By V. Paul Reynolds

Confession. Over the years, when on the water, I have not always worn my personal flotation device (PFD). With advancing age, though, my Type III inflatable PFD gets worn more often, especially when the light salmon chop is blown into a frothing swell by a storm front, or when I am anchored in my canoe on the Big Eddy just above the lower rips.

If you, like me, spend quite a bit of time on the water, you need to ask yourself. If I fell overboard in this boat, could I get back aboard without help? Years ago, probably yes; today, probably not. A PFD can spell the difference in a water survival situation.

Yes, conventional life jackets can be cumbersome and uncomfortable. That’s why I switched to the Type III inflatable vest. It is relatively comfortable, even when worn under my fly-fishing vest. So, I was examining my Cabela life vest the other day at the lake and wondering: “Even if the indicator light in the inflator housing is still green after all these years, can I trust it?”

Looking closely at the vest, I was surprised to see that the indicator light was indeed red. A first! It had always been green before, use after use after use.

“Dad,” my son said, “that jacket is useless. You need to replace the CO2 cylinder. Yank the lanyard and see what happens.”

I pulled the rip cord. “Whooooosh!”

Deployed? I’ll say it deployed, red light or not. You would not believe how rapidly that CO2 charge inflates that vest! You would not want to be eating your tuna fish sandwich or napping in your boat chair when that baby triggers.

The spent CO2 cartridge unscrews easily out of the inflator housing. A few days later Amazon shipped me a so-called “rearming kit.”

This is when the fun really begins: replacing the CO2 cartridge. You would surmise that it would be simply a case of screwing in the new bottle, right? No such luck.

You know that you are in trouble when the rearming kit manual unfolds like the Magna Carta with 10 rearming steps. A feeling of intimidation creeps up the back of your neck. The install instructions are all printed in a font size only familiar to jewelers who engrave watches and such.

I got hung up on Step One: “Install the new bobbin into the inflator housing with the white side facing up. Align the slots on the bobbin with the ridges inside the housing. The bobbin will slide in easily if installed correctly.”

It will? Sir, the bobbin does not “slide in easily.” So, if I am following the instructions why am I not installing correctly? Who writes these instruction manuals anyway?

No worries. My son, who is a trained aeronautical engineer and an airline pilot, will be able to figure it all out when he returns from one of his trips. Meantime, I’ll just need to steer clear of fishing the Big Eddy and stay off Branch Lake when the wind swings in from the north.


The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected].

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