That rod and reel may be nice but try floating on it
Illustration by CK Wolfson
I have a question for any reader who spends time on the water. How much is your life worth?
Would you give up friends and family for $200? $400? $600?
Imagine you suddenly find yourself in the sea off Gay Head or the rips off Wasque. Would you rather be clutching an Orvis large arbor Battenkill fly reel, cost about $250, or wearing a Hodgman inflatable fly fishing vest, cost about $250?
Serious fishermen are serious about their tackle. Not as many are very serious when it comes to the purchase and use of equipment that could save their lives. And the unfortunate truth is that every year fishermen across the country lose their lives for less than the cost of a good fishing outfit.
I am writing this week about the use of PFDs (personal floatation devices) and other safety equipment because it is important. Probably a few readers will find the subject uninteresting and bail on this week's fishing column.
Sospenders provide a comfortable inflatable PFD.
Over the last several weeks I wrote news stories about two incidents in which people fell overboard. One man was an experienced blue water sailor. The other was an experienced fisherman. Each man very nearly drowned.
On a short solo trip from South Dartmouth to Edgartown in June, Charles A. Samuelson fell from his 42-foot racing yacht. His ability to remain calm and luck - a passing fisherman spotted him floating in the water - saved his life.
On July 12 Michael Prigoff fell from his new 22-foot Triton center console into the turbulent shoal waters off the southeast corner of Martha's Vineyard. As his boat ran in circles, Mr. Prigoff, who was alone and not wearing a PFD at the time, struggled to stay afloat. Nearby fishermen saved Mr. Prigoff and recovered his very nearly swamped boat.
The point of recalling these stories is to drive home the point that accidents do happen on the water suddenly and without warning even on nice days. Experience is no protection.
The two earlier stories had happy endings. Many do not.
In almost all of the tragedies a PFD likely was the difference between survival and death.
There are many good PFDs that balance comfort with flotation available in catalogs and marine stores. I recently spoke with representatives from Stearns and Mustang. Both companies manufacture a whole line of PFDs, including standard flotation vests and life jackets that inflate by means of a CO2 cartridge.
Mustang Survival (www.mustangsurvival.com) is a Canadian based company that has recently been branching out from the Coast Guard, military and professional sectors to the sport and recreational fishing markets. Rob McMahon, Mustang marketing communications specialist, said the company is always looking at the products in its lineup and recently decided to introduce an inflatable fishing vest. The vest was designed with input from fishermen in the company so it has features that fishermen need in addition to keeping them safe.
Mustang Survival's new fishing vest.
The F3 Inflatable Fishing Vest was recently shown at a recreational sport fishing tradeshow in Las Vegas. Rob said it generated a lot of interest.
The vest has a soft neoprene collar, a mesh back to provide air circulation and 10 pockets, including generously sized zippered pockets to fit large fly boxes. I have only seen photos, but I like its looks.
The vest provides 35 pounds of buoyancy when inflated. It inflates using a CO2 cartridge and can be manually inflated.
The vest is not expected to be available until November. It is expected to sell for about $200.
Mustang also sells a line of lightweight inflatables that can be worn around the collar. Some models inflate by means of a ripcord and also inflate automatically using an exclusive hydrostatic inflator trigger that activates when submerged in four inches of water.
Stearns, located in St. Cloud, Minnesota is a well-known name in the PFD industry. The company recently acquired Hodgman, a well-known manufacturer of waders and other fishing gear.
I have worn a Stearns inflatable fishing vest for years. I wear it fishing on the shore and on the water. I find it useful for carrying my gear and reassuring to know that if I do get into trouble I have a measure of protection.
My current vest, manufactured under the Stearns logo, was purchased from Cabela's for about $154. It has large zippers that have not hung up once due to encrusted salt. Many years ago I had an earlier model Stearns with zippers that did not hold up as well. Periodically I had to soak the vest in warm soapy water to loosen everything up.
Beth-Alison Berggren, the flotation business unit director, told me that Stearns has updated the current model Hodgman inflatable fishing vest and would be introducing the new model in early 2008 under the company's Sospenders lineup.
She said it is very comfortable, has many convenient features, and was designed with input from fishermen in the company. I look forward to checking it out. It is expected to sell for about $244.
Sospenders PFDs are a familiar sight around the Island waterfront. The lightweight collars are comfortable to wear and inflate by means of a ripcord. Some models automatically inflate by means of a tablet that dissolves when immersed in the water and sets off a trigger. A decent model costs about $150.
The Stearns web site (www.stearnsinc.com) provides information on the company's product line.
Large retailers like West Marine also carry a lineup of PFDs and other accessories. At the West Marine shop in Vineyard Haven I found an ACR C-strobe, a small light that clips onto a vest and is visible up to two miles, according to the package. I think it would be a very handy item for someone overboard at night. The cost is $30, about the same as three Yozuri plugs.
For the truly safety conscious, there are a number of products that are making solo boating a safer proposition. For example, the AquaFix™ 406 GPS I/O Personal Locator Beacon is a small waterproof transmitter that can easily be attached to a life jacket. When activated it sends a radio signal to rescue agencies and pinpoints your location.
The unit sells for about $550. I can hear my buddy Ned say, "$550 bucks, what is he, dreaming?"
Consider this scenario. You are making a tuna run and your buddy is asleep in the cabin. You slip and fall off the side. The boat keeps going.
As you float around in the water and imagine that something big is brushing up against you and its name is not Flipper do you think $550 would seem like a lot of money? I don't think so.
Of course no amount of safety gear will help if it is not accessible when it is needed. When Charles Samuelson fell overboard he was on a sailboat fully equipped for offshore racing but he ended up in the water with nothing.
I have written two stories about boats that suddenly capsized. In both cases the lifejackets were stowed out of reach.
The United States Coast Guard keeps track of certain specific categories of boating accidents. The most recent report for the year 2005 is available here.
The report states, "Approximately seventy percent of all fatal boating accident victims drowned (491 out of 697). Moreover, eighty-seven (87) percent of the victims who drowned were not wearing their personal flotation device (PFD or lifejacket). Overall, fatal accident data show approximately 426 lives could have been saved last year if boaters had worn their lifejackets."
The executive summary contains some interesting conclusions. It includes the following: The most reported type of accident was a collision with another vessel. However, capsizing and falling overboard are the most reported types of fatal accidents and accounted for the vast majority (59 percent) of all boating fatalities; Overall, carelessness/reckless operation, operator inattention, excessive speed, and operator inexperience are the leading contributing factors of all reported accidents; Alcohol use was either a direct or indirect contributing factor in approximately one quarter of all boating fatalities in 2005.