Could this be the most important item of fishing gear I ever buy?
I never thought this day would come, and to be honest I can’t give you a specific reason as to why I am doing this, but I am going to buy a lifejacket to use for some of my shore based fishing. As per my blog post from last week, the recent tragedy up on the north coast of Cornwall last week has really hit home with how horribly easy it is for something to go so wrong - how many of us here have had near misses when you know deep down that you were lucky to get away with it? - and sadly we have all heard news reports in the past of anglers getting washed in and killed when fishing from the shore.
So why now? Why am I looking for a lifejacket to buy? I’m not entirely sure, but for whatever reason I feel that the time is right to get one and wear it when I deem it necessary. Wading out to perhaps thigh deep in a bit of surf I would suggest hardly calls for us to be wearing a lifejacket, but now think about fishing a somewhat wilder rock mark where there’s a lively swell washing around. How easy is it to get things wrong and suddenly you’re in the water and fighting for your life? How many of you here for example have any idea about cold water shock?
I am quoting here from the RNLI Guide to Lifejackets and Buoyancy Aids (you can download it here): “Cold water shock is the uncontrollable reaction of the body when it is first submerged in cold water (15°C or lower). In initial submersion, the body will experience a gasp reflex, which is a rapid intake of air. This is followed by a fourfold increase in breathing rate and associated increases in heart rate and blood pressure, making some people susceptible to heart attacks. These symptoms will last up to 3–5 minutes during which even the fittest person is unable to swim or to focus on breathing. Wearing a lifejacket with the correct buoyancy is vital to survival. During the initial stages of cold water shock, try to stay calm and let your lifejacket keep you afloat. The clothing you are wearing, the fitting and features of your lifejacket and the amount of energy you expend will all be critical factors to survival from this point onwards. Without a lifejacket, even the most competent swimmer will suffer from ‘swim failure’ after around 30 minutes of swimming in cold water. If you are wearing a well-fitting lifejacket with crotch straps, there is no need to swim and you can concentrate on keeping warm, conserving energy and making yourself visible.” Check out this RNLI angling page here, it makes for some interesting reading.
I don’t mean to get all health and safety here, indeed nothing is changing with my fishing and what I am prepared to do, but on the other hand we as shore based anglers are nothing if not a stubborn bunch who for the most part reckon we know what we are doing and tend to get away with thinking that it’s never going to happen to us. I know nothing about the skill levels of the two brothers who were killed last week, but I am pretty damn sure they went out fishing and never for one second thought that what tragically happened would ever happen to them. But it did, and as sure as I will give in and buy new colours of the OSP DoLive Stick, this of course means it could happen to any of us here.
There’s an element of risk with most things that we do in life, and of course the risks are heightened when you spend time around the sea. If you knew me you would understand how I am categorically not one of those parents who wraps their children in cotton wool and picks them up if they fall over, indeed there’s a whack load about “modern parenting” that I despise. I have always and will always encourage my two girls to get out, do stuff, and accept that things happen, but when they go sailing for example, they wear buoyancy aids. It would be beyond daft if they didn’t.
So what’s the difference with going sea fishing?
Or is that a question none of us like to ask ourselves? Both my girls have been hit on the head by the boom on sailing boats, and of course capsized multiple times, but they are wearing buoyancy aids and when they are out sailing with their club there are safety boats out as well - this is all perfectly normal, and I encourage my girls to get back out there after the odd scare as such. And they do, and they absolutely love it.
So why is it perfectly normal to wear something that will help keep you afloat when out on a boat (whether it be a buoyancy aid or lifejacket), yet many of us here fish next to the sea when it’s raging far worse than the majority or boat users would be out and about in, yet we wear nothing that will help keep us afloat in the event of an emergency? As I said, I can’t tell you precisely why I am asking myself these questions now when I am 44 years old, but I am, and when I dig down deep into my brain, I think about the places and conditions I have fished and will continue to fish, and I wonder why I am not wearing a simple and not very expensive device that will at least keep me afloat and keep my head out of the water if I was to get washed in - which let’s face it can happen very easily.
I have had a chat with somebody at the RNLI and it’s really interesting how aware they are of what we do, how they continue to try and appeal to us shore anglers, and then how we as a group (shore anglers) are considered to be just about the most resistant bunch the RNLI deal with when it comes to even thinking about wearing something as simple as a life jacket. This is not remotely the RNLI criticising us, rather it’s that outstanding organisation really wanting to help us be safer when we are out fishing.
Are you aware of what modern life jackets are like these days? Forget all about those awful bulky foam things that get in the way and would drive any angler mad. Nope, these days you can get some very lightweight and unobtrusive lifejackets that are easy to put on and secure, will not impede your fishing, don’t cost much, and will either automatically inflate when you hit the water - with a manual override and top up as well - or else you can get a fully manual one. Yes, I worry about getting hit by spray and the bloody thing suddenly inflating, but firstly the good modern ones are not designed to inflate like that, and secondly, on some of them you can “block” the auto inflate bit say when you go deep wading and just have it as a manual inflate, but then “unblock” the auto inflate for when you are on the rocks and could realistically hit your head getting washed in.
Note here that I am not talking about getting a buoyancy aid or personal floatation device, and there are various reasons why that make a lot of sense to me now that I have done a bit of research and spoken with people who actually know about all this. Firstly, a modern lifejacket is much easier to wear than a buoyancy aid, as in it’s smaller, far less bulky, and it won’t get in the way when you are fishing - and secondly, and of serious importance if you ask me, a proper lifejacket like the ones that I am looking into will keep your head the right way up if you go in the water, and will actually turn you the right way up if you were knocked out cold. A buoyancy aid will not do this, and with what can happen with cold water shock I will be avoiding them completely for my own shore fishing. Something is better than nothing, granted, but if I am going to wear that something, then it has to make sense, and to me a lifejacket does - with what I do bear in mind, and things might be different for you.
Anyway, I could go on and on here, but this is where I am right now. I have got a lot more talking and emailing to do with various people, and I am also making plans to do some local testing with a few mates who are willing to throw themselves in the water with waders and lifejackets on so that I can shoot photos and video - and yes, it will be in a controlled environment! Whilst it’s a complete myth that you’re going to sink like a stone if you are wearing waders, I would like to see how these guys can cope when in the water with waders and a lifejacket.
I am not entirely sure which lifejacket I am going to buy, but from my talking with the RNLI and then a couple of companies who make this stuff, I’m looking at two models which seem to be ideally suited to my fishing and how I go about it - the Mullion Compact 150N which retails at around £150+, and then the Spinlock Deckvest Lite which I am seeing online for around £100+. There are various other items that I have been advised to look at buying, including a light for the lifejacket, and then either a simple, waterproof VHF radio for putting out a call on channel 16 if I am washed in and I’m on my own, or else one of those PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) things. This ramps the price up a bit and I need to do some more research before I know what’s the most applicable to buy, but if you look at these lifejackets on their own as an item of fishing gear that is going to give you a far greater chance of surviving in case something goes badly wrong, then is that really very much money at all? How much did you spend on your last lure rod, reel, braid, waders or lure order? Hell, I have spent more than the cost of one of these lifejackets on DoLive Sticks alone!
Please, please understand that I am not remotely trying to tell you what to do here. As ever, this is my blog, and I have decided to be very open about this and talk about my desire to try and make what I do that bit safer. Perhaps it’s because I’ve got kids and I have already had cancer, but when you sit there and contemplate your own mortality whilst you wait for your results, I guess that this then has to affect how you view life. I never intentionally decided to think more about my safety when I am out fishing, indeed this lifejacket thing seems to have crept up on me and was without doubt rammed home by that tragic event from last week. Laugh at me all you like if it makes you feel better about your invincibility out on the coast, but I have chosen to do something here and I think it’s worth blogging about. More to come and I hope you will engage with me here in the comments section below.