John Bailey: Have fun but be careful

I was recently out with great friend Mr Ragi, who comes fishing with me to India every year.

He hooked what was evidently a big carp and made his way out to the fishing platform to better play it. I, as the great guide that I am, went out with him along with net, camera and plenty of moral support. I was halfway to his crouched figure when I was aware of a dull, scrunching sound, not unlike the moment Titanic hit the iceberg – if we are to believe the film makers. I didn't have much time to think about it. Within a millisecond, I was in the drink, in 14 feet of water plummeting down like a method feeder.

All was murky. I kicked off bottom and bobbed back up like a cork only to find Mr Ragi still bent into his fish even though he, too, was treading water. We finally managed to backtrack a few yards towards the bank where we could stand on a ledge about five feet deep, maintain balance, play the fish and finally land it.

We dragged ourselves out in a totally sodden heap, spluttering with excitement, buzzing with adrenaline and delighted with a fish that was only a fraction under 30 pounds in weight and whose beauty made pounds and ounces totally irrelevant. Then and there, we drove down to the pub, dried out in the sunshine and told the story to anyone who cared to listen. It was a triumph and a tale we will tell to our even older age. However, though, it could have turned out very differently indeed if one of us had banged a head, for example, or found a foot tethered in a rope and, there's also the question of my totally ruined Nikon 200.

So perhaps this is an apt piece for the summer holidays now that all our kids are out of school and, hopefully, roaming the countryside. It's sobering to remember that one second everything is fine and there is not a cloud in your sky but within a millisecond your world can be turned upside down quite literally.

Kids, or adults going with kids to the waterside, it's always good to have some rules. There's no running or shouting on the waterside simply because you need to keep everything calm, everything under control. The more hysterical things become, the more chance there is of someone tripping, falling, pushing and inevitably ending up in the drink.

It's obviously a huge issue to be able to swim. No-one should rely on swimming ability alone to get out of a tricky situation but it sure helps. Personal flotation devices – or whatever their politically correct name is these days – should be taken seriously. You can buy them now so light, so compact, so efficient that you barely know you're wearing them. I've got a couple stuffed somewhere in the attic which is pretty stupid of me. Had Ragi and I been wearing them I might even have saved my camera as the things do inflate automatically.

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A lot of it, of course, is common sense. You're very aware of what the bankside is like. You take particular care if the banks are wet and greasy or, in the winter, slivered with ice. Accidents still happen though, so, what if there's someone suddenly dunked close by? Don't panic. Chances are the waterborne one will be in comparatively shallow water and able to stand. If so, simply help out as soon as possible!

If the water is deeper, very frequently a landing net with a stout, extendable handle will do the job. I'm not saying, note, that you land the wet one but that he or she holds on to the net whilst you pull them to safety. It is vital that when you are doing this you are lying on the bank, feeling totally secure. In his blind panic, a victim can easily pull you in if you are standing or at all unstable.

Failing all this, look for a buoyancy aid of some type. Obviously, a ring is the favourite but not all waters have them or have them close enough. I'm a bit of a Kelly kettle man and frequently have with me a large, water container. This sort of thing is ideal providing it's attached to a rope. Throw out to the struggling angler, instruct to take hold and pull ashore. It sounds easy which isn't always the case but this type of approach has worked thousands of times over the decades. Remember that rope though. In dire emergencies the rope alone will often suffice providing the one in the water is calm enough to grasp the end.

You might be fortunate enough to have a boat nearby. This can be a lifesaver in dire emergencies but do remember to pull the struggling one over the back of the boat and not over the side if you want to avoid the danger of tipping the boat over altogether. Note well, that of course, if the boat has an engine running, you switch it off!

You will notice that the one thing I have not recommended is jumping in yourself. This, really, should be the last option once you've made a very quick assessment of the situation and found it is the absolutely only thing to do. Do everything you can to avoid this last resort and consider it only if you are a strong swimmer. Remember a lot of would-be rescuers are tragically lost through their bravery.

I repeat again, don't panic. I say this because I learned this lesson early back around 1960 or perhaps 1961 at Cley sluice gates. The cry had gone up that a little girl had fallen into the deep water there and my father, a sailor in the war, and a very powerful swimmer immediately began diving. Even at that tender age, I knew through my fishing how water works and I realized that the tide had begun to turn and in all probability the little girl was nowhere near where my father was expending his efforts. Consequently, thoughtful little chap as I evidently was, I wandered upstream until I found her floating on the first bend. I hollered my lungs out and she was soon hoisted onto the bank and spluttered back to life. I remember enjoying being the hero of the hour and being bought at least one ice-cream too many.

Finally, as anglers, make sure that all your gear, cameras and the like are fully insured. I'm glad my Nikon kit was with the NFU and I found the Holt office, Nicola in particular, absolutely great at sorting out my claim. Sadly, I'm not in the NFU's pay but credit where credit is due and this serves as a timely reminder to all of you to check your policies and the cover you've paid for.

Remember, danger never goes on holiday! I love that jingle and wish it were my own. It's not though. It belongs to that most charismatic and knowledgeable of guys, James from Norfolketc who, in teaching hundreds of kids to sail each and every year, evidently knows what he's talking about.

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