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Good Fishing Trips are a Safe Ones

The author takes inflatable life vests on every fishing trip. These vests are so lightweight you hardly know you’re wearing a PFD. • Credit: Mark Romanack
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Good Fishing Trips are a Safe Ones

What You Need to Know About PFDs and Safety Gear

It's an unfortunate but indisputable fact. . .anglers are notorious for not wearing a PFD (personal flotation device) while fishing. When authorities ask anglers why they are not wearing their PFD, the most common reply is that most flotation vests are bulky and uncomfortable to wear. It's true that many PFDs are uncomfortable. Traditional Foam Type III flotation vests are long on function but short on comfort.

Anglers who own this style of traditional life vest often wear them while the boat is on plane and take them off to fish. This sets up a potentially disastrous situation.

According to both the US and Canadian Coast Guard, most drownings involving anglers are the result of a person not wearing a personal flotation device or PFD for short. Mustang Survival is one of the leading manufacturers of PFDs and on their web page it states, "the best PFD is the one a person wears".


A better option is the newer inflatable PFDs that are designed to be low profile, lightweight and comfortable to wear. How an inflatable actually inflates depends on the technology designed for these PFDs.

Both manual and automatic inflatable vests are on the market. Manual vests require the person wearing the vest to pull a ripcord to inflate the vest. These vests are a good choice for wade anglers, paddle sports enthusiasts, duck hunters and other situations where the person wearing the vest is likely to end up in the water, but does not need to inflate the vest.

fishing411 pfd safefishingAutomatic inflatable HIT technology life vests are the author’s preferred PFD. The HIT technology will only allow the vest to inflate when submerged to four inches or more, eliminating any possibility the vest would accidentally inflate during heavy rain. (Photo credit: Mark Romanack)

The obvious shortcoming of the manually inflated vests is that should the person become knocked in the water and also unconscious, the vest will not inflate.

Automatic-style inflatable vests are a better choice for situations when the user doesn't expect to be in the water such as fishing from a boat, sailing or cruising. Automatic PFDs are available using two distinctively different technologies. Most entry-level vests use a technology that involves a small tablet that when wet dissolves and enables a pin to puncture the CO2 cartridge which in turn inflates the vest. This style of vest can accidentally inflate if it gets overly wet from rain, spray or exposure to humidity.

A more expensive but foolproof inflation technology has been adopted by Mustang Survival. Known as Hydrostatic Inflator Technology (HIT) for short, these vests will only inflate automatically when the vest has been submerged to four inches or more. Special pressure sensitive value inflates the vest when it is submerged and prevents the vest from accidentally inflating due to heavy rain, spray or moisture.

The HIT-style vests are the best choice for serious fishing or commercial use and are approved by the Coast Guard as Type V Commercial and Type III Recreational PFDs. Automatic-style life jackets can also be inflated manually by pulling a ripcord and these vests also have an emergency valve that allows the vest to be inflated by blowing into a small tube.


Every angler needs a PFD when on the water, but there are other important safety items that also need to be on board. When fishing in Ontario's Algoma Country every boater needs to have a bailing device, suitable for bailing water out of the boat should it start taking on water.

Also, every angler needs to have on board a rope with a throwable float attached. Other important safety items include a whistle for alerting others should you need help, waterproof matches, a small flashlight for signalling, and spare batteries for the flashlight.

Safety kits that contain all of these items in a waterproof container are widely available and should be the first thing packed for any Ontario fishing adventure.

The only good fishing trip is a safe one. Taking a little time to make sure all your safety gear is packed and ready for action will provide the peace of mind to relax and enjoy fishing to the fullest. Remember, a PFD can only save an angler's life if that angler is wearing it.

An automatic inflatable PFD is a Coast Guard approved Type III life preserver for anyone 16 years of age or older. (Photo credit: Mark Romanack)

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