Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

I wonder if or when we will get to the stage where we go into a tackle shop to buy a lifejacket along with our rods, reels, line and lures etc.?

I’ve got a big fishing safety related day with the RNLI coming up in a couple of weeks and in due course I will tell you all about it - and via various chats with my main contact there, we have naturally been speaking about all manner of fishing safety related stuff. This in turn gets me thinking where we might be with all this further down the line………….

Could you ever envisage the day when you walk into a tackle shop to buy a lifejacket, and not just rods, reels, lures, lines, bait etc.? Make no mistake here that a few months ago I was exactly the same as most other anglers I know or come across with my talking myself out of even thinking about lifejackets and/or increased safety - excuses along the lines of it’s never going to happen to me, I’ve had some close shaves but I got away with it, I’m so macho that you’ll never see me wearing a lifejacket for shore fishing, I’ve been fishing for however many years now and I’ve never needed a lifejacket yet, or you shouldn’t be looking at fishing there if you feel you need a lifejacket. And so on.


But can we change? It wasn’t many years ago that I bet nearly all of you reading this blog had no idea what breathable waders and wading boots were. When did you change from spinning with mono lines to lure fishing with braid? It was only 1983 when seatbelts became mandatory for front seat drivers and passengers, but what’s the first thing you do now when you get into your car? I note that over in Ireland it is the law to have to wear a PFD or lifejacket on pleasure craft and fishing vessels.

I bet plenty of you are reading this and thinking nope, not me, no way I’m wearing a lifejacket for my shore fishing - and as for boat fishing? Well a good friend of mine had a boating accident a couple of years ago when he was out on his own, and he wouldn’t still be here if he hadn’t been wearing an auto inflate lifejacket, put it that way. I wonder how many shore anglers who have so tragically died doing what they love could have been saved if they had been wearing lifejackets?

And yes, one can always argue that if the conditions were that bad then so and so shouldn’t have been there in the first place - an argument which I used to find some kind of sense in, but when I really think about it is actually a load of crap. But why? Because this argument doesn’t allow for the unpredictability of the sea, and as a consequence, how quickly and unexpectedly things can go so badly wrong. I would also argue that there is a lot of difference fishing on coastlines that don’t get those big rolling swells against those that do. I don’t care how experienced you are, because swell and its sheer unpredictability can catch anybody out. Do you think for one second that those two poor brothers who went fishing last September up on the north coast of Cornwall thought that they were risking their lives by doing so?

I accept and live with the fact that fishing in, on and around the ocean comes with an inherent level of risk, but then so does getting into my epic Berlingo and driving somewhere - yet I don’t allow the car to move until I and my passengers have our seatbelts on. I am not a particularly safety conscious person as my girls will attest to(!), yet I get in my car and put a seatbelt on because it’s as normal as turning the key in the ignition. I don’t really think much about it, but putting that seatbelt on could save my life one day.


So why don’t more of us wear a lifejacket when we go out shore fishing? I am not trying to tell any of you what to do here, but I am trying in my own little way here to at lease raise a bit of awareness and perhaps get a few of you thinking about it. I believe I’ve got it right when I say that the guy from this blog post wore a lifejacket for ten years before he ever actually needed it (and he categorically would not be here now if hadn’t been wearing one), and I am seriously hoping that I will never have any need of the ones that I am now wearing. Cross all fingers and touch lots of wood here, but I have never been in a car crash yet I always wear a seatbelt. What’s the difference with being out on the rocks especially and wearing an easy to wear, doesn’t remotely get in the way lifejacket?

So I do wonder if our collective attitudes to fishing safety and what is the norm will gradually change. I wonder if we will go from staring at the odd shore angler who is wearing a lifejacket because they stand out like a sore thumb to one day starkly standing out ourselves because we are the only mugs not wearing one? And will we one day walk into a tackle shop to try on and buy a lifejacket just as naturally as we might waggle a few rods, rattle a few lures, and talk various amounts of shite about the good old days when men were men, summers were always better, my rod is longer and therefore better than yours, vegan was a word that wasn’t invented, and the seas were so full of double figure bass that anybody could wander down to their local beach and pull a few out!