campfire (28K)      John and the Life-Jacket

I don't go on about safety on the water very much on this site. I leave that to other sites, like government-run sites. But my buddy Pete told me a story the other day that highlights the need to wear a lifejacket .. properly.

We were on the Miramichi a few years back, Biff and I were in one boat, and Pete was in another boat with his buddy John. Pete is an accomplished paddler, and he had wanted to share his enthusiasm for paddling with his friend John for some time.

Peter MacLean
My buddy Pete

The water was rather low that year, and there were a lot more rocks showing than usual. For some reason John didn't want to wear his lifejacket. Maybe he was stubborn, not wanting to take advice, maybe he was feeling macho and invulnerable, who knows. Perhaps you've known folks like John yourself.

Pete was ticked off and frustrated with John. After all, above and beyond his worry and anxiety for his friend's safety, he didn't want to have to rescue him if the boat did catch on a rock and they were to go for an unplanned swim. It was a needless risk John was taking, and it meant Pete was in danger as well.

Miramichi River
The Miramichi is a world-class salmon river.

Pete did get through to John after a while, at least to some extent. John condescended to fastening the lower buckle of his jacket, so it hung slack around his midriff. The upper part bulged loosely around his shoulders. John turned around in the bow seat and huffed to Pete, “There, buddy. Are you satisfied?”

So finally, it did happen. They hit a ledge, the boat caught on a lurking rock, spun around and over they went. Pete grabbed the boat before it floated out of his reach, and hauled it to the near shore.

John was in a bad way while this was going on. The painter rope at his end got tangled around his feet, and he was flat on his back in the current. The life-jacket which he had so carelessly half-fastened was jammed around his head, and he sputtered and choked, half in and half out of the water.

Miramichi
Opulent lodges line the lower Miramichi.

Finally, after Pete secured the boat, he was able to haul John into shore. John stood choking and retching for several minutes at the water's edge, to expel the river-water from his lungs and regain his breath.

I hope he learned his lesson. We may never know, because he never went on a paddling trip with us again.

Miramichi River
Pull out on the left above Burnt Hill and scout.

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