Coming To A Lake Near You?
ife jackets are essential equipment; every boater
knows that, and carries them aboard out of common sense as much as to comply with federal
boating regulations. But now the nation’s largest
manager of recreational waters wants all boaters —
In a pilot study that has every indication of spreading
to other water bodies under its jurisdiction, the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers now mandates that everyone aboard a
motorized vessel of any size must wear a life jacket when
underway on California’s Pine Flat Lake. For boats under 16
feet, the rule applies to everyone aboard, at all times, and
applies to non-motorized boats, like canoes and kayaks, as
well. Everyone aboard a boat 16 feet and longer must wear
a life jacket when underway, except when inside an enclosed
cabin or under power from a trolling motor.
The Corps actually adopted the rules at Pine Flat Lake
as an addition to a three-year study already underway that
implemented similar regulations in the agency’s Pittsburgh
District, covering the Youghiogheny River and Shenango River
Lakes in western Pennsylvania, as well as on five lakes within
the Vicksburg District in Mississippi. While the word “study”
implies a temporary ruling, the Corps says it’s considering
more permanent life jacket rules for much larger geographical
areas in the future.
Unlike state agencies, or even the U.S. Coast Guard, the
Corps of Engineers can make this kind of change without any
public comment. The Pine Flat Lake regulation is in effect
from April 1, 2011, until October 31, 2011, and specifies
that boaters must wear only U.S. Coast Guard-approved life
jackets. The rule carries a $175 fine for non-compliance and
applies to all swimmers outside designated swimming areas.
The Pennsylvania rule, in place since 1990, and the
Mississippi regulations, in force since 2009 when the study
began, also apply to boats under 16 feet. The Coast Guard
agreed to measure life jacket wear rates in the study areas but
thus far, according to a Corps project summary, the results
appear inconsistent. (The Coast Guard no longer monitors
compliance in the Pittsburgh District.) The summary notes
that the Corps study team plans to deliver its recommenda-
tions to the commander by “December 2011 or later.”
The Army Corps of Engineers manages some 450 lakes
in 43 states with over 3,500 launching ramps, making it the
country’s largest provider of water-based recreation opportu-
nities. In fact, the Corps has more boats than the U.S. Navy
and the Coast Guard, combined.
“Many experienced boaters have strong reservations
about government mandates for adults to wear life jackets,”
reports BoatU.S. Vice President of Government Affairs,
Margaret Podlich. She noted that with nearly 372 million
visits a year at the Corps lakes, beaches, and other areas,
boating-related fatalities nationwide average 32 deaths a year,
“not including those who drowned after voluntarily leaving a
boat to swim.” To share your views on the rule with the park
manager and Congress, go to www.BoatUS.com/gov/action.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now mandates all boaters
must wear life jackets at Pine Flat Lake, California.