PFD's can be dangerous !

As much as we need them, be aware that if you are on a fast moving river with sweepers and logs to duck under, the PFD can get caught on overhanging brush as you duck to get under a log.

I saw it happen yesterday.

The paddler was ducking to get under a log, and didn’t duck low enough to get the pfd under. And it got caught. Luckily it tore the brush that it got caught on and the paddler kept going, but I was thinking it could be disasterious if it was caught on something that didn’t give way.

Lessen learned: duck lower than you think you should !

Jack L

its not the pfd that’s dangerous

– Last Updated: May-05-13 10:07 AM EST –

but the wood itself. Your subject line does make a nice headline and draws interest to the topic of strainers. Wood is something that's on my mind a lot when I paddle. My favorite paddling destination is wv creeks so I often encounter strainers. I've got a reporting site for wv wood, since we were impacted heavily by Sandy and the Dirachio.

Here's a november video shot right after snowstorm Sandy on "paint creek, a cartoon tribute":

Now after my shameless self promotion. Here's what I know about wood.
1) it exists in a variety of environments- swamps, creeks, low water runs on rivers
2) be especially wary after storms
3) what was clear last week may not be clear this week
4) its better duck forward than back (but sometimes ducking back is the only way to get under)
5) practice paddling with your eyes closed- no I'm not kidding
6) secure loose items, straps, minimize snag potential (something I didn't do in the video since my xp has bungy rigging)
7) take a river rescue clinic that simulates bounding over logs in current
8) consider carrying a knife that is readily accessible (so you can cut your way out of situations)
9) be ready to wet exit immediately and fight like "hell" to get free
10) make good decisions about when to scout, carry, plow your way through, or under
11) be up for physical and mental challenges that "wood" imposes

I assume the paddler tried to go under a tree which was above the water. If the tree was submerged or partially submerged, the paddler should not have attempted to go under it for fear of getting into a potential trainer while underwater…

The reason I put that "subject"
was so people would be aware, and you can say all you want about the wood being dangerous. We all know that, but the point I am trying to make is when you duck, make sure you realize that you have to get low enough so your PFD will clear the overhanging strainer since it will be higher then your head when you are bent over forward.

jack L

Heads can be dangerous
If you don’t duck your head enough going under a branch or log.

More often my Panama straw hat has been snatched off by the offending branch than my head, fortunately. I’ve also had my tripod mounted video camera smash straight into an overhanging branch on Rock Springs Creek, which preserves my spatial prediction incompetence on film.

I believe it was Kayamedic who recommended wearing a full face hockey goalie mask when running the upper Batsto river in the Jersey Pinelands, which can be more like bushwacking than paddling in some sections.

Perhaps paddlers could avoid the PFD branch ducking snaggles of woody occlusions by wearing an inflatable belt PFD.

Strainers can kill
Foot entrapment, sneaker laces getting hung up,

any clothing and yes, the PFD itself may cause issues.

Learn to handle a boat to avoid getting near strainers.

Paddle in groups with people able to handle a crisis.


You’re right, Jack. WW paddlers go on
about how dangerous it is to have a big carabiner attached to the front of your PFD, because it might catch on something, but it never occurs to them that the side adjustment straps, or the shoulder straps, or the mesh panels, could get hooked on wood and hold you under.

It doesn’t seem to happen often, but I’d like to see more evidence that PFD makers think about the risk and alter designs accordingly.

Keep a knife or two on you. One on the
front of your PFD attached to a strap. I use the Gerber Shorty because it has a snub nose to keep me from injuring myself. It’s short for the same reason. I keep a much more aggressive knife strapped to the inside of my lower leg to deal with self defense.

yeah, this pretty much covers it
This post on brinestorm pretty much covers it - paddling is dangerous, so either avoid that danger by not paddling (which brings about new dangers from a sedentary life, so maybe we should ban life as dangerous?) or just accept the dangers and do it.

Everything has its dangers. We commonly hear the mantra to not paddle alone, but paddling in groups is not necessarily less dangerous, it just reduces some dangers while adding to others. Yes, others can help rescue you or call for help, reducing those dangers, but having a group increases the risks of someone being incapacitated (more people, so more risk of sea sickness, dislocated shoulder, broken part, etc.), increased risk of group think leading whole group astray, increased chance of someone accidentally ramming or whacking another paddler (can’t happen if you are solo), increased chance that the group will be slowed down by others being slower so not make their destination in time, increased chance of part of the group getting separated from main group and rest of group having to search for them, etc.

I recommend against a knife

– Last Updated: May-05-13 10:11 PM EST –

Shoulder strap cutters are just as effective in cutting a rope in case of entanglement, are less dangerous, and easier to carry and deploy. Here is an example:

There are some things I can do with
a knife, but not with a strap cutter. Like cut through a cockpit rim and through a hull. That doesn’t come up often, but if I have to carry a cutter, I want one that cuts hull.

The problem for me is how to carry an effective knife. Having a straight knife on the outside of a pfd has its own risks.

There aren’t any ideal solutions. Ideally, I’d like a strap cutter, a knife, and an old style Gerber saw.

I have had my PFD get stuck on my chimp (aft deck) pump handle while practicing rolls. Fortunately it happened on a quiet lake as it made recovery and even a wet-exit challenging, since I was pretty much stuck to the back deck. I was able to settle back underwater, and figure out what was going on, and free the pump handle, but for a few moments I didn’t understand why I couldn’t move. There’s not many kayaks out there anymore with the chimp pumps, they used to be ubiquitous.

I have also seen people get their PFD snagged on kayak deck fittings while performing paddle-float and cowboy rescues.

In these cases I learned the lesson of keeping my decks clear of any items that could snag clothing or a PFD (and causes bruises), although I still have the chimp pump on my old Anas Acuta…

Anything on your body (including shoelaces as has been pointed out) has potential risks for entrapment.

Greg Stamer

OK Greg, this old man and I am guessing
a few others would like to know what a “Chimp Pump” is ?

Jack L

agree with you

– Last Updated: May-06-13 10:08 AM EST –

no ideal solutions when it comes to knives. I know of two people who have gotten hurt from wearing knives on their lifejackets. I keep a plastic folding gerber in my lifejacket pocket on some of my trips. It's safely away and easy to unzip to get to but requires two hands to open. I've never practiced getting it out and opening it submerged in the water. That's something to practice in the future.

re chimp pump

Tilley Hats can be dangerous too!
I know of someone who snagged a pretty stout limb with the chin cord of his Tilley hat…talk about not paying attention!! It was a close call. Fortunately the fall out of his boat dislodged the chin cord.


Cutting hull – calling Mythbusters
G2d, as an aficionado of Charlie Waldbridge’s composite lamination tests, perhaps you have the Canoe issues where he tried to cut through decked boat hulls with the popular river knives of the mid-80’s. My recollection is that he could not cut more than a couple of useless inches with any knife before drowning would have occurred.

That’s gotta be the dumbest idea
For a pump location

Exactly why I won’t use my chin
strap around brush.