–By Anya Shaunessy

Although we are currently enjoying the beautiful fall foliage here in the Delaware River valley, winter is fast approaching.  With the water temperatures quickly dropping, the National Park Service would like to increase awareness of both the wonderful cold-weather recreational opportunities this area has to offer, as well as the steps you can take to stay safe while on rivers, lakes, and streams this winter.

We are surrounded by rivers, streams, and lakes that are excellent for fishing in the fall, winter, and spring.  Ice fishing, eagle watching, and cold-weather kayaking are some of the best recreational activities in the area.  However, there are some extra steps  you should take to make sure you stay safe this winter!

Being on the water in winter months is fun, but it can be dangerous.  Being submerged in cold water poses serious and life-threatening risks due to hypothermia.  Hypothermia is your body’s response to your core temperature falling below its normal range of 95° F to 98.6° F. Falling into cold water, even in water that is as mild as 70° F, can lead to hypothermia.  This is because the human body is cooled 25% faster in water than in air.  Water temperature, air temperature, currents, and wind, as well as gender, body size, and body fat percentage all play a role in how fast one’s body temperature drops once in the water.  Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to hypothermia, as well as people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The risk of fatality from hypothermia and drowning greatly increases as the winter months approach.  According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, cold water incidents represent only 8% of the boating-related accidents; however, they result in 24% of the fatalities. The good news is that wearing a properly fitted life jacket can help save your life if you fall into cold water.  In fact, wearing your life jacket is mandatory from November 1 to April 30.  This means that everyone in a canoe or kayak, or in a boat measuring 16 feet or less, must wear a Coastguard certified life jacket.  This law was adopted in November of 2012 because of how effective life jackets are in keeping people safe while recreating on bodies of water in cold weather.  If you fall into cold water, wearing a life jacket will allow you to float without expending unnecessary energy, in addition to partially insulating your body.

Before you go out on the water, you should always make sure your life jacket is properly fitted and is in serviceable condition.  There is a simple way to ensure that your life jacket is properly fitted:  when you have put your life jacket on, stand with your arms straight up in the air, and have a friend tug upward on the shoulders.  If your life jacket is properly fitted, it should be snug and should not slide up past your chin.  Checking to make sure your life jacket is properly fitted ensures you will not slip out of it once in the water.  A snuggly fitted life jacket has the added benefit of acting as a layer of insulation between your body and the cold water.  Additionally, the life jacket should be in good, working condition.  This means that all buckles and zippers should be functional, and the life jacket should be free from rips, tears, or excessive wear.

Even if you are experienced on the river, accidents can still happen, and the best protection against hypothermia and drowning is knowing the conditions in which hypothermia is likely to occur, being able to identify and treat the symptoms of hypothermia, and making sure to observe the mandatory life jacket wear between November 1 and April 30.

Anya Shaunessy is the Centennial Volunteer Ambassador for Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River.  She is one of 70 young people chosen to work in National Parks around the country to help the National Park Service celebrate its 100th anniversary.  The National Park Service is committed to the safety of all visitors and to the preservation of natural and cultural resources for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.  Contact the author at: or at 570-685-4871 ext. 6610. Don’t forget to visit our website,, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Instagram!


Falling into cold water, even in water that is as mild as 70° F, can lead to hypothermia. 

This is because the human body is cooled 25% faster in water than in air.