Sunday, October 4, 2009

Wader Safety – what to do when your waders fill with water

By Sherri Russell

I had the opportunity to meet pro fly fisherman, Jeffery Stainifer and his advanced fly fishing team, during their trip to Newaygo, Michigan, to fish the Muskegon River for salmon.

During my visit with Jeff, I learned many helpful tips on fly fishing and fly fishing safety.  One topic that really caught my attention was wader safety.  I thought that I should share what I learned in hopes that it may save a life someday by educating others...

It starts out like any other day on the river, with the water high and cold. You set out, one foot in front of the other, the current swirling first around your knees, then thighs, then waist. Halfway across, it happens. A rock shifts under your boot, you lose your balance, and before you know it you're being washed downriver, feet first. As the icy cold of the water knocks the breath from your lungs, you have a brief, terrifying epiphany: you're wearing chest waders, so you're going to drown.

Actually, you're not. Not because of the waders, at any rate. Despite the age-old and ongoing belief that waders increase the risk of drowning, it's not any more difficult to swim while wearing them than it is to swim in regular clothes.

What exactly, then, happens when you're wading heavy water and you fall? If you're not wearing a wading belt-thereby contravening safety rule number one-your waders will indeed fill with water and you may experience a brief, and undoubtedly scary, surge of acceleration. Once your speed matches that of the surrounding current, however, the force on your waders diminishes to near zero; you're basically floating drag-free now, as you would in a lake.  Most new waders are designed with a lap belt tightener, which limits the amount of water that will fill your waders.
Your options at this point are two fold: if you're close to a bank and the current's not horrendously fast, strike out for shore, swimming hard; if conditions don't permit a quick exit, float on your back, paddle with your arms to keep your head up, use your feet to deflect yourself over boulders, and wait until a suitable exit point presents itself.  A few other tips that may apply are to get your boots off if possible, it is easier to swim without them on.  Try to pull your waders down off of your shoulders to your belt and try to dog paddle to shore.

The very act of wearing waders can also be said to contribute to accidents, simply by permitting anglers to venture where they otherwise wouldn't-namely, into cold, fast water.

Panic, not air pockets, is the real killer. Typically, people fall in and think they're going to die, so they do.

If you've never wore waders, then, I would seriously suggest that you prepare both mentally and physically to respond calmly in the worst case scenario. All the advise in the world is not going to prepare you for when it happens for real. Only experience and practice will help.

Two suggestions you can do to better prepare yourself for the worst, is to put a pair of waders on and walk into a swimming pool or if you don't have a swimming pool, go out to a river (during a warm summer month) with a friend and purposely fill your waders with water and float down the river for a short while so you will experience the feeling of the water rushing down and filling your waders and practice the motions of floating on your back, paddling with your arms to keep your head up, using your feet to deflect yourself over boulders, and wait until a suitable exit point presents itself. This will help prepare you in advance to deal with a panic situation in more colder waters when the fishing is more plenty.  In turn, being more prepared, you should feel more confident about venturing out in the river to catch that great fish of the day.

Photo courtesy of Sherri Russell, editor of She's So Fly Outdoor News

Know your limits:

1. USE A WADER BELT - it just may save your life!

2. DO NOT PANIC - this is the worst thing you can do and what causes the most fatalities!

3. Wade up to only your hips (water rise fast and waves can overpower you)

4. WADERS DO FILL UP WITH WADER - make sure your wader belt is securely fastened around your waist in efforts to slow down the amount of water that will enter your waders in case you slip and fall into the water.  I have discovered that their are types of breathable waders will suck to your body when wading through water, which is good, because if you do fall, it will take longer for water to fill up in them and will allow you more time to get to safety.

5. Wear a personal floating device (PDF) if possible

6. Read the water, know your surroundings, beware of slippery rocks.

7. If wading in rivers, speed and pressure per square inch is multiplied tremendously in certain sections.

a) Shallow water in a pinched section of river is very powerful, avoid it.

b) Pinched water with a turn or deep pool at the end is to be avoided at all costs. It creates a washing machine effect.

c) When wading heavy water interlock arms, it looks gay but two people become very powerful when they have each other to catch the stumbles.

d) Wading staffs are a valuable asset, even if you need to leave them at the crossing.

e) The fishing generally isn't better on the other side, it just seems that way.

8. Test of the waders for emergency situation. "If you have never experienced what it is like to have your waders fill with water, I would seriously suggest that you put them on and walk into a swimming pool. All the advise in the world is not going to prepair you for when it happens for real. Only experience and practice will help."

If anyone could think of anything else that might someday save a life. Please don't hesitate to add some input.


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eric said...

this information is helpful. Thank you!

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More