Wear a PFD on the water at all times

May 29, 2020

With everyone focused on the virus, we may lose sight of the basic safety requirements we must follow when we go out on our boats. This was brought to light with the first Delaware boating fatality of the year that occurred in the Delaware River close to Augustine Beach. Two gentlemen went out in their boat, which capsized, tossing them into the water. On survived, one did not. Neither was wearing a PFD.

Unless you have experienced how quickly things can go bad on the water, I don’t think you can really appreciate the fact that there is no time to find, let alone put on, a PFD. You must wear your PFD at all times when on the water – period! The new types of wearable PFDs are comfortable, and I have been wearing mine for years in the hottest weather. The type I have will inflate automatically when it hits the water. If that fails, I can pull a cord to inflate the vest. Another type is worn much like a vest and does not need to be inflated. This was the type my boys wore when they were young.

The inflatable PFDs do cost more than the orange ones that everyone has to fill the Coast Guard requirements. Of course, you are not going to wear those all day, so paying more for something that you will wear seems like a smart investment to me. Those orange PFDs will do you no good stowed out of the way in the cute little bag marked LIFE PRESERVERS. PFDs only work when you wear them.

Have you ever heard of a boat and crew missing for several days or even weeks and then found by a ship that just happened to pass them by? Yeah, it makes for a good movie or book, but I promise you, if the folks on those boats had a choice, they would choose to be found right away.

The way to be found right away is to have an EPIRB on your boat. I had one on my 24-Alblemarle when I ran charters, not because I had to, but because it was the smart thing to do when I was going to be 50 or 60 miles offshore in a 24-foot boat.

Strange things happen on boats, and it is not inconceivable that you could lose all power. No motor, no electronics and just drifting out there in the Gulf Stream. If no one comes to your rescue, the next stop is Ireland.

Even worst, the boat sinks, and you and your crew are dumped in the water. Now you really need someone to come to the rescue. The EPIRB will send a signal to a satellite that will give the Coast Guard your location, and they can send help as well as put out a Pan-Pan call to all boats in the area to be on the lookout for you and your crew. Otherwise, you are just a couple of very tiny dots on a very big ocean.

Fishing report

Fishing has been good so long as you stay away from me.

Black drum in Delaware Bay have really put on a show. Fish to close to 100 pounds have been caught off the Coral Beds and Broadkill Beach. I fished from shore at Broadkill Beach Wednesday and saw one small black drum caught, but my sand fleas went unmolested. Boats fishing with hard crabs, clams and sand fleas have done very well working the late evening right up until dark.

Black sea bass have been the other success story. Boats fishing at the Del-Jersey-Land Reef and wrecks in 120 to 130 feet of water have recorded 15-fish limits for all hands on board. Clams, squid and jigs have all produced.

Unfortunately, Gov. John Carney has not seen fit to allow charter and head boats to operate and that has cost Delaware businesses a great deal of money. New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia all allow these boats to sail, but for reasons not made clear, Delaware remains the only state in the region that does not. 

Flounder fishing has improved in the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal. Pink Gulp! seems to be the hot bait right now with the old standby minnow and squid coming in a close second. I have not seen any four-fish limits, but some anglers have caught two keepers.

I did have an interesting report from Steve at Smith Bait in Leipsic. He had customers who fished the Crossledge at night for rockfish and ended up catching several five- and six-pound trout. They were using jigs. Back in the day, we only fished for big trout at night. Could this be the beginning of another cycle?


  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age. Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast. He has been the regional editor for several publications and was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine. Eric is the author of three books: Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits. He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at

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