Boating in Warren County has changed a lot over the past several decades. When the Allegheny Reservoir was still young, parking lots at the boat ramps would be filled to capacity, and overflowing, on days such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Ordinary summer weekends saw bustling powerboat activity on the reservoir.
Soon after boating activity on the reservoir declined, canoeing on the Allegheny River became increasingly popular. This probably was largely a result of two Congressional designations. One was designation of the river from the Kinzua Dam to Tionesta as a National Wild and Scenic River. The second was the establishment of the Allegheny Islands Wilderness. The first brought increased recognition to the river. The second let people know they could camp on several islands.
Most islands below Warren, Wilderness or private, soon became camping stop overs for canoeists.
Bringing state and national canoeing and kayaking championships to Warren was the clinching factor. By the year following the first national championship, kayaks on car-top racks would be seen nearly any summer day. On Fridays streams of them would ride into the area, then on Sunday afternoons most left, but returned before long.
One more thing is worth mentioning. Local folks soon caught the kayaking bug. This was probably due mostly to the canoeing and kayaking championships, but it has coincided with a tremendous increase in the popularity of kayaking. Before the canoeing and kayaking championships the sight of a kayak was unusual. Now they are sold at several locations in the region.
I wish my stressed joints would allow kayaking. Fishing from a kayak opens up exciting possibilities.
This is serious boating country. In addition to canoeists and kayakers, anglers put their boats on numerous waterways on a regular basis, from Tionesta Creek to Lake Ontario. By the way, the king salmon have been hitting well.
Much more important than all of the way the various types of watercraft are enjoyed by local residents and visitors to the area is boating safety.
Boating safety courses and prudent boating regulations have made boating considerably safer now than it was in the not so distant past. But still, 17 boaters died in boating incidents last year in Pennsylvania, and nationally 560 boating accident deaths were reported to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The 2013 total deaths nationally is the lowest number since 1997, the farthest back current Coast Guard statistics go. Generally numbers of boating accident deaths have been dropping since that time. In 1997, there were 821 reported deaths nationally in boating accidents, and more boats were registered in 1997 than last year.
Within this period, 12,942,414 boats registered in 2005 was the greatest number of registered boats in the U.S. during this period. Last year there were 11,999,067 registered boats, the lowest number during this period.
Each accidental death is a tragedy, even more so if it is preventable. An overwhelming majority of deaths by boating incident probably could have been prevented if the victim had been wearing a life jacket.
About 85 percent of boating accident fatalities are people who were not wearing life jackets.
Forget any nonsense about swimming being difficult while wearing a life jacket. Floating with your head above water is immensely safer than swimming, and especially so if you have just been in a boating accident.
Now, May 17 through May 23, is National Safe Boating Week, and as usual the emphasis is on wearing life jackets. This is not to be repetitious, but the sad fact is that some boaters who do not wear life jackets die each year needlessly, in fact, more than due to any other reason.
If you find traditional life jackets too restrictive, inflatable life jackets are available in two basic types. You would only barely feel that you are wearing one of these.
One type is automatic. It inflates if you fall into the water. Be sure to get a re-charger. The other type of inflatable life jacket is manual. The disadvantage of this is that it will not inflate until you pull a cord, and that can not happen if you become unconscious. I do not suggest these for use in high speed watercraft. Inflatable life jackets are not allowed for personal watercraft.
Life jackets can not prevent boating accidents. Think always and be alert while you are on the water. Be smart, be safe.