You wear your Personal Flotation Device [PFD] every time you are out on the water right?
Recently, we had to work through a minor emergency situation on the water and learned a lot of useful lessons for the future. My buddy Chris’ kayak took on water and at over a mile off shore and he was ejected from his kayak. If you didn’t read the full story on that, check out We Got Rescued By The Coast Guard for those details.
My radio was a vital tool in bringing help to us, but the first line of defense while out on the water was Chris’ PFD. From the moment he entered the water to when the USCG arrived on scene, Chris was in the water anywhere from 30-45 minutes. How long can you tread water knowing you have no chance of putting your feet down for the foreseeable future?
This timeframe includes the 18 minute response time from the USCG small boat. The boat crew commented that they were happy with how quick their response time and I agree this is a fast time given all of the moving parts involved in a rescue but if 18 minutes is fast how long is average? Chris could easily have been in the water for 60-90 minutes.
The current that day was faster than we had experienced in the past, but overall conditions were still very nice. Still, when Chris entered the water his paddle and gear were immediately spread out over a wide area around him. I had to paddle my kayak out to get his equipment for him because none of it was within reach or a quick swim. If Chris had not been wearing his PFD, and left it in the tankwell of his kayak like so many do, his flotation would have been at least as far away as the rest of his gear!
When he first started feeling unstable, Chris called me from his cell phone to let me know his situation. At the time of that call he was at least 200 yards away from me, but he had time to alert me of the issue which means I was almost to his side when he finally went in the water. Thankfully, he was able to place that call so aid was there immediately. If we were all hundreds of yards away from each other actively fishing, it could have been quite some time before anyone noticed Chris was not sitting in his kayak as he should be.
My Point In All Of These Details Is This:
WEAR YOUR PFD EVERY TIME
Remove the inital phone call and the PFD from the equation and Chris could have been thrown from his kayak a long distance away from any immediate assistance and would have had to tread water until someone noticed his emergency. God forbid he had gotten tangled in any gear that was headed for the bottom as he rolled and things can get much worse quickly.
You really need to wear your PFD each and every time you are out on the water no matter how far from land or how long you have been kayaking. The list of unknown hazards can go on for a long time, but it is always the issue you didn’t plan for hence didn’t think about that bites you.
You DO Have a PFD Right?
My current PFD setup is an NRS Chinook and this is my second kayak specific PFD I have owned. I love everything about it the Chinook in no small part because it comes in a wide variety of sizes. I am 6’2″ 250lbs, so not a small person and the Chinook comes in XXL which is perfect for me.
The Chinook has two large zippered pockets and one smaller zippered pocket. In addition, it has several smaller velcro pockets on top of these for smaller items like GoPro batteries or lens caps. It also has the standard fast tab attachment point which is where my NRS Titanium Co-Pilot knife is mounted. The titanium model Co-Pilot is a bit more expensive, but titanium does not rust so if you primarily fish saltwater the extra cost is probably justified.
It also has two attachment points for retractable tool leashes, in the picture above you can see my whistle attached to one of them. The Coast Guard requires paddle craft to have a “sound producing device” and an air horn tends to be less than practical on a small kayak. A good pea-less whistle like the Fox 40 can be heard over a mile over open water and is a great choice with minimal size and weight.
The front of the Chinook also has a loop that fits the belt clip of a handheld radio perfectly. It is positioned low enough that my Standard Horizon HX870, which is a larger handheld, fits just fine and the antenna doesn’t interfere with my fishing while keeping my radio handy and on my person at all times.
As with most kayaking specific PFDs, the Chinook has the backside flotation high up on your back with just thin fabric along the lower back. This design is intentional, with the assumption the wearer is siting down most of the time in a kayak seat. As you can see, my seat back is several inches below the flotation of my PFD. This allows you to sit comfortably in a seated position for long periods of time.
Regardless of which specific model you choose, a PFD specifically designed for kayak fishing is worth the cost because you will only wear it if it is COMFORTABLE!
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