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Do you wear your PFD? Why not?

by: David Coulson , Colorado 6/16/2014

It never ceases to amaze me how many people worry about the improbable and ignore the probable. Consequently, they needlessly put themselves in harmís way.  Folks who are engaged in water sports, such as fishing and boating, are perfect examples of this behavior.

When we play in and around water, weíre at greater risk of drowning should something happen.  This year there have already been three drowning deaths on the Poudre River and Iíve little doubt that before the yearís over, there will be additional drowning deaths around Colorado. 

The vast majority of drowning deaths can be prevented simply by wearing a PFD (personal floatation device).  Iíll readily admit that I donít wear one when Iím wading a river, which is foolish when you consider the availability of inflatable devices that are very comfortable to wear.  Whatís even worse, I own one.

But when Iím on the water, be it in a float tube, kayak, canoe, or boat, I wear a PFD religiously.  Oh, I know how to swim, sort of. I can flounder my way around a pool or to shore if itís not too far.  ďIím a good swimmer,Ē is the excuse I hear from many for not wearing a PFD when on a watercraft. 

Most of us wear a swimming suit when we swim, but I donít dress that way when Iím in my float tube.  Nope, Iím in waders, often with extra clothing (in cold water) with wading boots and fins.  As my sit-on-top kayak isnít dry, I typically wear waders there also, or a wet suit.  It has to be a warm day for me to dress lighter.  Even on the boat, Iím fully dressed to some degree, and if itís rainy or cool, heavily dressed.  I wonder just how good those swimmers are when theyíre fully garbed?  Likely not near as good as they think they are.

Further, most of us only go swimming when the waters are warm, as in 70 degrees or warmer.  Letís face it swimming in cold water isnít much fun.  Check a hypothermia table and even in 60 degree water, you only have a couple hours, maybe, before exhaustion or unconsciousness sets in. In colder waters, even less time.

Finally, for those on the boat who think carrying a life jacket will do the trick, try putting one on while in a pool.  If you succeed, do it fully dressed in cold water.  My guess is it wonít happen. And if thatís not enough, on most craft the PFDís are stowed, so youíd have trouble getting to them, even if you could put it on while swimming fully dressed in cold water with a fishing pole in hand.

When you consider that over 70% of boating accident deaths are due to drowning, and in over 80% of those cases the victim wasnít wearing a PFD, it should be obvious that wearing one all the time greatly increases your chances when something happens and, rest assured, sooner or later something will happen. 

Case in point, while fishing the Lake Fork tournament in Texas recently, the boat bounced off a submerged stump while I was fishing, and I fell off the boat. It was raining so I was fully dressed including rain gear. As I had my vest on, I was able to relax and make my way back onto the boat without issue, but without the PFD, it would have been a real struggle.

Point is things happen on the water.  They make PFDís that are comfortable to wear all the time, so why not minimize your risk of drowning by simply wearing one?

First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan Sunday, June 15, 2014.

Blog content © David Coulson
Member comments
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   6/16/2014 8:26:40 AM
And over the weekend a drowning death in a boat accident at North Sterling, and one at Lathrop State Park (reason unknown). Not wearing a PFD in either case.
Lloyd Tackitt, TX   6/16/2014 8:51:15 AM
On one of my few kayak paddles I was stopped (while wade fishing) by a game warden, in the Brazos. I've never seen a game warden down there before. He asked if I had a PFD in the boat and I said no, the water is less than waist deep. I mentioned I had paddled up beyond the bridge and back and he said the water under the bridge is well over my head. He is right, it is. I got a warning, but not a ticket. I got on amazon, researched the PDF for sale and had one delivered three days later. It is very small profile while wearing it, it is an inflatable type. I wore it for two days while fishing Lake Fork and barely noticed I had it on at all. Very nice, very comfortable, will work just fine in hot weather, and it gave me a great sense of well being to have it on, especially after Dave's Dunkin. People drown in the Brazos fairly often, not around where I wade fish, but up and down river where it can be deep. It's plain laziness to not wear one in a boat - I know because I was lazy too. Find one that fits comfortably and doesn't get in the way, it's a good bet to have it on.
cookster, CO   6/16/2014 9:20:59 AM
When I'm in my big boat with deep side I don't wear mine but I always have it in arms reach. I also have a bass boat and I always wear one when fishing on it, my fishing partner can't set still and can buck you out really quick. Another good reminder is to hook the safety kill switch to that life vest.
bratfish, CO   6/16/2014 10:30:35 AM
nope worn mine once for a derby they required me to wear it.
Ajax5240, CO   6/16/2014 11:25:50 AM
do y'all use the auto-inflating ones or the manual? It seems to be a toss up for me. The auto ones are great is you were to fall and hit your head and get knocked out. but would inflate on their own if you waded through a deep spot that put the sensor below water? The recharge kits aren't that cheap. The manual ones would be great for deep wading, but are useless unless you can pull the cord. Any thoughts from the folks that have one?
Lloyd Tackitt, TX   6/16/2014 11:56:01 AM
Mine is manual. I thought about the problem of being unconscious, didn't know they had autoinflate ones - I'll have to check in to that. Wouldn't want the thing to go off in a heavy rain or just falling down in waist deep water, which i sometimes do.
anglerwannabe, CO   6/16/2014 1:57:30 PM
Manual. Being in a tube or toon, you get wet and auto not such a good idea for that.
culinarypunk, WY   6/16/2014 6:17:58 PM
Good blog Dave! Being a new boater (floattube) I always where one on it. Also been wearing it ice fishing at the end of last season . And will start wearing in when I'm on a big boat!
fishman1, CO   6/16/2014 6:56:58 PM
Great points Dave. I do not wear one while trolling, but do when powered up. Thanks! Bill
Neyet Stalker, CO   6/16/2014 7:29:02 PM
Had a good friend die several years ago he fell over board in very cod water and went into shock quickly. He went under in a matter of seconds his body was never found.
OldMikkDale, CO   6/16/2014 7:35:26 PM
Mine is an auto inflate one and after I bought it I was wondering if that was a smart buy. Thought about rain so I may have to have a rain jacket handy. Someone posted that the cartridge had to be replaced after so many years in Colo. however I could not find this in the boat regs. A life jacket saved my life when I tried to run a #10 rapid. Even with it on, I was sucked under and drank quite a bit of water. A river guide drowned the next day in the same rapid. It is kind of like the seat belt thing, it will never happen to me. Good blog.
IceFishingFool, CO   6/17/2014 6:03:34 AM
PFD's are not all that uncomfortable, once you have it on, much like your auto seat belt, you hardly notice it. Far as being a swimmer, would be hard to swim with a broken arm or leg.
Bassnfly, CA   6/17/2014 8:55:15 AM
A recent boating accident on the Delta in CA had two experienced tournament anglers thrown from the boat when they hit a submerged obstacle. One person died. His inflatable vest did not inflate. I do not know if it was supposed to be an automatic one or not. Point is, you never know when you will need to have your vest on because accidents are never planned. I always wear mine when the big engine is operating and sometimes when on the trolling motor if the conditions, waves, dictate. And attaching the kill switch to the vest or person is a must!
Mots, CO   6/17/2014 9:10:11 AM
Great article Dave! I always have mine on, it's an older SOSuspenders version with a rip cord to inflate. It's so comfortable, I forget I'm even wearing it. In fact, I had it on Sunday fishing with you -). I never considered wearing it on the ice, but I plan to now! I also never considered being unconscious after a boating accident. That's a good argument to wear a hard vest or an auto inflatable.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   6/17/2014 10:47:58 AM
Glad to see the various comments. For those who haven't fished with me, by vest is a snug fitting kayak vest. It has two pockets in the front, and the back is cut higher for comfort when sitting in a kayak. I've went into the drink with it twice (once a mile off the CA coast while kayaking, and now Lake Fork) and will say, it made the "swim" a whole lot more relaxing as I never felt a need to "swim". I really encourage folks in float tubes to wear them. Tubes do blow on the water, or get punctures (I've poked a hook in mine a couple times) and making it to shore can be challenging.
IceFishingFool, CO   6/18/2014 12:21:04 PM
See an ad at BPS, PFD's on sale for $9.97 if anyone needs to replace theirs.
threeqtrirish, WY   6/24/2014 7:20:05 PM
I wear a manual inflatable fishing vest whenever I'm near the water. It cost quite a bit at BPS and my friends still give me strange looks when they ask what it cost. After almost drowning as a kid, I figure it will be worth the cost if I ever have to use it. I'm curious as to how often I should change the CO2 cartridge though. None of my friends wear a PFD when on their float tubes or personal pontoon boats.
Lloyd Tackitt, TX   6/25/2014 5:53:18 AM
My "guess" is that an unpenetrated CO2 cartridge will hold its pressure for just about ever. No reason for it not to. But to be on the safe side you could change it out every year when you buy your fishing license, they don't cost much. On the auto inflating ones the charging system has a replacement part, the auto part, that needs to be changed periodically. Each manufacturer has their own rules about that and they vary from make to make.
David Coulson
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