The way I see it,
safety can be divided into several categories:
Protection of your water craft, tube, pontoon, etc
from damage while on the water
Backup maintenance while off the water
Launching and leaving the water without upset
Weather, water currents, wind - dealing with
Personal Safety: Eyes from hooks & sharp objects,
exposure to sun, wet, cold, fitness to tube
Other large or fast water craft driven dangerously
close and collision avoidance
Situation recovery in the event of ending up in the
water for whatever reason
It is our
responsibility to ourselves, and to other water users, to
take care of these BEFORE we go on the water.
Some of these
issues apply to all small craft, some are specific to the float
Place donut tubes on the ground at the waters
edge, with the fins placed under the tube seat in the "working"
position. Next step into the tube. Slip your feet into the fins,
one at a time, and sit on the backrest while you pull on the fin
heel straps. Pick the tube up by the handles with you inside and
walk backwards out into 18" of water, sit down, clip up the crotch strap
and paddle away, clipping up the stripping apron as you go.
If you have a Vee Tube life is simpler. Put on your fins at
the water's edge, with the tube beside you to rest against.
Place the tube floating on the water in the 4"- 6" deep area,
reverse into the water with your fins on and push it out in
front of you.
When you get to 18" of water sit down and close
the bar, if it has one. Velcro up the stripping apron so
you can't drop any tackle in and paddle out.
To get out, fin gently into the shallows, stand up and walk
backwards out of the water. Sit down and remove your fins. Then
step out of the round tube or open the vee tube and walk out.
launching sites ( mud traps the fins, and you can trip up ) and sharp
rocky launch sites ( scrapes the underside of your tube, and you might push
it down onto a sharp edge with your full weight while getting in and out).
Unsuitable launch sites cause wear and tear on your craft during the launch or exit from the
water. What you want is a nice compacted gravel or sand beach.
When dithering about prior to launching,
let go of it! A breeze from the shore (behind) can easily blow your
unoccupied craft out onto the
water over deep water. This would leave you embarrassed and stuck on
the lakeshore looking helplessly at your tube, and having either to ask a friend to go get it, or else
walk around the lake to retrieve it where it blows ashore.
Personal Floatation Device:
Wear your life jacket all the time. If it is uncomfortable to
wear all the time, buy a better one. Do not plan on putting it
on when you need it.
Would you try putting on your seatbelt during a car
Automatic inflatable jackets are prone to going off in the back
of the car on the way home due to dampness, so a manual pull-cord
I currently use a buoyancy aid fishing jacket which also
doubles as a padded insulating waistcoat. A buoyancy aid gives
lift, but does not guarantee to keep you upright with face above
water, and has no crotch strap to prevent a possible wriggle
out. So a life jacket is safer than a buoyancy aid jacket.
economise with a cheap jacket, your life is worth more than any
cost saving, when the day arrives that the unexpected happens to
Waders: Neoprenes are warm against exposure, and add extra
buoyancy, two desirable qualities - so they should be regarded as
the standard. Thinwall lightweight breathables can serve as a
special use alternative for summer when neoprenes become too
heavy and warm.
In spring and autumn be aware of the fact that exposure is
dangerous. (I think that most death at sea are due to exposure
followed by drowning, where exposure saps energy and takes
away the ability to swim) If you get wet will you still be warm? Wool and fleece stay
warm, whether they are wet or dry. Neoprene is also warm, but
many other materials (cotton) while warm when dry are useless if they get
wet. A down jacket is an example. These materials are not
suitable as tubing clothing. Experienced water folks dress for
the water temperature first and the air temperature second.
Choose materials wisely: wool beats cotton, fleece beats down.
The float tube is a stillwater design:
So use it on lakes! Your water speed is too slow for safe
manoeuvring on fast rivers, so you can be carried under
overhanging bushes against your wishes. And you have parts of
you sticking out underwater positioned to strike against a rock
or snag as you drift with a current. So stay out of rivers in
The pontoon design is much better suited to flowing water since
a pontoon's water speed is quicker, and nothing projects out
below. There are some pontoons specially made for river use.
Also, the problem with pontoons, wind, is not really present on
rivers which tend to be more sheltered from the breeze.
Inflation Air Pressure:
A float tube bladder
should be inflated enough to make the wrinkles in the
cover material disappear, no more. When inflated to 3 - 4 psi, the tube
is very firm,
not rock hard. Try to not over inflate your tube. This shortens
it's life by stretching the stitching, or maybe you could even
burst a seam.
Don't leave a full float tube in the vehicle in summer sunshine. The heat will
cause the air inside the tube air bladder to expand and thereby over inflate your tube,
possibly damaging it. In this situation let some air out so the
tube is only partially inflated, squishy and wobbly. No harm can
come from expansion due to heat then.
Backup Floatation Chambers in the Tube:
If your tube has one main air bladder, make sure to have another
air chamber in the backrest. This means that when the life
jacket is included, you have three systems of floatation. My
current tube has a single main bladder, and I am not happy with
that, so I have the backrest bladder, and also another smaller
backrest bladder in the storage pocket above the backrest, and
my jacket. With 4 systems I'm not going to sink, but I also
don't plan to lose any rods or gear due to a loss of buoyancy.
If you have a single chamber tube with no backrest space (!)
lace an air cushion to the seat and sit on that. And once again
always wear your life jacket!
Don't kick off a fin and lose it:
Tie your fins to your ankles with fin savers. This is a big
hassle avoider. Fins can work loose and come off, or get trapped
in bankside mud and be sucked-pulled off just when it's a real
pain to have to fix them, Pay attention to if a fin works loose,
and simply reach down and adjust it, rather than kicking it off
and losing half your speed and most of steering. Ankle strap
adjustment is far easier to do on the fly while in vee
tubes compared with round tubes.
Wear a Hat:
It is always possible to have a hook hit your exposed head while
fishing, and false casting flies in a gusty wind is a great way
to make it happen. So a hat is necessary.
Also when you are sitting low down near the water surface, the
reflected ultraviolet rays is added to the rays from overhead
and this "double dose" can cause severe sunburn. A peaked
hat blocks the UV from the sky, giving face protection, but
leaving the reflected UV from the water bringing you back to
normal sunlight exposure levels. A peaked cap shades the
face but a full brimmed
hat protects the face, and also ears and upper neck and is better.
So buy a hat with a shady brim, reduced backlight on the lenses
reduces the need for "side screen added" type polarized glasses.
With hooks flying around your head, some kind of eye protection
Visibility on the
float tubes have an area of coloured fluorescent orange at the rear
of the tube backrest. The orange blaze on the back of the
float tubes is so that they comply with US Coast Guard
Regulations which apply in freshwater as well as the sea. This
regulation states that at least 12 square inches of Orange must
be visible. Although it is a local regulation, the common sense
in it is obvious. If other water users are out zooming about in motor boats,
you want to be easily seen.
There is also the fact that light reflected off the water
prevents you seeing into the water, where the fish are. The
glare can be eliminated by wearing polarized glasses, which will
also give eye protection from hooks etc.
Remember that a polarized lens is not a tinted lens. They are
very different. A tinted sunglass reduces the light going
through by a fixed percentage. So you get 80% or 70% reduction
or dimming. Unfortunately with simple tinted lenses, good light and glare
to your eyes in the same proportion they arrive at the lens.
On the other hand, a polarized lens removes a great percentage
of the glare, the light reflected off the water, and leaves most
of the light from above. So the sky stays the same. However the
reflected sky on the water surface darkens. This allows you to see into the water
better. For this reason every angler worth the name should wear
polarized glasses as long as enough light is present to make
them viable, taking them off only during dark rain showers, and
in the evening at dusk. Sight fishing for cruising fish is
almost impossible without them.
Try to prevent light getting in at the back of the lenses,
because it will reflect into your eyes. The ideal situation is
no light at all coming in at the side, and rear, so the lens
surface nearest your eye is darkened, with all the illumination
on the outside. Remember how easy it is to see into a lit up
aquarium from a dark room, compared with looking into the sea
from a brightly lit beach.
Some glasses have polarized side panels to reduce back-glare and
these are good with a peaked baseball cap.
Better still, you wear a fully brimmed hat instead. This blocks
backlight better and this goes a long way to produce the best underwater vision.
I like to be unseen sometimes. My Bucks Bag Bullet tube
is coloured in a camouflage pattern of woodland
colours. Because of this it does not draw other anglers over to my area from a
If I take this tube out on a water with motor craft I stay near
the edges, and away from the middle where they open up the
throttle raising the nose of their boat and reducing their
vision of what lies ahead.
In the event that I should go out in waters where boats are
common I wear a buoyancy
jacket that has a fluorescent red hood which is folded away
the collar most of the time. I open the hood out, and wear it.
In order to comply with such regulations another way, a
float tubing angler can simply tie on one of those cheap safety
workman's or cyclists vests available from builders providers
cycle shops. Tie it
to the backrest D rings in an appropriate way to maximise your
visual impact. It provides the visibility required and
adds virtually no extra weight to your craft.
Tubing in saltwater
full coastguard regulations, and in some places (eg harbours)
the law requires that a visual indicator over a certain height
must be shown.
The normal answer is to fly a pennant on a flagpole. Fit a metre long rod-rest, or old rod tip
with a brightly coloured pennant tied on at the top fluttering
in the breeze.
after dark. Pennants and
fluorescent patches do not work in the night. Get clip-on
cyclists flashing LED light units!
The boating rule is
red on the left (port side, green on the right (starboard) side,
white in the middle on a raised pole.
So the white is easy, Get a bright LED headlight unit - it's high and
in the middle, but is only visible if you face towards an
oncoming boat or shore.
Note that for navigation purposes left and right are usually
calculated for a boat, moving forwards, but
the tube moves
rearwards. So remember that the red
goes beside your right hand as you sit in the tube! Clip them onto the D
rings each side of your tube and you stand out once more no
matter how dark it is.
If there is a boat navigation route - it's
stay out of it after dark, even if you
DO carry lights. Not
every boat owner is looking out as hard as they should be,
especially after they think they are safely away from shore and
it's rocks, and you are quite low in the water.
Communication on the Water:
The problem of bad
visibility on the water for ships was solved long ago, long
before radar was discovered. Fog horns are sounded periodically
by ships, so if you can't see them, you can hear them! If
a specific location requires that my tube must cross the "boat
road" I sometimes carry an air-horn in the soft drinks holder of the
tube. It can be sounded without even having to pick it up by
triggering it where it is .
It's a good idea to carry a whistle clipped to your PFD. Good
are supplied with them. If you get into difficulties
you can attract the attention of other water users. Having it
attached to the life jacket means that even if you leave the
tube you can still use the whistle.
Right of Way
When you are smaller
doesn't matter if you have right of way! Wait till they pass,
give way, always allow more space than seems necessary. Boats
are bigger and faster! Stay out of their way and don't put
yourself into a situation where a careless boater can cause hurt
to you and your craft.
Jet skis are not compatible with safe tubing. Their operators
not look where they are going enough. It is unwise to tube where
jet skis go. If you really must go to such a water to fish, go
at dawn and arrange things so that you are leaving the water as
they arrive. The disturbance they make puts fish off feeding
anyway, so you will not miss any worthwhile catch from your
Mini First Aid
Kit: A mini first aid kit
remains in the tube. I have
mine in a plastic self-seal bag in a small box designed to hold
a bar of soap while camping. When it's necessary, maybe a cut
from a hook point or a pike tooth, I'm glad to have it. Those
little cuts on cold wet skin bleed a ridiculous amount!
Better First Aid
Kit: A better more complete first aid kit
remains in the vehicle. I have mine in an airtight lunchbox to
keep it airtight. The only things I use much are paracetemol
when fishing while I'm not quite well, anti histamines when
irritated by big pollen counts, and the occasional sticky
bandage for a small cut. However, over the years I have opened
it several times for friends and other anglers nearby who were
unprepared, then got a small injury, and had no first aid kit
Get the weather forecast the day before, the night before, and
the morning of your trip. Learn how much breeze you are
physically able to paddle in and stay within your capabilities. Learn
how your local water differs from the general region forecast
due to local features .. more wind, less wind, tendency for
still morning and evenings, and so on.
Launch at the downwind shore, and fin upwind, then the wind
carries you home. Be aware that a strong wind gets the top layer
of a lake flowing in a downwind direction, so you may have to
fin against the wind, and the water flow if you get into the
wrong position, and this can be exhausting. Avoid the problem
before it becomes a problem, by going to smaller lakes on
Don't go out on the water waving a carbon fishing rod/lightning
conductor if there is an electrical storm possibility.
All other things being equal, risk is directly related to
distance from the shore:
you want to fish the far side of the lake. It is safer to drive
around, than it is to fin a long journey across. It is
safer to fin round the shallows, where the fish usually are,
than it is to cross the middle. Safety is dry land when you are
in a water craft. Unnecessarily high distance from dry land is
the same as long time delay from dry land ... it is a higher
risk. Always choose the lower risk approach to water sports , if
you have a choice.
I never leave home
without it. Basically it's a simple bicycle repair kit with a
couple of extras. The plastic bag contains tube patches and
glue, and also wader repair materials. It remains in my car, but
I allow for the possibility of sticking a hook and making a
pinhole while out on the water. For this purpose I carry
polyurethane tape which can make an instant fix to an air
bladder if punctured.
A pinhole is nothing to be alarmed about, you hear the hiss, or
see a stream of pinhole bubbles rising where they should not be.
It will take a very long time to deflate in such a situation.
Just paddle towards shore, and decide while en-route whether an
on the water fix is handier. Most of the time you want to get
back to the car to do a proper job, just so as you won't have to
do it again later, if you do a temporary one now.
The handiest glue for seams, or valve edges is sold as Aquasure,
also as Aquaseal, neoprene diving suit glue, or the glue for
Fishing hooks and knives:
Should be stored in
rigid lure boxes. If you leave them in the tube pockets loose,
sooner or later you will lean on that pocket for support, maybe
just shifting position for comfort, and push a hook
point into the tube for a pinhole leak. So use the lure boxes
and keep your ship tidy.
for bass, mullet, perch:
Pay attention so
that the spiny fin does not put a pin hole in your nice tube.
Play the fish out at distance, then bring it in close. Don't
drag it in fresh, and then have it hopping all over you and your
tube while you try to grab it.