Fifty people lost their lives while sea fishing in the four years from 2011 – and most of them were shore anglers who were, to quote the RNLI, “fishing from exposed areas of shoreline.”
Not only is this staggering loss of life tragic, it’s also unacceptable. Failing to take adequate precautions to stay safe while out fishing gives the whole sea fishing community a bad name, risks the lives of the people who come to rescue you, and – worst case scenario – means you never get to go fishing again.
To make sure you don’t become a statistic, check out all the safety advice you can find online. The Angling Trust is a good place to start. And while you’re at it, here’s our guide to staying safe while you’re sea fishing from boat or shore.
You get a buzz from fishing from those hard-to-get-to secret spots using light rock tackle, but you want to enjoy your day and get back in one piece? Or perhaps you love nothing better than standing thigh deep in the surf, spinning for bass? Great. Here’s what you need to do to survive the experience:
- Fish with a friend. If you fall, who will raise the alarm? The minimum unit of survival is two, so if you’re searching out an isolated spot from which to wet your line, always fish with a buddy, and always tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. If you don’t have anyone waiting for you at home, a quick phone call to HM Coastguard to let them know your plans is a good idea, but do remember to tell them when you’re back or they’ll send out a search party.
- Wear a life jacket. Today’s life jackets are comfortable to wear, inflate automatically, and don’t get in your way. If you hit the drink, a little gas canister inflates your lifejacket, and you don’t drown. Why wouldn’t you wear one?
- Wear boots. If you’re clambering over rocks, no matter how hot it is, nothing less than a stout pair of fishing boots will do. Beach casting? Wear crocs – if you tread on a weever fish with your bare foot, you’ll know all about it – the pain is enough to make a grown man weep.
- Wear sun protection. Wearing suncream and good quality sunglasses protects your skin and eyes from sun damage. But it’s absolutely essential to wear a hat. It does more than keep the sun off. A hat prevents you from overheating which is when the unpleasant symptoms of heat exhaustion morph into lethal heat stroke. What’s the difference?
|Heat exhaustion – too much sun makes you dizzy, pale, sweaty, feverish, and nauseous. You’ll have a headache, your pulse might race a bit, and you might throw up, but a cool drink, a seat in the shade, and a lie down at home should see you right.
Heat stroke – sees your core temperature rise. You’ll stop sweating because you’ll have no more fluid left to sweat; your skin will grow rosy red, and hot and dry to the touch; your pulse becomes rapid. You’ll get confused, restless, and possibly aggressive, you may suffer seizures, but as time passes, you’ll lapse into unconsciousness, and eventually die. If your buddy starts showing signs of heat stroke, don’t mess about, cool them down NOW! Chuck a bucket of cold water over them, strip them off, wet them, fan them. Get them out of the sun. Call the emergency services. You don’t have time to hang about; heat stroke kills.
- Be prepared. No matter how competent you are, accidents happen, so always be prepared. If you’re fishing from rocks, be aware that even when it looks calm, swells can sweep unwary anglers into deep water. Take a rescue throw rope with you – not only does it come in an easy-to-handle bag, the bag doubles as a grab handle, the rope also floats, and the bright colour makes it dead easy to see when you’re thrashing about in the water.
- Make sure your phone is fully charged. And carry it in a waterproof case. If there’s no reception where you’re going, consider taking an inshore flare pack and a waterproof strobe light.
- Pack a basic first aid kit. Have enough basic equipment to deal with minor incidents and injuries without spoiling an entire day’s fishing.Be sure to wear appropriate clothing to deal with a soaking, as-well-as a decent waterproof coat which should be brightly coloured because if the worst happens, you want to be found – never trust the forecast, even in summer. Coastal weather changes fast.
- Know your tide times. The coastguard, RNLI, and lifeguard service would have a much easier life if only anglers knew their tides and didn’t get cut off by them. Buy yourself a local tide timetable and learn to read it – remember to check whether your tide table adjusts for BST or not.
Everything you’ve read already applies to fishing from a boat or kayak. If you’re using your own boat, you need to make sure you get your engine (plus your auxiliary) serviced regularly, especially at the start of the season, or after a long layup. The emergency services don’t call the summer the “silly season” for nothing – make sure you’re not the one they’re wrapping in a warm blanket while they carry on the search for your missing crew mates.
- Educate yourself. The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) offer myriad power and sail boating courses run through yacht clubs, and commercial outfits right across the country and beyond. As a bare minimum you should know how to safely pilot a boat in familiar waters by day – check out the range of courses on offer in your area, and make sure you know what you’re doing before you head out onto the blue.
- Carry safety gear. It might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised just how many people get into trouble because they don’t carry any safety gear. If you’re heading to sea, you must carry everything you need to get you out of trouble. That’s everything from spares, fuel, and tools, to oars, plenty of rope, a compass in case your GPS packs up, a comprehensive first aid kit, and an inshore flare pack. On a boat? Always wear a lifejacket.
- VHF Radio. Your mobile phone cannot be relied on at sea, so make sure you invest in a decent VHF radio – either fixed or handheld, and do take the RYA’s radio operator course – there’s no excuse not to because you can do it online.
No matter how good the weather or how confident in your abilities you feel, never underestimate the ocean.
About the author:
As well as being a keen sea angler, Robin Falvey is an experienced surf lifeguard and has been a lifeguard instructor and assessor for the Surf Lifesaving Association of Great Britain. He has worked closely with the RNLI and Coastguard on rescues and first aid incidents at sea and ashore.