Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

The obvious title after our day with the RNLI on Monday is that it was the biggest wake up call of my fishing life - which it was - but it was also a whole lot more

First off I must say a huge thank you to the RNLI and all the people there who were involved in what the four of us did up at their headquarters in Poole. I had a good inkling about how seriously the RNLI were going at this, but on the day I was shocked at the scale of it all. As somebody who loves and uses the sea I have of course always known that the RNLI were the mutts’ nuts, but after Monday and what we will be doing together as regards sport fishing or angling safety, my respect for that organisation has gone through another proverbial roof………..


What I am not going to try and do here is cover everything that we found out about waders, different types of waders, calm water, rougher water, not wearing lifejackets, wearing lifejackets, how a high end Japanese lure vest behaves, rucksacks, floatation suits and so on - over time I will start to put plenty of information about all this on here. I am also going to make no apologies for doing so - for far too long I have studiously avoided thinking properly about what might happen if I get washed into the sea and how I might give myself a better chance at being alive when rescue comes. I am not proud of this and we rock and shore anglers especially are mostly far too macho and ignorant and stupid about all this - “it’s never going to happen to us”, but of course it does. I am not trying to change how I go fishing, but sure as night follows day am I adopting and learning about various measures that are designed to help me have the best possible chance of coming back home to my family if something does go wrong when I am out on the rocks especially.


We managed to find out what does actually happen when you go in the water wearing waders (holy cow is there some amount of crap speculated about this!), and there are differences depending on the type of waders you are wearing, but to be honest it’s not the going in with waders and staying afloat if you are wearing a lifejacket that’s the biggest problem here - more on this further down the page. Contrary to some crap that I have read and heard, you don’t simply sink like a stone if you’re wearing waders (and yes, I was the first tit to jump in yesterday - in my fishing gear, with waders, but without a lifejacket), and then, as somebody said on my Facebook page: “Your waders fill with air and turn you upside down”. Another load of crap, but this shows how little we know about what happens when you end up in the water in a pair of chest waders. I know a hell of a lot more now, put it that way.

I can’t get away from the simple fact that we were in a great big training pool yesterday which was in fact 18 degrees (they don’t heat it, so by pure luck if you like we weren’t going into much colder water which is of course a whole subject on its own - cold water shock) and we were not worried at all for our own safety because it’s the RNLI and there were safety divers in the pool with us all the time. But we did as much as we could in what was a safe environment while a film crew worked around us and asked us questions on camera all the way through our going in and coming out of the training pool experience yesterday. In due course we will get access to a bunch of videos that will show what happened and I will get those out there.


The first time I jumped in I was in my regular fishing gear (breathable waders, wading boots, wading jacket and lure bag as I would normally wear it, plus a lure rod in my right hand) but not wearing a lifejacket, the pool was flat calm, not that cold, and to be honest it was ok - I then hauled myself out, they got the wave machine going, and I jumped in again, with no lifejacket again, and if anything feeling a bit smug that the first time around it went ok. Holy cow it’s a whole different story once there’s a bit of sea……...

And as safe as the environment was yesterday, let me tell you how bloody horrible it is when you are in the water and now you’ve got water breaking into your face and in no time at all you start spluttering and gagging and spitting and you can’t get enough air in your lungs before getting water in your face again and then as safe as you are in the tank you’re already getting tired trying to stop water getting in your face and down your throat and in no time at all you’re not thinking straight and you want the hell out of there and I went for one of the ropes at the side of the pool because it was so bloody horrible - and that’s in a controlled talk and the water wasn’t even very cold. I dread to think how bloody horrendous and scary and panic-inducing it is in real life when you get washed clean off the rocks into cold, raging water. I make no pretense and I am sure the video will show it - it was not fun at all.


I am not here to tell anybody what to do, but because this is my blog and I have decided to grow the hell up and start actually dealing with the safety issues that so many of us face when we go out fishing, I am going to write about it in the hope that I might in some way get through to a few anglers and/or maybe help some anglers to at least start thinking about all this. I resisted the whole issue for years, and yesterday helped confirm to me that what an idiot I have been. Wear one or don’t wear one, but the unavoidable fact is that wearing a (not very expensive and remarkably easy to wear) lifejacket when you are out shore fishing is one vital part of the end goal that is trying to give you as much time as possible  to survive if you were to end up in the water. It is categorically not a guarantee of survival if you wear a lifejacket, but sure as shit it’s giving you more time. If you want a guarantee of survival then I would suggest you should not be going fishing.

But I must come back to waders - as I alluded to somewhere above, if you are wearing a lifejacket and go in wearing waders, then it’s not actually being in the water in a pair of waders that becomes the main problem. Going into cold, potentially rough water and dealing with the shock and panic of that is far more of a problem, because even when your waders fill up with water you are not suddenly going to sink like a stone - the water in your waders is the same water as that outside of them. Different kinds of waders cause different kinds of issues when you are bobbing around, but there’s another issue here that I don’t ever see being addressed………..


Because I expected to see the benefits of wearing a lifejacket as opposed to not wearing one on Monday, and I did, the single thing that scared me the most was how hard it was to get out of that RNLI pool when my waders had filled up. Without a doubt a wading belt done up properly helps to slow the water filling up your waders, but it doesn’t stop it - that is a fact, period. If you went in and managed to somehow get out really fast then if your waders are not too full you should be ok if a bit of climbing up some rocks or whatever is required (and yes, on a beach you would hopefully be able to kind of beach yourself - whale ahoy with me!), but if you’re in the water for a while which then means you are potentially cold and stressed and fast losing your strength because of how hard you are needing to work to keep as much water out of your airways as possible, well let’s say for now that I am seriously having to explore some alternatives to chest waders, or at least finding the best way to cut them the hell open in order to get a load of water out of them.


The RNLI put down some kind of cargo scrambling platform to simulate it being hard to get out of the water - the ladders in the corners were doable, but when did you ever see a nice ladder with nice handrails on your fishing spot? It was hard to get my wading boots into the slots on the cargo net thing, but imagine how hard it is with wet, slimy and sharp rocks. The first time I jumped in to try getting out like this and I was in my fishing gear and not wearing a lifejacket - and whilst awkward, it was just about doable. I jumped in, orientated myself because by then I had learnt that you very much want to keep your feet down when wearing waders in any kind of chop, and then I turned for the cargo net, swam as well as I was able, and just about managed to haul myself out. Bear in mind that the water in my waders was only up to my knees and it was difficult enough.

The RNLI asked me to jump straight back in so that I filled up a bit more in my waders and of course I am now a bit tired from the effort involved with getting out a minute or so ago. So I did - I jumped back in and stayed in place as best I could while the choppy conditions chucked me around a bit and my waders began properly filling up and I got that bit more tired from trying to keep that horrible bloody water out of my airways. It might not sound remotely tiring by the way, but it’s frigging scary how fast you expend energy in the water. I then just about managed to make my way to the cargo net.

Somewhat easier getting out of the water with a nice ladder!

Somewhat easier getting out of the water with a nice ladder!

But try as I might I could not get myself out of the water - from the surface of the water in the pool to dry land was only one metre, but I just could not lift myself and my full waders up that cargo net and out of the pool, and as I subsequently found out after one of the kind safety divers had helped get to the nice and easy to use ladder in the corner of the pool, the effort involved with me trying to get me and my full and by now ridiculously heavy waders out of the pool put my back out a beauty which was rather lovely for the drive home and getting into bed on Monday evening! Talk about a wake up call, and it’s something that I am already starting to look into because so many of us wearing waders and not having a bloody clue about what might really happen is not right at all.

So there you go for the time being. What a fascinating day that has given me cause to think about so much now - my profound thanks to the RNLI and of course the three anglers who gave up their days to come along. Lots, lots more to come…………..