Opinions

Opinion: Replace those Old Life Jackets Now

Jillian DeChaine

It’s far too often that anglers take their safety for granted. When work’s done for the day and you only have a few hours to get on the water, it’s easy to forego your life jacket while rushing to your favorite fishing spot. Unfortunately, however, all it takes is one freak accident, one loss of footing or one medical event to change you and your family’s life forever.

Sure; most of us can probably swim. But if you slip and hit your head and become unconscious, you cannot tread water. That’s exactly why everyone—regardless of experience level or age—needs an adequate, properly fitting, up-to-date life jacket. There are no excuses.

A few weeks ago as Wired2fish co-owner and accomplished angler Scott Glorvigen was getting his boat ready for the spring fishing season, he found himself hastily packing the same old and tattered life jackets back into his boat. He quickly realized what he was doing and it hit him hard. He immediately discarded his old life jackets. It’s worth the money to replace these life jackets with new ones.

“It’s so easy to take life jackets for granted,” Glorvigen said. “Anglers will often throw ‘em in their boat just to meet the requirements of their local laws. Consequently, the old PFDs (personal floatation devices) get recycled year after year. Skimping on safety gear should never be an option. We all need to update our PFDs so we always have the best of what’s out there.”

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Routine inspection

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Kyle Peterson
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While it may not be necessary to buy new life jackets each and every year, it's imperative to spend time checking them for wear, functionality flaws and fitness.

"If you run across life jackets that are sunfaded or torn with nonfunctioning zippers or buckles, don't take a chance," Glorvigen said. "Replace them immediately. Also make sure your life jacket fits you well. Whether you have gained weight or lost weight, it needs to fit snug to your body. Not only will it ensure it stays on in the event of an accident, but a close fit may also minimize hypothermia in colder climates."

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Proper fit is imperative

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Jillian DeChaine
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Not only are properly fitting life jackets safer, but they also help children enjoy fishing to the fullest. It's hard enough to keep a young child's attention and when you add an uncomfortable, bulky life jacket to the equation, they may not have very much fun.

"If my granddaughter isn't comfortable in her life jacket, she won't want to fish with me," Glorvigen said. "It's all about getting the younger generation involved, so it's important that her life jacket is comfortable. As our little ones grow, we need to be buying them a new life jacket every year. Poorly fitting life jackets on children is probably one of my biggest pet peeves."

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It's not just about tournament fishing

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Jillian DeChaine
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Thankfully, strict PFD rules are in place for the large majority of local bass tournaments throughout the country. If your outboard is running, most trails insist that your life jacket be on and your kill switch connected to your body. It's also important that recreational anglers follow these same rules.

If you're simply fishing for fun and happen to slip and fall or experience an unexpected medical event, your life jacket won't work if it's stowed away in your rod locker.

"When I would pre-fish for national walleye tournaments, I always wore my lifejacket," Glorvigen said. "Even if I was on the trolling motor and the outboard was shut off. I was always by myself. I would tell my wife that if I ever fell in, she'd never have to worry about me not being found."

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Bring your own as a passenger

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Jillian DeChaine
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While it should be the responsibility of the boat owner to provide adequate life jackets to passengers, things don't always work out that way. To avoid potentially finding yourself in a dangerous situation, Glorvigen suggests buying and bringing your own life jacket when you're a guest in someone's boat. You'll have much more peace of mind knowing that you're safe in the event of an emergency. Remember that life jackets are not one-size-fits-all. You need to have one that fits your body type. 

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Factors to consider when purchasing

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Jillian DeChaine
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When purchasing new life jackets, it's important to consider a few things.

"However many seats are in my boat are how many life jackets I keep on board," Glorvigen said. "It's also a good idea to purchase a variety of sizes for your passengers. Whether you have bigger people or small children in your boat, they need to have something that fits well.

"Personally, if I'm fishing by myself, I prefer a collared foam life jacket. You just never know. Most of the new inflatables are water activated and work great, but I want to know without a shadow of a doubt that I'm going to float."

As you're getting things prepared for spring fishing and boating, don't let the excitement distract you from your safety. Life jackets are just like seatbelts-they're designed to save your life. It's a small but worthwhile investment and your loved ones will thank you.

Editor's note:Please check your local laws and regulations regarding life jacket use. A quick Google search will quickly answer any questions you may have.