side rail test

The life jacket saga

Life jackets may help rock fishers in some circumstances, but only if they’re of a design that allows the wearer to swim and dive under waves (image: Mick Fletoridis)

ON it goes. The trial period for compulsory wearing of life jackets when rock fishing in Sydney’s eastern suburbs has been extended out to May 2018, while there’s to be an independent evaluation of the proposed Rock Fishing Safety Act. The trial commenced in response to 17 deaths along that stretch of coast over the last 10 years. It’s expected that the trial will become permanent, and be extended to other high-risk rock fishing spots, however they’re defined.

The proposal is still as controversial as it ever was. Looking for a simple answer to a very complex problem rarely works. Life jackets are not THE answer, just maybe part of AN answer. Let’s repeat the rock fisher’s mantra:

  • Go somewhere else to fish if the sea’s too rough
  • Wear non-slip footwear: around Sydney, that means metal cleats or spiked rock shoes
  • Wear shorts even in winter, and light-weight warm clothing
  • Buy a water proof jacket that’s easy to take off in the water
  • Don’t rock fish if you can’t swim in the surf
  • If you’re washed in, don’t panic. Swim out from the rocks and float and hope someone calls for help, unless there’s a safe landing point and helpers nearby.

Life jackets may help in some circumstances, but only if they’re of a design that allows the wearer to swim and dive under waves as you would when body surfing.

Picking a suitable design is a challenge, particularly as many popular types already used by anglers don’t meet the required standards. My solution, as a resident of the trial area, is to use an uninflated belt-worn folded jacket, a PFD (Performance Floatation Developments) model Ultra AS4758.1, given to me to trial by a former senior NSW Maritime official. It meets the 150N standard, has an 80-140 cm waist, and is designed for 40 kg and over. I can belt it under or over a rain jacket and if I should end up in the drink, swim out and then inflate it when clear of the surge. Well, that’s the theory.

For me, the right footwear is a far more vital piece of rock fishing safety equipment than a life jacket. A wave over knee deep can knock you flat without it. And, while deaths in any Australian sport are awful, activities such as snorkelling (140 deaths from 1994 to 2006) and quad biking (104 deaths from 2011 to 2016) for whatever reason don’t seem to evoke the same political “find a solution” response as rock fishing has. They’re all risky, but to paraphrase Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, ultimately “life is a fatal condition for which there’s no cure.”




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