the Pennsylvania victims were men, with an average age of 57. Only three wore life jackets at the time of their accidents. Neither of the two female victims wore life jackets.

The numbers from Ohio tell a similar tale. In 2011, 14 people died in recreational boating accidents (12 were male). Alcohol use was implicated in six of the deaths, and 13 of the 14 victims were not wearing life jackets.

In West Virginia, six people died in boating accidents last year, and only two of the six were wearing life jackets (and those were running whitewater).

It seems common knowledge that everyone on the water should wear a life jacket. The message is proclaimed loudly and clearly on virtually all state and federal outdoor recreation websites and on printed material provided from state agencies and boat dealers. And yet the message is ignored. People keep dying in recreational boating accidents.

According to Coast Guard statistics, boat safety is a national problem. In 2009, 12.7 million boats were registered in the U.S., and 82 million Americans participated in recreational boating. Of those, 709 died in boating accidents. Here are the chilling numbers: 84 percent of the victims were not wearing life jackets; 90 percent of the boat operators in those accidents had not received any boating safety instruction; and alcohol was a factor in 16 percent of the deaths.

So if you plan to be on the water this year and don’t want to become a statistic, follow three simple rules.

1. Always wear a life jacket, even while on the dock before boarding. It’s not unheard of to slip and fall between the dock and the boat.

2. Take a course in boat safety. Inquire about boat safety classes at your state natural resource agency or a reputable boat dealer. And if you are a guest on a boat, ask if the skipper has had a boat safety course.

3. Save the alcohol for after the boat trip. Ice cold soft drinks taste great on the water.

Be smart. Make 2012 a safe year on the water.

— Send questions and comments to or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

Text Only
  • 071714 Coda and Callie.jpg Coda and Callie’s excellent adventure

    How is it something that you profess to love so much can cause you so much anxiety and grief? No, I’m not talking about dealing with your children (or your spouse). This is worse. This is about dogs. More specifically, hunting dogs. 

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 071314 Chris Ellis.jpg DNR’s ‘outdoor summer school’

    Attention all West Virginia hunters and trappers. It is once again time for outdoor summer school and the course materials are hot off the presses.

    July 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Meet the Eurasian collared-dove

    Back in 1974 a local pigeon fancier imported a flock of about 50 Eurasian collared-doves to the Bahamas. Ultimately he released the birds, and they took to living in the West Indies. By the late 1970s some had reached south Florida, and by the late 1980s, some had been seen in Georgia and Arkansas.

    July 13, 2014

  • July in W.Va.: Recreational opportunities abound

    It’s July in the West Virginia mountains, which brings vibrant orange tiger lilies, blooming rhododendron, and of course fireworks. Usually the heat and humidity is in full force, but so far the weather has been nice.

    July 13, 2014

  • Shotgun 101: Shoot more and live better

    “God is not on the side of big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best.”
    — Voltaire

    July 9, 2014

  • Fireflies are living lights

    At recent Fourth of July fireworks displays, spectators squealed with delight at the annual spectacle that illuminated the night sky. And I’m sure more than a few compared the spectacular pyrotechnics to the subtler displays of fireflies that punctuate backyards, parks, and campgrounds all summer long. We call these displays “nature’s fireworks.”

    July 5, 2014

  • Get on up, or you’ll get left behind

    “Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.” —
    William Shakespeare

    July 3, 2014

  • Catfish, it's whats for dinner

    I think for far too long the catfish has had an image problem. They seemed to be the Rodney Dangerfield of the fish world. You know, they got no respect. Fortunately though (maybe unfortunately if you are a catfish), that seems to be in the past. They are a fish whose time has come.

    June 28, 2014

  • It’s more than a boat, it’s an adventure

    Growing up on Elk River, I couldn’t help being connected to the river and its waters. It is where I caught my first fish, learned to swim, paddle a canoe, to read water and throw a buzz bait, killed my first duck, gigged frogs and spent many a Saturday night fishing for catfish. We lived in a river bank community, and the Elk provided us with everything from water for our homes to all the recreation a young boy would need to fill his youthful requirements for adventure.

    June 28, 2014

  • Old friends at the beach

    If your summer vacation plans include a trip to an east coast beach, I can’t predict everything you might see. But one bird that I guarantee you’ll encounter many times is the laughing gull.

    June 28, 2014

Web Special Sections
  • Special Web Sections

    Click HERE for stories about natural gas and Marcellus shale gas extraction.

    Click HERE for stories about the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

    Click HERE for stories about the passing of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

    Click HERE for stories from The Greenbrier Classic PGA TOUR event.

    August 6, 2010

Helium debate
AP Video
Judge Ponders Overturning Colo. Gay Marriage Ban Airlines Halt Travel to Israel Amid Violence NYPD Chief Calls for 'use of Force' Retraining VA Nominee McDonald Goes Before Congress Bush: Don't Worry, Sugarland Isn't Breaking Up US Official: Most Migrant Children to Be Removed Police Probing Brooklyn Bridge Flag Switch CDC Head Concerned About a Post-antibiotic Era Raw: First Lady Says `Drink Up' More Water Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law Holder Urges Bipartisanship on Immigration Raw: Truck, Train Crash Leads to Fireball US Airlines Cancel Israel Flights Obama Signs Workforce Training Law Crash Victims' Remains Reach Ukraine-held City Diplomatic Push Intensifies to End War in Gaza Cat Fans Lap Up Feline Film Festival Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die Veteran Creates Job During High Unemployment