With the heat of summer almost upon us, and Pennsylvanians looking for ways to have fun close to home and away from crowds, boating is expected to be at an all-time high.
In contrast to some businesses, outfitters and outdoor gear stores are seeing brisk sales -- kayaks, bicycles, camping gear -- as new people turn to these activities that occur in the fresh air and can be done while maintaining social distance.
If you’re new to boating, or are just dusting off your canoe, kayak, or pontoon boat, this is the month for you!
June is Rivers Month in Pennsylvania, and we’ve got a lot of water to celebrate in the commonwealth.
Pennsylvania has 86,000 miles of waterways -- among the highest in the country.
In part, the Rivers Month designation is to remind us about the importance of conserving and restoring our waterways because of all the benefits they provide:
- Drinking water and groundwater replenishment
- Help moderate floods and droughts
Of course, they’re also a great resource for recreational opportunities to have fun and cool off, and it’s important to remember to recreate safely.
As new paddlers hit the water, and even for seasoned boaters, safety should be top of mind.
According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, “knowledgeable boaters are safer boaters!” The commission does offer boating courses and safety certificates online.
This DCNR and Fish and Boat Commission video offers the basics of safe boating tips.
Here are some tips:
- Wear your life jacket -- 80 percent of all recreational boating fatalities happen to people who are not wearing a lifejacket.
- Expect to get wet -- even the best paddlers sometimes capsize or swamp their boats. Bring extra clothing in a waterproof bag.
- Be prepared to swim -- if the water looks too hazardous to swim in, don’t go paddling.
- If you capsize -- hold on to your boat, unless it presents a life-threatening situation. If floating in current, position yourself on the upstream side of the capsized boat.
- Scout ahead whenever possible -- know the river or stream to avoid surprises.
- Be prepared for the weather -- get a forecast before you go. Sudden winds and rain are common and can turn a pleasant trip into a risky, unpleasant venture.
- Never boat alone -- boating safety increases with numbers.
- File a float plan with a reliable person indicating where you are going and when you will return. Remember to contact the person when you have returned safely.
So, where should you go?
Pennsylvania has 2,355 miles of designated water trails to explore. What makes a water trail?
They are intended for conservation and recreation, and include access points and boat launches where you can put in or take out your canoe or kayak; day use sites for picnics; and in some cases overnight camping areas.
Local managers map out the corridors and provide information and signage. Each trail has unique geology, ecology, and communities.
To find a water trail that’s close to home, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission offers an interactive map.
Water trails also are intended to highlight the protection of natural resources that make them special. More information about the conservation partnership is on the Pennsylvania Water Trails website.
There are also many opportunities for canoeing and kayaking in state parks and forests.
In a typical year, there are as many as 25 river sojourns in Pennsylvania to celebrate and educate about our waterways, but it goes without saying this year is far from typical.
Many sojourns -- guided paddles that include educational opportunities and camaraderie -- have either been cancelled, postponed, or are occurring virtually. Here’s a sample, and the 2019 list of sojourns if you’d like to check directly with past organizers:
Many boating outfitters run river float trips where they typically rent the boats, provide shuttle services between locations, and in some cases a guide that assists with safety and points of interest along the way.
By and large, boating outfitters across Pennsylvania are open for operation and report they are experiencing a big demand.
In most cases, they are requiring reservations, and are following practices to keep customers safe, including:
- Reservations only -- groups are smaller, no mixing of strangers
- Sanitizing shuttle vehicles and gear, including boats and paddles between trips
- Masks must be worn before getting on the water, but can be taken off once in progress
Remember COVID-19 Mitigation Measures While Boating
Here are some tips for paddling to protect yourself and others during the pandemic:
- Avoid popular paddling locations and stay as close to home as possible
- Paddle in a place that require less paddling skill than you have to avoid injuries and a need for first responders
- Keep your group size small
- Maintain a 6-foot distance between others
- Bring hand sanitizer
- Only touch your own gear
- Follow normal safety precautions
Have fun on the water and stay safe!