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The Life Saver

By Meagan Russell
In Bayou Outdoors
Jun 30th, 2022

article by Dan Chason

We are so very blessed in north Louisiana to have an abundance of water for recreational use.  There are rivers, bayous, ponds and lakes where many of us gather to enjoy water sports and the added bonus of escaping summer’s heat to enjoy the water and cool down.  The problem is that with citizens gathering near and on the water comes the escalated issue of accidents that we read about in local and regional media weekly.  Some of these accidents and drownings usually boil down to one issue:  We become overconfident and do not take the dangers of water related accidents seriously.  I will use myself as an example:

Back in 1990, I was hosting a weekly television show and was pursuing my dream of becoming a professional bass fisherman.  I spent no less than three afternoons and most weekends chasing my dream.  It did not matter the weather or conditions of the body of water, if you were looking for me I was fishing or scouting a lake I was going to fish.  It was a cool March day and I decided to go up the Ouachita River and take my two children.  My oldest son was around 7 and his little sister was 5.  The air temperature was not cold and it was a pleasant day.  The river was high and the water temperature was a brisk 47 degrees.  I decided to check the back water and had found some fish holding on the original river banks.  It was a relaxing and enjoyable day and I was hopeful I could put a good pattern together for the upcoming tournament.  I was fishing near a river lake near D’Arbonne Bayou and was fighting the current to check out my choice spot.  Both kids had on life preservers and I was on the front deck pitching and flipping.  Suddenly and without warning I hit a precarious current that was back flowing which took my 19 foot bass boat and slammed the rear into a tree.  This pushed me the opposite way and over the side into the river.  47 degree water is cold.  I can remember being in the water and watching my boat began drifting south with my two babies aboard.  Had my boat not hung on a group of trees and had I not been in pretty good shape and a skilled swimmer, you would not be reading this today.  Lesson?  In precarious situations, regardless of your swimming skill, it is best to have on a life preserver.  Later in my career, I used to get laughs from fellow contestants as I would keep my inflatable life preserver on even when conditions were not that dangerous.  I kept that PFD (personal flotation device) on me from the time I got out of my truck until was comfortably safe while fishing.  To this day I see folks blazing up and down our waterways with their PFD’s in a storage locker in the boat and not on their person.  Things can go wrong so quickly and that one lesson does not have to be repeated, especially as I have gotten older and I hope a little wiser.

Rivers are especially dangerous due to unseen current and undertow.  But area lakes can be just as dangerous and many fellow anglers can attest when unseen obstructions such as floating logs or a stump struck at high speeds.  But they can also be dangerous and not appear to be so.  Just getting into the water to cool off or to fix a propeller issue with no PFD can be deadly.  Going from the bank into the boat is also dangerous.  Washouts at the ramp, slippery ramps or even a medical issue can turn into a disaster.

Louisiana law requires anyone in a boat under the age of 16 MUST wear a PFD when the outboard motor is running.  One much unknown law is that if you are running a tiller handle motor, all occupants regardless of age must have on a PFD as well as the operator required to have a workable kill switch attached to their body with the PFD attached and latched.  Simple rules and laws that protect you even when it may be “too hot” or uncomfortable to wear the PFD.

So how do we eliminate or greatly reduce this issue?  Number one is ALWAYS wear a PFD when the boat is underway.  The more dangerous the water (such as current in a river, or in low light conditions) wear the PFD.  Your PFD should also have a whistle attached.  The reason for this is to assume you fall overboard with a PFD on.  You are alone and no one is in sight and the day turns into night.  That whistle or any device that makes noise can assure rescuers can find you.  The other issue is alcohol.  The rules of the water are exactly the same as on the road.  It is just as easy to get a DWI on the water as it is on the road.  Alcohol and boating do not mix.  Always have a designated driver who does not consume ANY alcohol.  Never assume that you will remain in the boat when there are conditions on the water that you will never face on the road.  Boating and recreational sports can be a lot of fun.  But they can be deadly.

There was a recent tournament in Texas where a competitor was fishing as a non-boater.  The boat was not underway with a big motor but both anglers were just fishing with a trolling motor.  The non-boater was on the back and slipped, hitting his head on the boat as he fell in.  The angler drowned and was retrieved but sadly was not able to be helped before he died.  A simple automatic, inflatable PFD such as the popular “Mustang” would have most likely saved his life.  This device would have kept his head out of the water and increased his chance of survival, even if it were a medical emergency.

So enjoy this summer on the water with one piece of advice.  Life preservers have one common denominator:  They don’t work unless you wear them.