Spending the past 20 years on the river and teaching hundreds of courses to paddlers and rescue personnel, I have seen just about everything attached to PFD's. Some of the items are needed and others are down right dangerous. The PFD's, in the pictures below, were put together by me for demonstration purposes to help us all understand what to look out for. A motto we all need to follow is, "if you want to swim like a fish, then you need to look like one too." No, I am not saying dress like a fish but, be sleek and have a low profile. This is a 2 part blog on identifying Snags and Drags that could affect your capabilities in the water while performing a rescue.
Snags - Where can we identify possible snags on our river gear. Most likely the snags will be found on the Helmet, Drysuit, PFD, or Footwear. Primarily we will be focusing on the PFD. Look at the pictures below. Do you see any issues? Lets review the issues which are in no particular order.
Problem 1: Knives - Knives are an essential piece of equipment so we are not getting rid of them! Preferably I carry a folding knife in my front PFD pocket and before I get on the water I make sure it is the first thing I can grab from my front pocket. It's not a bad idea to carry 2 knives, one for back up!
Fixed blade knives - Fixed blade river knives are known to release from their sheath in the water very easily, especially when they bump something (exp. a boat while being pulled in, another person while doing a rescue, etc.). If you plan on using a lanyard to secure your knife DO NOT use any type of accessory cord like para-cord. We will discuss this more a little later.
Problem 2: Prusik cord on the red PFD wrapped around the shoulder strap. I see this often. This was hard to see in the original picture. This could easily get snagged on debris or a tree limb causing the rescuer a major problem. Keep your prusik's in your pockets.
Problem 3: Unlocked screw gate and key chain carabiners. Hopefully you have learned from now to stay away from non-locking carabiners but, even locking carabiners could be a problem if not locked properly. We should always have a pre-check of our gear before getting in the water and have someone else check it too. If possible keep the carabiners in your pockets or at least make sure they are locked. Accessory carabiners (key chain carabiners) have no place on the outside of a PFD!
Problem 4: The use of accessory cord on the outside of PFD's. I have seen many whistles and knives secured with accessory cord on the outside of PFD's. This type of cord could easily get snagged and put a rescuer in a bad place. The surprising thing is the breaking strength of the cord. Based on numerous tests, the breaking strength is usually MUCH higher than it may be rated. Example - 10lbs (breaking strength) accessory cord, purchased a Walmart was breaking at 400+lbs in some of our tests. Paracords strength is much more...no need to use it to secure your gear on your PFD. If you need cord to secure an item on the exterior of your gear I advise using small diameter bungee cord which does have a low breaking strength.
Problem 5: Tether and where it is clipped. To be honest, I don't see much need for tethers in the professional rescue world. They can be useful for paddling. If you use one, please make sure to attach the tether to the appropriate quick disconnect point on the PFD. Attaching a tether to a strap could become a major concern if it got snagged on a strainer or debris in the river.
Problem 6: PLEASE, PLEASE, be aware of the dangers of PFD's with drag handles or large pouches. I understand the concept, but I believe they could be very dangerous...especially if you cannot reach them.
Below is a picture of one of my current PFD's. There are only 2 items externally attached to my PFD - my whistle and 1 twist lock carabiner with the gate facing inside. The cord holding the whistle is small diameter bungee cord only tied with an overhand knot. I don't have the PFD fully cinched down which is the reason you see some loose straps on the sides.
Part 2 Coming Soon...