As most of you know who may be bothering to read this blog, I am a fisherman. I love to fly fish, bait fish, go clamming, etc. Pretty much any type of pursuit of fish or shellfish is a joy for me. So I do it as I can, as work permits, and I read about it and study it as much as possible around the edges of my busy life.
This past month I've been out a few times in my boat plunking for chinook salmon in the Columbia. Usually by now I would have caught a lot of salmon down in the estuary fishery, and carefully frozen it and packed it away. I'd be pretty much done with the salmon run, more tanned than I want to be, and have my sleeves rolled up, ready to dive back into files and get back to work on the many interesting cases of my wonderful clients.
But this year I was unable to take the time off to get that done, so I'm sneaking out as I can to try to grab a fish or two as the great salmon run makes its way through the Portland/Vancouver section of the Columbia River on the trip to the spawning grounds upriver.
Anyway, the bite has been slow on this upriver gig this weekend, so I am going to take a breather this morning and type up this blog to ask this simple question – Why don't people wear lifejackets when they fish and boat?
Here is why the fact that they don't haunts me. I read the newspapers. There are drownings every year. So many more than there has to be. Almost every account that covers one has a sentence that reads, “He/she wasn't wearing a life jacket”. In the few instances where the story is about a miraculous saving of a near-drowning victim, the sentence reads, “He/she was wearing a life jacket”.
Out on the river, I see other boaters. Fishing, sailing, jet skiing. I see fishing guides out with their clients, six or more in a boat. They wear rain jackets if it's cloudy or raining. But rarely do I see any people with life jackets on. What gives? It's like, being safe is too unglamorous or uncomfortable, I guess.
I don't want to drown. I don't want my wife, son, daughter, or brother to drown. I don't want my friends to drown. Especially on my boat. I have read about it. Read or seen it depicted in books and movies. Try the chapter in “Sometimes a Great Notion” where Hank Stamper's brother got trapped under a logged tree that fell differently than expected and the flood waters were rising. Or worse yet, the description of a fisherman drowning in the book “The Perfect Storm”. But you don't have to read about it to know. You don't want it to happen to you. It's a horrifying experience, one that cuts a person's life unnecessarily short. Every single drowning is a great tragedy. Most could be prevented.
As a boater and a fisherman, I know there are lots of things that can go wrong. And almost always when they do, you don't have time to grab a life jacket out of the storage area under the seat or wherever. In an instant, someone can be in the water, here in the northwest usually cold water that knocks their breath out upon impact so they go straight down into the depths if not buoyed up by flotation.
Years ago I figured this out. It just took open eyes, some closer to death than they should have been personal experiences, and the fortitude to take action. So I went and paid the extra money for comfortable life jackets that will fit the people that go out in my boat. And I made some rules. The first and primary being that nobody gets to step off of the dock and into my boat unless they are willing to wear one of my life jackets. So that's it, everyone, no matter how cool they are, or even if they do think it's slightly uncomfortable or will ruin their selfie photo persona, has to wear a life jacket at all times when they are out fishing in my boat with me. Those are just the rules. They are unbendable. Nobody has to fish with me, but if they do, they have to wear a life jacket at all times when on my boat.
And when I go out on someone else's boat, or fishing on a charter or sport fishing boat when I am on vacation away from my usual fishing areas, even if it is in a warmer climate, I take one of my comfortable life jackets with me, and I wear it.
I hope if you have read this it will encourage you to become one of the camp that always wears a life jacket, even if while doing it you feel like you are a lone sheep in a flock of non-believers.
Life is too glorious. Let's be smart about how we enjoy it.