Stevie Reid, Greys' Pro
As the new season is almost upon us, I think we should step back and look at some of the tragic occurrences that have taken place last year and in fact the last few seasons. It's not just rivers than claim anglers lives; quite a few have been drowned falling from boats or by the boat capsizing. I personally think we are on countdown for compulsory life jackets when either boat or river fishing. Quite a few of the larger stillwaters and river beat owners have already put steps in place to either wear a life jacket, or kindly leave. With the modern, ultra lightweight and compact automatic life jackets on sale now, there really is no need for complacency on the anglers behalf. It can and may happen to you - they said the Titanic wouldn't sink!
I have witnessed a growing number of anglers wearing waders in boats - a great idea in principle if the weather forecast is not looking favourable, but very worrying from a safety point of view. In late summer of last year I did some testing at the fishery with an assortment of waders and jackets and here's what I concluded.
First of all a set of boot foot neoprenes, normal underclothing and a fleece were adorned and a dive into deep water from a moored 16ft wooden clinker boat (in front of trained safety staff) was made. Even with a warm air temperature the first thing that was very apparent was the sudden shock of the cold water (17 degrees C, felt more like 7). The initial shock seems to make you draw breath sharply, even with me expecting it. I initially tried to pull myself back on board but this proved impossible. I have a strong upper body and weigh only 12 stone but still couldn't heave myself into the boat - the more you pull, the deeper you seem to pull the boat down. The best idea was to either settle and have an assistant pull me onboard (taking great care not to tip the boat as he pulled me in to it) or simply hold on to the boat and have him paddle ashore where I could walk to safety. I swam to see what it felt like - again, I'm a very strong swimmer but wouldn't like to have gone any real distance, especially if I had been facing a current. If you try and swim too fast, the neoprene waders fill up with water making it even harder to manoeuvre.
Next up was breathable waders (fitted with a belt) and a fleece jacket. Once again a bit of a shock on entry though much easier to swim with but still not able to climb on board. The same waders with the wading jacket inside the waders gave almost identical results with a little less water in the waders when pulled down - probably due to the tighter fit of the jacket under the waders.
Last outfit was a wading jacket over the waders, belt under the jacket and cuffs fastened nice and tight. Boy, what a difference! Into the water I went, swimming to the edge much easier (even after 3 or 4 previous energy sapping jumps) and when the waders were pulled down I was very pleasantly surprised to see almost no water in the bottom of the legs. An astounding result - definitely the easiest to swim and safest outfit in my test.
If I could give anyone any advice it would be to wear a life jacket of some sort. Failing that, tog up as per the test results and in the unfortunate circumstances that you find yourself falling overboard try and stay as calm as possible, hold on to the boat and paddle ashore. If you take a dip whilst wading, again try and relax and don't fight the current, let it carry you and paddle towards the shallower water until you can stand up and walk out. Many years ago Arthur Oglesby carried out a similar test on a river, jumping in fully clothed with waders on, he demonstrated the method of lying on your back, letting your feet rise and ‘skull' with your hands working towards the bank. Don't be this season's tragic story, think safety.