They say the best life jacket is the one you'll wear.
And although we've come a long way from the bulky orange life jackets we wore as kids, many personal floatation devices (PFDs) remain restrictive for the active fisherman.
But not the Mustang Survival Competition Inflatable PFD which was designed for tournament fishermen. In fact, you've probably seen your favorite bass pros wearing them on weekend fishing-tournament TV shows (That's Arkansas pro Mike McClelland in the photo above). Enter North American Fishing Club's "Share it, to Wear It" Facebook sweepstakes, and you'll look like a pro while staying safe on the water.
NAFC and Mustang Survival will award one Competition Inflatable PFDs ($290 MSRP each) to two lucky Fishing Club Facebook fans this month. One winner will be randomly selected from all the sweepstakes entrants; one winner will be randomly selected from all the fans that SHARE the sweepstakes post with their friends. Hence the promotion's name -- "Share It To Wear It!”
I fished wearing a Mustang PFD for the first time earlier this year and found it remarkably comfortable. On all but the hottest days of the year, a fleece vest is a staple in my wardrobe. And on the water, a Mustang PFD is hardly more restrictive or encumbering than my favorite fleece.
I spoke this summer with two anglers who spend a lot of time on the water in Mustang PFDs -- Mike McClleland and Bassmaster Elite Series weigh-in emcee/“Facts of Fishing” TV show host Dave Mercer, recording this video for FishingClub.com. (To view the video, click the link above, or wait until you’ve read to the end of this blog. The video is embedded there, below my italicized tagline.)
And although I had some fun making the video with McClelland and Mercer – the latter oft-referred to as “fishing’s funnyman” – we all agreed that boating safety is no laughing matter. And later, as I thought more about the benefits of a state-of-the-art PFD so comfortable you’ll likely forget you’re wearing it, I was reminded of a 2007 mishap in which a forgotten PFD could have proven deadly:
The Final Voyage of the Maybe Baby
I worried about it the entire drive to the lake.
If you know me, you wouldn’t be surprised. I'm an infamous worrywart.
I'm also an infamously bad-luck boater. At the time, the only vessel I owned was a 1959 Larson Pla-Mate runabout that came to be nick-named The Maybe Baby, an homage to the Buddy Holly song of the same era and the boat motor’s frustratingly intermittent functionality – on any given excursion, maybe the 1960 Johnson Seahorse would work,
maybe it wouldn’t. I think I paddled it back to shore more times than I piloted it.
On this day, however, I was not worried about the Baby's motor. My most recent fix had yielded a surprising string of flawless performances.
I was worried about our PFD situation. Too far down the road to turn back, I realized I had packed only three life jackets. My crew on this day was a foursome – me, my wife and two friends. In my mind’s eye, I could see the missing fourth PFD, hanging in the garage where I’d left it to dry a week before.
I fretted. I couldn't bench someone on the beach.
Too embarrassed to admit my error and turn back – or make a long side trip to a sporting-goods store to buy a fourth life jacket – I decided to forge ahead and run the risk of failing a law-enforcement PFD check.
It never occurred to me I might need the missing life jacket for its intended purpose.
I had grown up in boats. Since I was five, I'd fallen from a boat only once and never swamped a watercraft.
Until this day.
In retrospect, I see I overloaded the Baby, a 14-footer, with four adult passengers, a cooler full of ice, soda and snacks, a six-gallon gas tank and two marine batteries. Still, for all her shortcomings, the Baby had always been seaworthy.
That changed after two ski boats passed nearby – very nearby. The waves hit from both sides almost simultaneously, filling the transom to above the waterline.
I immediately tossed a bailing bucket to my wife in the stern. In less than 10 seconds, however, it was already too late. Water was pooling around her ankles.
"Over the sides," I yelled from the driver’s seat, where the water was already beginning to pool at my feet, the Baby’s red, fiberglass nose beginning to tilt skyward.
“Put these on,” I hollered.
Like a blackjack dealer slinging aces, I whipped the three life jackets to my crew, which bobbed in the waves, dog-paddling, sodas still in hand, shocked looks on their faces. We had not been wearing the lifejackets. But they were readily accessible, draped over the backs of the boat seats.
Five feet high and risin’
In no time, water was up to my knees, the boat deck tilting to the point I could no longer stand. Over the side I went, as the Baby sank, stern first. An air pocket in her closed bow likely prevented her from sinking to the bottom.
With no life jacket of my own – again, I saw it in my mind’s eye, hanging there in the garage – I treaded water. Luckily, it was a calm day and I'm a strong swimmer. And thankfully, friendly boaters – a family with two young girls in one boat, a half dozen high school kids in another boat – plucked us from the drink within minutes.
The high school kids were in a boat powerful enough to pull the Baby almost up to plane and slowly tow her back to the launch. The friendly family transported my crew and our rescued gear.
The next few hours were long, hot and tiring. We eventually managed to trailer the Baby and transport her home.
My fishing gear lay on the lake bottom, where it remains to this day.
We all survived, none the worse for wear, and with a great campfire story to tell for years. Still, it could have ended tragically.
According to US Coast Guard statistics, of the 474 drowning deaths in 2006, 42 percent (201) involved boats smaller than 16 feet.
I could have lost someone I loved that day. It would have been my fault.
To ensure your and your crew's safety, pack a life jacket for everyone on the boat. And wear them.
3 out 5 boaters agree …
A 2007 BoatUS Foundation study of California boaters showed that about three of five said that they would wear a life jacket if it were more comfortable.
Lightweight, comfortable and adjustable, Mustang Competition Inflatable PFDs can be worn over a T-shirt on warm days and over thicker garments in colder conditions. With a low-profile design allowing for maximum mobility and a neoprene "ComfortCollar," you'll forget you're wearing it.
The same California study showed that most boaters understand the need to put a life jacket on in bad weather goes. But that's not when most boaters or anglers get into trouble. US Coast Guard statistics show that most boating accidents occurred when conditions were calm (waves less than six inches), winds light (less than six miles per hour) and visibility was good – the kind of day my mishap occurred.
The next life saved could be yours
Mustang Survival's company motto is "We save lives for a living," and their products live up to that credo. The Competition Inflatable PFD, which features Mustang Survival's Hydrostatic Inflator Technology, inflates automatically when submerged in four or more inches of water. Industrial marine workers, Coast Guards, fighter-jet pilots and NASA astronauts use them.
Remember the days when few motorists chose to wear a seat belt? In just a short time, most American motorists have adjusted to using them – largely without complaint – and highway deaths have decreased dramatically. Let’s hope we can achieve similar success on the water by wearing quality PFDs.
The next life a PFD saves could be yours, so "Share It To Wear It"! And even if you don’t win one of the two Mustang PFDs we’re giving away this month, think about investing in a pair or two, or a similar high-quality, high-comfort PFD.
The best life jacket is the one you'll wear.
You can contact North American Fishing Club Social Media Editor “Web Guy Greg” Huff at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter at lazy_ike, or friend him on Facebook at Web Guy Greg. He’s also the editor behind most of the posts on the Fishing Club’s Facebook page and the tweets at @NAFishClub.