Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

It breaks your heart when you hear about anglers getting washed in and killed - do any of you wear lifejackets or buoyancy aids, and what are our options for this kind of safety gear?

If you are an angler and you go saltwater fishing, then I guess you have either heard about what happened a couple of days on the north coast of Cornwall - check here - or if you haven’t, please have a read and tell me that it doesn’t break your heart to know that two anglers who were most likely having a great time out fishing were washed off the rocks, with one confirmed dead and the search has been called off for the other guy (as at the time of writing this blog post). Most likely a couple of families that will never be the same again - something that nobody ever expects, but the unavoidable fact is that the sea is a cruel mistress which is never to be completely trusted. Accidents happen, and this most recent incident highlights how dangerous it can be when there’s a swell running especially…………..


I don’t know much about what happened, but the area where these two anglers were washed in is a part of north Cornwall that I used to bait fish a lot, and like many of you here I am sure you have had your own scary as hell experiences when you get away with it and you know how lucky you have been. It’s beyond tragic that two anglers didn’t get away with it this week, and for me it rams home how dangerous it can sometimes be to fish in those areas where the lands meets the sea, as so many of us do here of course. You may not get much swell where you happen to do your fishing, and I do often wonder how many anglers go on holiday for example and are completely unprepared for how different the sea can behave on certain coastlines.

But as I said, I know nothing about what happened save for what I have read, and to me it throws up a logical question - when you are fishing from the shore, do any of you here wear lifejackets or some form of buoyancy aids? I have no idea if these things would have made any difference to what happened a couple of days ago - and I don’t personally wear anything that’s going to help me keep afloat when I am out shore fishing - but do you yourself wear something that could help you out in an emergency, or have you thought about wearing something, and what are our options if we wanted to wear something that could help us keep afloat if we were to get washed in?

And before we go any further, I grabbed this from the internet: “Essentially buoyancy aids are designed to help you swim if you capsize for example, whereas a life jacket is designed to keep a person afloat without the need to swim. A life jacket should keep someone afloat even if they are unconscious and should have a collar designed to keep the person's face clear of the water.” And: “Buoyancy aids are a specialist form of personal flotation device (PFD) used most commonly by kayakers, canoeists and dinghy sailors. ... Therefore, they should not be used as a substitute for a life-jacket”.

An IMA lure vest

An IMA lure vest

I have tried wearing those specialist lure vests before and ended up not really getting on with them - the ones I am on about are the vests that tend to come out of Japan and often have some kind of floatation material built into them. I completely get how some anglers like these lure vests simply as a means for carrying lures, nets, pliers etc., but can the ones with floatation material in them actually be used as buoyancy aids? A couple of anglers I know have commented on my Facebook page that the Japanese lure vests they have been using (RBB, IMA,  Graphiteleader, etc.) do help to keep them afloat, bearing in mind that they are conscious and can swim. And bear in mind here that we’re talking about the lure vests that have those fairly bulky floatation inserts.

We wear lifejackets and/or buoyancy aids on boats, so why not when shore fishing?

We wear lifejackets and/or buoyancy aids on boats, so why not when shore fishing?

Obviously I have worn plenty of those auto-inflate life jackets when out on boats, indeed I am out photographing some fly fishing tomorrow and I will have one on all day when I am on the boat. They are clever bits of kit and they still niggle me how they seem to get in the way, but I guess the more you wear one, the more you get used to it being on. I am assuming that there any number of these auto-inflate life jackets on the market these days, with the better ones I am sure now being very unobtrusive. Any of you here have any experience of these things for shore fishing? I understand how they are meant to auto-inflate if you fall in the water, but what are they like if you keep getting (safely) splashed by the sea? How easily does that auto-inflate happen?

A couple of guys on my Facebook page alerted me to these “lifejackets in a bum bag” things that I had no idea about - here are some details I found online: “The SUP lifejacket is a pouch style lifejacket worn around the waist making it ideal for sports such as Stand Up Paddle boarding when upper body freedom of movement is essential. When required the lifejacket can be quickly donned by removing it from the waistbelt pouch and placing over the head. The lifejacket is then activated by pulling the inflation cord. The lifejacket pouch comes with a zipped storage pocket which can be used for items such as sunglasses, suncream or safety knife.” These things sound like an interesting idea, but what happens if you are washed in and you’re getting thrown about by the sea and panicking and can’t get at the bag to get the lifejacket on and over your head? Again, does anybody here know much about these “lifejackets in a bum bag” things?

I know there are all these sayings such as “no fish is ever worth a life” etc., but try telling that to the poor families of those anglers that died on Monday. Whatever fishing we do and wherever we fish, we all do what we can to stay safe - some anglers are more sensible and some aren’t, but whatever you do or don’t do to stay as safe as possible, there is no guaranteed way except for staying the hell away from the sea when either it’s looking threatening, or else if you don’t know enough about what you are doing. Even then there is no getting away from the sheer unpredictability of the sea and the capacity for something to go wrong, however much you might know or however much experience you might have.

However experienced that many of us like to think we are at fishing from the shore, the way I look at it is that what sadly happened to those two anglers could have easily happened to many of us here. Families that will never be the same again because two people were out enjoying themselves and something went horribly wrong, and how many of you here have had fishing experiences where on another day it could have been you in the news for such tragic reasons?

Please, please, I am not trying to offer advice here on how to stay safe when you are out shore fishing, and I am categorically not trying to tell you what if any safety devices you should use. What you choose to do or not do has to come from you - and I include in that the decision to change your plans and either go fishing elsewhere or wait for the sea to calm down - and I am not about to stop what I do because of what’s happened. There is an element of risk with everything we do in life.

Bait fishing way above the water

Bait fishing way above the water

But it has got me thinking about all this stuff again, and especially with how saltwater lure fishing especially often requires that we are far closer to the sea than a lot of bait fishing. I used to fish some horrendous conditions for winter codling for example up on the north coast of Cornwall, to the point where sometimes you were struggling to open the van door against the wind - but we knew where to go to stay as safe as possible, we were way above the sea, and we never, ever went down close to the (raging) water. And I wasn’t wearing waders, which of course is something that I have deliberately not got into here because I simply don’t know the facts. Please do leave comments with your thoughts and experiences, and if any of you out there can provide proper technical information on some of the options available to us then I would be most grateful. Thank you in advance and once again my heart goes out to the families of those two anglers.