Researchers from the NIOSH Alaska Pacific Office asked commercial fishermen from 4 gear groups (crabbers, trawlers, longliners, gillnetters) to rate the comfort and acceptability of six modern personal flotation devices (PFDs). About 200 fishermen evaluated various PFDs for one month while working on deck so that wearable PFDs could be identified. Fishermen evaluated inflatable PFDs and foam PFDs that were either integrated into their rain gear or were worn in addition to raingear. Since deck work and fishing season varies for each gear group, fishermen had different preferences. Each gear group identified PFDs that are comfortable and easy to wear and are currently available for sale. The gear group specific results can be found at www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/fishing
. The key to finding the proper PFD is to try on many to make sure they will work for the specific activities related to your type of fishing. Working on crowded decks and in close proximity to gear make it vitally important that a PFD not become a snagging hazard. Fishermen who work in colder weather may prefer a PFD with more foam padding for insulation against the weather. One thing to consider when choosing a PFD is the amount of care and maintenance they require. Manufacturers' recommendations must be followed to maintain the PFD. Depending on the type of inflation mechanism, inflatable vests must be checked every year to make sure the inflation mechanism is armed (no leaking CO2 bottle, no degraded dissolvable tablet), and that there are no holes in the air bladder (checked by manually inflating the vest and re-folding it). Foam vests, however, only require an inspection of zippers, straps, and buckles, but will still float you if there are small punctures to the foam. Another thing to keep in mind is the availability of re-arming kits for the PFDs. Some remote locations may not have the specific kit for your PFD. It is best to buy an extra one or two before heading out for the season. Find a PFD that works for you! Check out the gear specific evaluations on the NIOSH website, visit your local marine safety trainer to see what varieties they have, ask around the dock to see what others are using. Fishery supply shops carry a variety of models and can order ones they may not have in stock. Check with your local retailer to see what they have and what they can special order.