PFDs Are Life Savers

Posted on 20/05/15 by Robert Greenwood

Robert Greenwood, Safety Officer at the NFFO explains why wearing a PFD is vital.

In August 2002, I stood in the sun after completing some routine maintenance at the Selsey Coastguard station. It was one of those rare fine summer's days where the sea was calm, the sun was hot and the afternoon breeze was just enough and no more. A call came to the station reporting a man calling for help 200yrds (one Cable) from shore at the Bill of Selsey.

The tide had just turned and was at it's fastest, now moving west at around four knots. We made our way to the initial reporter but realised we would soon be chasing along the shore to try to catch up with the casualty. As we ran along the shore we were inundated with new information as the man was shouting for help loudly, although we still hadn't caught sight of him.

The inshore lifeboat launched and made its way to us, but by the time they arrived the man was unconscious and had stopped breathing. They recovered the man and brought him ashore where we continued CPR for 35 minutes until an ambulance arrived – unfortunately he never recovered. However this was not the end, as there was another man missing. For him the search continued for five hours until his body was found by a fishing vessel at the slack tide, caught up in the anchor of the dinghy they had been in.

The reason for me telling this story is that the first man had drowned on a hot day with a warm sea in less than 18 minutes from the time of the accident. He was wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). He was reported to be a good swimmer and experienced around the sea and its ways – so what happened? It was later revealed that the CO₂ cylinder in the jacket had previously fired filling the jacket with Carbon Dioxide, but unfortunately it was then repacked and a new cylinder wasn't fitted.

A PFD is more than an item of clothing: it is a piece of equipment that requires fundamental care and training to use.

It's vital that all fishermen have a thorough understanding of how to use their PFDs, including how to replace the cylinder and make sure it is in good serviceable order.

The Seafish 'Sea You Home Safe' campaign is a welcomed campaign to encourage more fishermen to wear a PFD. Whilst a PFD won't save every life it only needs to save one to matter to you.

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