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Safety on the Water

By Mark Romanack

Captain Jake is wearing a Mustang inflatable life
jacket. Inflatable life vests are lightweight,
comfortable to wear and they are the best insurance
you can have against drowning when
fishing from a boat.
According to both the US and Canadian Coast Guard, most drownings involving fishermen are the result of a person not wearing a personal flotation device or PFD for short. Mustang Survival one of the leading manufacturers of PFD’s and on their web page it states, “the best PFD is the one a person wears”.

It’s an unfortunate but indisputable fact... fishermen are notorious for not wearing a PFD while fishing. When authorities ask anglers why they are not wearing their PFD, the most common reply is that most flotation vests are bulky and uncomfortable to wear. It’s true that many PFD’s are uncomfortable. Traditional foam Type III flotation vests are long on function but short on comfort.

Anglers who own this style of traditional life vest often wear them while the boat is on plane and take them off to fish. This sets up a potentially disastrous situation.

A better option are the newer inflatable PFD’s that are designed to be low profile, lightweight and comfortable to wear. How an inflatable actually inflates depends on the technology designed into these PFD’s.

The Great Lakes are wonderful fishing destinations, but these waters can
be some of the most dangerous. Wearing a PFD is the best way to
insure every fishing trip ends with a smile.
Both manual and automatic inflatable vests are on the market. Manual vests require the person wearing the vest to pull a ripcord to inflate the vest. These vests are a good choice for wade fishermen, paddle sports enthusiasts, duck hunters and other situations where the person wearing the vest is likely to end up in the water, but not need to inflate the vest.

The obvious shortcoming of the manually inflated vests is that should the person become knocked in the water and also unconscious, the vest will not inflate.

Automatic style inflatable vests are a better choice for situations when the user doesn’t expect to be in the water such as fishing from a boat, sailing or cruising. Automatic PFD’s are available using two distinctively different technologies. Most entry level vests use a technology that involves a small tablet that when wet dissolves and enables a pin to puncture the CO2 cartridge which in turn inflates the vest. This style of vest can accidentally inflate if it gets overly wet from rain, spray or exposure to humidity.

On fly-in fishing adventures the author packs inflatable
 PFD’s for himself and everyone in his fishing party.
A more expensive but foolproof inflation technology has been adopted by Mustang Survival. Known as Hydrostatic Inflator Technology or (HIT) for short, these vests will only inflate automatically when the vest has been submerged to four inches or more. A special pressure sensitive value inflates the vest when it is submerged and prevents the vest from accidentally inflating due to heavy rain, spray or moisture.

The HIT style vests are the best choice for serious fishing or commercial use and are approved by the Coast Guard as Type V Commercial and Type III Recreational PFD’s. Automatic style life jackets can also be inflated manually by pulling a ripcord and these vests also have an emergency valve that allows the vest to be inflated by blowing into a small tube.

The only good fishing trip is a safe trip. The Coast Guard sadly reports
that most drownings involving fishermen occur because
the angler was not wearing a PFD.
Every fisherman needs a PFD when on the water, but there are other important safety items that also need to be on board. When fishing in Ontario’s Algoma Country every boater needs to have a bailing device, suitable for bailing water out of the boat should it start taking on water.

Also, every fisherman needs to have on board a rope with a throwable float attached. Other important safety items include a whistle for alerting others should you need help, waterproof matches, a small flashlight for signaling and spare batteries for the flashlight.

Safety kits that contain all of these items in a waterproof container are widely available and should be the first thing packed for any Ontario fishing adventure.

The only good fishing trip is a safe one. Taking a little time to make sure all your safety gear is packed and ready for action will provide the peace of mind to relax and enjoy fishing to the fullest. Remember, a PFD can only save a fisherman’s life if that angler is wearing it.