Boating & Fishing Safety

Boating, Fishing, and Personal Flotation Device (PFD) Use

Most of the Time, Wearing a PFD is a Personal Choice - Understand the Issues

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You’ll see very few photos accompanying my articles of adult anglers wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). That’s because my photo inventory reflects things the way that they are, which is that few anglers wear them unless they can’t swim and are afraid of the water, unless they are in a place or at an event where they must wear them, or unless they are young and are obligated by law or by their elders to wear them.

Important for Unexpected Events

It has long been recommended that boat occupants, whether fishing or not, wear PFDs, which are also referred to as life vests, jackets, or preservers. Some anglers wear them while moving at high speed, which has saved lives. Striking a submerged object or losing control of a fast-moving boat has thrown small-boat operators and passengers out of their vessel.

In such a situation, a careening boat makes a clockwise circle back toward its passengers due to the rotation of the propeller and literally can run them over, which is why a boat operator should have the ignition safety cutoff switch lanyard attached to them. Someone who falls out of a boat in this manner may need a good PFD to save them from drowning, especially if they are rendered unconscious by striking the boat. People who were not wearing a PFD when this happened have been killed. When an unexpected event occurs, it is usually too late to get a PFD out and too hard to get it on.

Going Overboard

Most anglers prefer to stand up in a boat to aid casting, retrieving, fish playing, hooksetting, and vision.

This necessarily entails some problems, primarily in small boats, since standing changes the center of gravity.

Anglers occasionally fall out of boats that are not under power, often by losing their balance from a raised platform. For many this has not been a problem, but if they fall on top of a submerged tree stump or rock or piling, they could receive serious injury. If they panic, struggle, and get tangled in vegetation, they can drown. In fact, some people drown this way every year, not necessarily as the result of falling, but more likely diving in to cool off.

The Comfort Issue

Even anglers who wear a PFD when a boat is underway usually take it off when the boat is at rest or when actually fishing. It is more comfortable to have the PFD off (unless it is the inflatable type), and this is generally regarded as acceptable practice by most anglers (though not by safety experts). Common sense is the key here. If you can swim well, if the water is warm, if there are no objects nearby, and if the boat is not likely to run you over or be bounced on top of you, then you probably have little to worry about.

Standing up is more likely to be a problem in small boats, in unstable boats, in boats with raised casting platforms, in boats with slippery platforms or decks, and when the water is rough enough to bounce a boat around. It is less likely to be a problem in large boats, especially those with high gunwales and plenty of freeboard.

Safety Advice

If you’re ever in doubt about your own safety, concerned about existing conditions, or encounter troubles with your boat under adverse conditions, put on your PFD if you’re not already wearing it and have fellow passengers do likewise. If your boat should swamp or capsize, stay with the boat unless your life is threatened. If rescue is necessary, you are more easily found if you stay with the boat than if you swim off alone. Obviously, some circumstances would mitigate this advice (such as if you’re very close to shore), and in some vessels this may not be possible. Also remember that in cold water, a worn PFD will offer some warmth and perhaps aid in preventing hypothermia.

But a PFD does no good if you don’t wear it. Most of the time, that’s a personal choice that you have to make.

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