Thursday, November 13, 2008

Your Most Important Fishing Gear

Life vest worn by northern pike fisherman
What's the most-important piece of fishing gear to any angler?

It's not his fishing rod or reel or fish finder but his life vest.

Here are some interesting facts: most boaters who drown are excellent swimmers.

Most drown within six feet (that's not a misprint, six feet!) of their boat or shoreline.

Hypothermia seldom has anything to do with their drowning even when the water temperature is near freezing.

Most drown within seconds of falling overboard or slipping into the water.

These facts were brought to light by the Canadian Safe Boating Council at the recent annual convention of Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario (NOTO) held in late October in Dryden.

These folks not only had the statistics from all the drowning victims in Canada but also video of cold water immersion studies.

I wish all our guests who come to our camp and don't wear their life vests could have seen the videos because they were eye-openers.

How, you might ask, can excellent swimmers drown within six feet of their boats or the shore or dock? The answer comes from what happens when someone unexpectedly is thrown into the water, and incidentally, that's how drowning victims end up in the lake -- their boats don't develop a slow leak and gradually sink, in fact, today's boats are engineered never to sink. No, they are driving full speed down the lake and hit an unseen obstruction that flips them out of the boat, or they lose their balance and fall backwards over the side. In less than a second they are upside down in the water.

It's a shock, and their first reaction from the rush of adrenaline created by any shock is to gasp.

In that one gasp they can inhale one liter (or quart) of water!

If they aren't wearing a life vest, it's all over right there. But if they are wearing a life jacket they immediately pop to the surface where they can cough out the water in their lungs.

Being a good swimmer has nothing to do with surviving a boating accident.

The videos of the cold water immersion studies also will surprise many people.

How long would you think someone could be in near-freezing water before hypothermia sets in?

Most people would guess it would take just a few minutes. But the studies show that actually just about anybody can survive 30 minutes to an hour or even two hours.

The men and women who volunteered for the cold water immersion research were not just anybodys. They were firefighters, Coast Guard service people, triathletes and military personnel. They probably spend two hours a day in the gym or the pool or the track and were in the peak of physical fitness. Most of us couldn't do as well as they did in the cold water trials.

One by one they were filmed jumping off a boat into the Arctic waters (divers in dry suits were right beside them for safety's sake. The water was just a degree or two above freezing.

In every instance, their first reaction was to gasp, then to hyperventilate. They panted for several minutes. They were, in fact, in grave danger of passing out from hyperventilation. The gasping and rapid breathing are all effects of shock, the medical condition which we all learned in first aid can kill anyone.

The volunteers were wearing life vests when they went overboard. After a couple of minutes, their breathing returned to normal and it wasn't until that point that they could have tried to get back out of the water. The CSBC researchers said it's important to just concentrate on getting control of your breathing before doing anything else.

The volunteers continued to stay in the water to experience the effects of cold water immersion.

None of them suffered hypothermia as defined by a dictionary where the core body temperature fell. But despite that they lost mobility in their arms and legs. After 25 minutes in the water they couldn't even get out on a beach. Their legs simply refused to move.

Imagine trying to put on a life vest under these conditions. It's a trick to put on a life vest in a heated pool wearing nothing other than your swimsuit, let alone wearing all your clothes in the middle of a lake with numb arms.

The point of this article is to convince you to wear your life vest. We supply them with our boats and these are the comfortable boating vest types. But they are so important why wouldn't you bring your own? Go to the sporting goods store and try on many types until you find one that fits your build. Make sure it is expandable enough to fit over your heaviest clothes but which can be cinched in for warmer weather. Besides the traditional boating or fishing types there are canoeing and kayaking models that leave lots of room in the armholes. There are even CO2 operated ones that self inflate when you hit the water. They come in all colors, including camoflage.

Everyone in my family wears them; all of our staff wears them. All Ministry of Natural Resources personnel wear them (or floater jackets).

Why isn't it the law? (You are only required to have them in the boat, not to wear them).

The main reasons people don't wear them are 1 . ignorance (they don't understand how quickly people drown) 2. machismo (they don't need no stinking life jacket!) or 3. comfort (they are under the mistaken belief that life vests are uncomfortable, probably because they've never tried anything other than the orange neck-collar types.)

I liked the reply of long-time outdoorsman Bernie Motl at camp last summer when I mentioned how some people think the vests are uncomfortable.
"Bull___!" he said, simply.

Well said.

See also this about life vests

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1 comment:

Scott said...

I agree with you 100 % on the use of Life Jackets (PFD'S). When Corey and I were at camp this summer we wore our inflatable PFD'S everyday, all day. The investment in the inflatables were the best I've made in a long time. We fished in sunny weather as well as rain and they never failed. They were so comfortable that we didn't even know they were on our backs. We do quite a bit of fishing and see very few with PFD'S on, which is a shame. They are required to be in the boat ready to use. As a retired Fire Chief I can verify that they are not ready to use enough at times. So the moral of the story is wear your PFD when on the water, especially if you swim like a rock.
Scott Muhlenbeck