According to the U.S. Coast Guard, more than 75 percent of the nation's boating fatalities result from a person falling overboard and drowning. Of those who drowned, 87 percent were not using their most important piece of equipment — a life jacket.
Tournament rules require competitors to wear a personal floatation device (PFD) while the outboard motor is operating. But many anglers take them off while fishing, saying they're bulky, uncomfortable, hot or restrict movement. They rationalize this decision by saying they're good swimmers.
In a "man overboard" situation, however, knowing how to swim is sometimes not enough, especially if you fall in while wearing extra clothing, or in cold water which can incapacitate a victim in seconds, or, worse yet, if you have been knocked unconscious.
The only life-saving solution is a PFD.
The advent of the inflatable PFD has removed all of the old excuses for not wearing a PFD. Inflatables not only provide reliable protection in the event you wind up in the water, but they also are lightweight and comfortable enough to be worn all day.
Automatic inflating PFDs are approved for recreational use as Type II devices by the Coast Guard because they are designed to inflate and turn an unconscious victim face up in the water. BASS founder Ray Scott is so convinced that auto-inflatable PFDs will save lives that he has become an outspoken advocate for their use by anglers and boaters.
"The price of an automatic inflating life vest is insignificant compared to what it could cost you," said Scott. "But it only works if you are wearing it. Remember ... you only die once."
As with any piece of fishing equipment, though, there's a catch.
PFDs require regular maintenance to remain effective and operational. Brian Henley of Mustang Survival provided the following tips on PFD maintenance:
• Check the PFD before every trip. The inflator has a status indicator — green means go, red means something needs attention. The Mustang Deluxe automatic inflatable (MD3087) has a safety inspection window that allows an easy check of system readiness.
• Annual maintenance starts with removal and inspection of the CO2 cylinder. Check to make sure that the seal has not been pierced. Replace as necessary with the correct model from the manufacturer. Note that some models have special fittings, and not just any CO2 cylinder will fit.
• Remove and inspect the "bobbin," the triggering device that dissolves when the vest is submerged, allowing a firing pin to pierce the CO2 cylinder and inflate the vest. Over time, the bobbin dissolves when it's exposed to moisture and could be close to being fully dissolved, causing the vest to inflate unexpectedly. It should be replaced at least within three years of the date stamped on the side, or more often if you live in a humid area. Bobbins are inexpensive (around $5) and can be purchased from outdoor specialty stores, marine dealers or online retailers.
• After inspecting the bobbin, rinse the exterior with fresh water. Inflate the PFD using the oral inflation tube and leave it inflated for 12 to 16 hours to check for leaks. If leaks are found, do not try to patch them yourself. Contact the manufacturer for repair information or to find out if you need a replacement.
• If you end up in the water with an inflated PFD, or if yours goes off accidentally, it can be easily rearmed.
Rearming kits can be purchased with a new CO2 cylinder and bobbin for around $20. Carry spare kits for each inflatable on board so that if a vest inflates it can be quickly rearmed and the wearer can safely continue his or her activities.
• If you have not checked your PFD in two or three years, Henley advocates replacing the bobbin and cylder anyway. Then, with a waterproof marker, record the maintenance date on the tag inside the vest, and refold and secure the Velcro closures.
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