Rock fishing safety – a personal responsibility.

Being washed off the rocks is something every angler dreads the thought of. Accidents happen and wearing a PFD is good commonsense. Tragedy can strike out of the blue …Dave Seaman gives his thoughts.

 A lifejacket is essential if you plan to fish alone, though it is dangerous sometimes fishing alone is unavoidable. Waterproof mobile phone cases are a great bit of kit!

A lifejacket is essential if you plan to fish alone, though it is dangerous sometimes fishing alone is unavoidable. Waterproof mobile phone cases are a great bit of kit!

Rock fishing safety is a contentious issue. It is touted as the most dangerous pastime in the country and rock fishing has, for a long time, drawn its detractors and advocates for better policing of safety for anglers. A suggestion for anglers to wear PFDs (Personal Floatation Device) has come from the spate of drowning inquests that have been linked to fishing activities along the coastal fringes. As we all know, once you start to threaten legislation or regulation on recreational activities, arguments and resistance will surface amongst those it’s meant to protect. There is a legitimate argument for regulation in that the impact of rescue or recovery puts others in danger and fatalities from the rocks have a devastating ripple effect on families and community, as they do with workplace and road deaths and accidents.

   Gumboots  on the rocks are great until you get washed over or into the water. They serve as anchors and are impossible to swim in.

Gumboots on the rocks are great until you get washed over or into the water. They serve as anchors and are impossible to swim in.

It was once said there are three kinds of lies; lies, damn lies and statistics Like any statistical information you need to analyze the basis of that information collected and relevance to the situation. I’m not convinced the statistical basis for rock fishing being the most dangerous sport is entirely accurate. It is a rare thing for a seasoned rock hopper to be a victim in the statistics and it is more likely the most inexperienced anglers that succumb to the sea due to fundamental safety element of judgment. Of course if you ask the right questions of the wrong people you’ll get a distorted result of the real dangers of rock fishing. There is no doubt it can be dangerous, so can driving on the roads if you don’t modify your driving in adverse conditions.unspecified-6

Seasoned rock fishing anglers the dangers are tempered by commonsense. They know where to fish, when to fish and how to avoid putting themselves in a situation that heightens the risk to their safety. Over the past 4 years there has been a reported 37 deaths attributed to activities on the rocks along the NSW coastline. These figures in themselves are alarming and any loss of a family member from the rocks is tragic. Many of the fatalities were poor swimmers, and inexperience lead them to fish in dangerous locations and in adverse conditions so what’s the answer? Education seems to be wasted on those most at risk due to language barriers and policing any regulations that may be brought about would seem logistically impossible to achieve with any consistency. I take the view that no one is responsible for my safety other than me. It’s my life and I will protect it as far as humanly possible while fishing from the rock or anywhere for that matter. It is also why I choose to wear an auto inflating PFD when I fish from the rocks. I have had some close calls in the past 30 odd years of rock fishing and I’m not as young as I used to be. I can’t swim as well as I could, my muscles and bone have fifty years of wear and I have a responsibility to my family to be safe. The danger doesn’t just stem from the ocean waves knocking you over. Trips and falls on slippery or irregular rocks have all contributed to injuries and anglers falling into the water, not just being washed from the rocks. It is the nature of the environment we fish and the expectation that we may end up in the water is ever present.

  Slim auto PFDs are easy to fish with. Where heavy water spray from the wash wets you, wear the PFD under your wet weather jacket. It will still deploy when if you hit the water.

Slim auto PFDs are easy to fish with. Where heavy water spray from the wash wets you, wear the PFD under your wet weather jacket. It will still deploy when if you hit the water.

So why an auto PFD? I guess the pessimist or contingent planning part of my brain realizes that when you go into the water you don’t just get wet. If you’re knocked over by a wave and pummeled you suffer debilitating injuries that could hinder movement of limbs or you could even be knocked unconscious. If you enter the water in an unconscious state without buoyancy you drown. If you are unconscious, you are incapable of pulling the inflate cord of a manual PFD and if you’re not wearing a life jacket with collar support or auto inflating PFD, the result is likely the same; drowned.Many years ago a friend of mine was fishing the rocks near Nelson’s Bay and the ocean was like a duck pond with a simple rise and fall of the sea, up the face of the ledge. One wave breached the top of the ledge he was fishing on and flooded it with less than knee deep water; no real danger. As the water drained from the ledge a missed footing saw the receding water shift his legs with him falling backward, he hit his head, rendering him unconscious, and was then rolled, by the last of the wave, off the ledge into the ocean. He sank out of sight quickly, drowned, and his body recovered a few days later by divers. It was not a dangerous situation, no adverse conditions, it was purely an accident. Had he been wearing an auto vest things would have been vastly different and the heart wrenching grief that filled the following weeks, perhaps, could have been averted.


I have heard some people argue that a PFD would hamper swimming and make it difficult to push beyond the crashing waves to calmer water. It may be so, but if I were in a situation where the PFD was a hindrance and I was capable and confident of swimming, fully clothed and with no injuries, I’d also have the option to take the PFD off – but if I did so I think I would halve my chance of survival. There is no sense in making a survival plan to swim out from the rocks to the nearby beach when the theory of the plan and reality of the execution of that plan, can be so vastly different. Remember your buoyancy is reduced in the wash and bubbles created by the wave action and as a result more effort is required to stay afloat than it would if you were in standing or still water. The added washing machine effect of the wave surge will also increase the imminent fatigue suffered in the struggle, so a PFD of some kind is just commonsense.

Ideally the answer is to stay out of the water and take no risks that could jeopardize your safety, but accidents happen and we need to be prepared for the worst case. Wearing a PFD fishing from the rocks is something you get used to pretty quickly and it will help reduce, not eliminate, your risk of dying, while participating in an activity that needs no further regulations. Perhaps the first step in rock fishing safety is to carry a PFD with you, assess the likelihood of being washed in and use discretion and experience as judgment. Anyone with years experience on the rocks will tell you that sheer luck has played a part in the handful of incidents witnessed and has been the difference between survival and tragedy. A PFD would have made a difference in those cases where luck abandoned the victim, no doubt.

David Seaman

About David Seaman

David was born in the Riverina town of Wagga Wagga and was introduced to fishing and his first catch at the age of 4 along the banks of the Murrumbidgee River. At 14 he secured a regular column with Fishing News and a year later had his first article published in Fishing World. It’s been almost 4 decades since David penned his first publish article and through those years has contributed to almost every significant fishing and outdoor publication, both freelance and commissioned.

David was the first fishing writer in the country to regularly incorporate underwater images of fish, lures and habitat in his articles to better illustrate the world of the angler and the fish they chase. As a writer/photographer and illustrator David has worked on many collective works such as Better Fishing series, ABT Tournament Guide, How to fish with Dick Lewers, and magazines such as, Saltwater Fishing, Sport Fishing, Freshwater Fishing, Modern Fishing, FishLife and produced and filmed the acclaimed Wild River Bass DVDs.

David’s cameras are as much a part of his fishing gear as his rods and reels, and he strives to push the creative boundaries of his photographs, above and below the water.

David is brand advocate of Abu Garcia, Berkley, Lowrance.

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