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Trout Season and Looking Toward Summer

The March/April issue of Pennsylvania Angler & Boater traditionally focuses on trout. Pennsylvania is one of the top trout-fishing states. We often vie with California for the title of "Tops in Trout" in terms of trout angling days. About 70 percent of our license buyers purchase a trout stamp. For the new trout season that starts on April 15, we will have a new creel limit for the first time in 48 years. The limit is now five trout per day. Trout fishing patterns have changed over the years, and the new limits reflect the desires of the vast majority of trout anglers. Indeed, many trout anglers practice catch-and-release fishing regularly.

Elsewhere in this issue you'll find the current inseason trout stocking schedule. Remember that this schedule is subject to change and that updates are available on our web site: www.fish.state.pa.us. The Fish & Boat Commission stocks about 5 million adult trout each year, and our cooperative nurseries stock another one million trout. Based on the best available information we have, Fish & Boat Commission-stocked trout are safe to catch, safe to handle, and safe to eat in moderation.

Even as you enjoy a spring day, thinking about trout fishing or angling on a trout stream, you may wish to think forward to the summer. As I reminded readers here in the last issue, there is a new requirement in effect for certain boat operators in Pennsylvania. Starting January 1, all operators of specialty boats known as personal watercraft (PWC) must now carry a boating safety education certificate with them when on the water. You earn a certificate by completing a safe boating course or passing an equivalency exam. This regulation applies to all operators of PWC, not just the owners.

Close to 30,000 safety certificates were issued by the Commission last year; a new record. Still, that's only a fraction of the total number of PWC operators in the state. Our instructors also report that many of their students were not PWC operators at all. As a result, we anticipate substantial demand for boating courses this spring. Boaters are advised to take a course soon to avoid the spring rush. Now is the time to sign up for a boating safety course!

A personal watercraft is a boat less than 16 feet in length that uses an internal combustion motor powering a water jet pump as its primary source of propulsion. It is designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing or kneeling. Personal watercraft are better known to the public by brand names that include Jet Ski®, Sea Doo®, Wave Runner®, Tiger Shark®, Wet Jet®, and others.

Operators of these boats can meet the new requirement by successfully completing a Commission-approved boating course and accompanying examination. Approved courses include the Commission's PA Basic Boating, PA Personal Watercraft, Boating and Water Safety Awareness, and the new PWC Equivalency Examination. Other approved courses include those taught by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the U.S. Power Squadrons, and other organizations. No matter which course you take, successful students are issued the same type of boating safety education certificate by the Commission.

Even though PWC currently make up just seven percent of the 352,000 boats registered in Pennsylvania, they are involved in a disproportionate number of boating accidents and complaints from other boaters and anglers.  In 1999, 29 percent of all reported boating accidents involved at least one PWC, and 45 percent of all boating collisions involved at least one PWC. Analysis by the Fish & Boat Commission shows that these accidents are usually caused by operators not keeping a proper lookout or operating a boat in a careless manner.  Many of the accidents are caused by people new to boat operation, and nearly all of these accidents are avoidable. These incidents and the types of violations commonly observed by our officers can be addressed through safety education.

Most boating courses are taught by organizations such as community colleges, boat clubs, and the like, and a modest fee is often required. Boating courses taught by Commission personnel are very low-cost or free. A list of courses and their sponsors is available from the Commission by calling 1-888-723-4741, or by visiting our web site at www.fish.state.pa.us. When inquiring about a course, ask the sponsor about fees. Under current law, there is no fee for issuance of a boating safety education certificate. A boating safety certificate is good for life. It does not need to be renewed regularly.

Even though we strongly recommend a safety course for all boaters, the mandatory education provisions apply only to the operators of PWC.  This requirement does not apply to operators of other boats such as canoes, fishing boats and sailboats, but taking a course is still a good idea.

Another good idea is to take a look at some Internet courses, if you have access. Even though these courses do not meet the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission's criteria for course approval, they are good educational tools. The BOAT/U.S. Foundation for Boating Safety Internet course and other on-line boating safety lessons serve as great warm-ups for an approved course in Pennsylvania.

Boating courses are good for the entire family. There is no minimum age requirement to take a boating course. Most courses are designed for students 12 years of age and older. There is a requirement that all personal watercraft operators must be at least 12 years old.

March/April 2000 Angler & Boater

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