Canoeists and kayakers must wear a personal flotation device (PFD) at all times from September 15th of one year through May 15th of the following year. This reminder serves two very important purposes. It could save you from an unwelcome visit and ticket from an enforcement officer, and - much more importantly - it could save your life and the lives of your fellow boaters.

Massachusetts boating regulations require that all persons aboard canoes and kayaks between September 15th and May 15th wear a Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, or III PFD at all times while a boat is underway. This law applies to waterfowl hunters using canoes or kayaks. In addition, the Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP) recommends wearing a PFD as standard practice year-round, and reminds boaters that children under 12 are required to wear PFDs in boats of all types throughout the year. While most Type I, II, and III lifejackets will not prevent hypothermia, they do give the victim one less thing to worry about: staying afloat.

The first warm days of spring can mask water temperatures that are dangerously cold. If paddlers capsize or fall overboard, they can succumb within minutes to hypothermia (the lowering of a person's internal body temperature), which deadens arms and legs and renders a victim unable to swim, paddle, or stay afloat. A related danger - the "cold-water-immersion-reflex," whereby a victim, shocked by frigid water, involuntarily gasps and ingests a significant amount of water - can lead to death by drowning. Though water temperatures may still be warm in early fall, cooler air temperatures can contribute to hypothermia for a wet boater.

In the 13 fatal boating accidents in Massachusetts in 2008 (up from nine fatalities in 2007), none of the victims was wearing a lifejacket. Not wearing a lifejacket, operator inattention, overloading, and small boat instability were significant factors in most of the 2008 fatalities.

The MEP points out that in Massachusetts and nationwide, most boating fatalities start as a capsizing or fall overboard, and, historically, 80 percent of the victims are not wearing lifejackets. Wearing a lifejacket gives victims and rescuers additional precious time to help themselves out of a potentially tragic episode.

The MEP also encourages all boaters to take a state-approved boating safety course for links to the MEP boating course schedule, other approved course providers, and information about state boating laws.

Operating a boat, whether motor or non-motorized, is a safe outdoor recreational activity. By using a little common sense, boating will stay that way.