I’d much rather write articles about kayak fishing techniques, success and the latest equipment. Preaching is not my strong suit and this is not intended to come off as such. However, just like tough love programs, sometimes you just have to be direct to save people from themselves. Personal Flotation Device (PFD). Wear it; the life you save will be your own.
As kayak fishing continues to explode as a sport, we are seeing more and more reports from around the country of tragic deaths that could likely have been prevented by simply wearing a PFD. The excuses for not doing so are many. The one repeated most often is “I can swim.” Sure you can. However, intentionally swimming in a swimming pool, with a bathing suit, controlled water temperature, and hard, smooth bottoms is much different than unexpectedly finding yourself in the water under much different conditions. Wet clothing, perhaps cold water, waves, soft mud and other factors can quickly change the game from mere swimming to survival.
First, let’s be clear about the law. While you are required to have an approved PFD on board your kayak, you are not required to actually wear it. The PFD must be in good shape and easily accessible. In a kayak, that’s likely anywhere on the craft except stored away in a hatch. The idea is that you can get to it easily and quickly if needed. It sounds good, but in many situations, it has proven not practical. Water entry from a kayak is usually unexpected and can come from a host of reasons. Waves, big fish, health issue or the all-too-common boneheaded move can happen in an instant. Often there is no time to react. Many drowning victims’ kayaks when located usually contain a PFD that the occupant couldn’t get to.
We could fill pages recounting all of the tragic kayak drownings that have occurred. Louisiana is not immune and has recorded some unfortunate deaths. Another usual excuse for not wearing a PFD is that the angler is fishing in shallow water. The fact is, however, that kayak drowning accidents have occurred on water of various depths, including shallow water. Many areas of coastal Louisiana have muddy bottoms that are impossible to walk or stand. Just because the water depth is not over your head does not mean you cannot drown in it.
No matter the law, most major kayak fishing tournaments in Louisiana have now made it a rule that you must wear your PFD while participating in the tournament or face disqualification. The Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club has enacted this for all of their tournaments and the wildly popular Ride The Bull tournament added the rule last year once CCA took it over. Both have actually seen some grumbling from a handful of participants, but the rule is strictly enforced.
One legitimate complaint is regarding the uncomfortableness of wearing a PFD while fishing in Louisiana’s hot and humid summer. However, it’s just that and is a complaint, not a justification. Certainly a heavy, full foam, PFD vest is like wearing an overcoat in the desert. It doesn’t have to be. PFD’s come in a variety of styles and applications. Many are designed with kayak anglers in mind. For traditional foam-filled vests, many now offer cooler mesh panels with strategically placed foam to offer cooler comfort and movability.
The most comfortable option for light weight, movability, and cool comfort are the inflatable vests and belt packs. With options for manual or automatic inflation, or a combination of both, these slim options utilize a C02 cartridge for inflation and contain no bulky, hot, foam.
The manufacturers are always working to make PFD’s more comfortable in effort to remove that excuse for not wearing one. Expected out later this year, Mustang Survival will introduce the first ever hybrid foam/inflatable vest designed for kayak anglers. The thin foam vest provides neutral buoyancy and a back-up manual inflation cell adds extra flotation when needed. This light weight, low profile PFD should bridge the gap and offer a viable option to anglers looking for a cooler, more comfortable option.
Ask any first responder regarding boating accidents and barring other conditions like physical injury, hypothermia, etc, hardly ever is the cause of death drowning when a PFD was being worn.
As word of the most recent kayak drowning tragedies spread across social media, opinions are strong and varied. Many take the position that they are adults and free to make decisions about wearing a PFD as they chose. Of course they are right. However, is there any satisfaction in being dead right?
A recent Facebook poll asked kayak anglers whether they wear a PFD all the time and if not, why not? Of course there were a wide variety of answers and many self-justified excuses why they didn’t. One response for me summed it up pretty well; “Always. No Exceptions. We don’t wear PFDs for us, we wear them for our parents, wives and children.” Daniel Reach, Ft. Worth, Texas.