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Program Lead, Norm Johnson, of the PHWFF Phoenix, AZ Program shares the new innovative water and wader safety training the Phoenix program has developed.   It’s so simple, yet effective.

“Have you done all you reasonably could?”  It came up in a discussion of volunteer liability but it’s a good question to ask when planning safety of any outings.

In Phoenix we have some opportunities to take our vets wading or boating, and we wanted to maximize safety on those outings. We established a path to “certify” both vets and volunteers who wanted be on or in the water on a PHWFF outing. Our outings typically involve only fishing from shore so if someone chooses not to certify they are still eligible for most outings.  There is additional training as required by circumstances of other outings.


Personal flotation devices (PFDs) were the starting point.  Many people don’t realize how difficult it is to put one on when you’re in the water. We adopted a program policy of requiring the wearing of PFDs on boating or wading outings.  Our certifications (“certs”) are conducted in a pool and come in three parts.

  • Boat Cert”: Put on a PFD.   After a short discussion including different types of PFDs and a demo, they float, maneuver, then swim 40 yds wearing the PFD.  Some vets had never had one on in the water. We use Cabela’s foam PFDs for the pool certs and training, about $10 each if you catch a sale.  We also discuss how to use the belt style used on by some guides.
  • Wader Cert”: After successfully completing boat cert, put on waders and belt and PFD. After a short discussion and demo, get in pool and float and maneuver.  Undo the belt and let waders fill with water. They don’t sink!  Float and maneuver, then swim 40 yds alternating between swimming feet forward and head forward.
  • Free Cert”: After successfully completing the wader cert, swim 40 yds without a PFD.  Sounds strange, but it is an additional measure of capability and confidence we’ll use in selecting candidates for other TBD opportunities such as float tube “certs”.
  • We have run a dozen folks thru all three parts and we’re eating Norm’s Famous Hot Dogs in under 2 hrs.

More on Boats

The boat cert will open a seat for a vet on one of the small rental boats we use.   The drivers (coxswains for you Navy types), be they vets or volunteers, must also have completed the AZ Boating Safety Course.  We have been able to offer an optional “drift boat training”, a chance to get in and out, and fish from front and back, right and left sides.  This stress free intro has proved useful for some with mobility issues.

More on Wading

The cert is a prerequisite for a Wader Training Session on the Salt River where we cover equipment, use of wading staffs and safe wading techniques.  For our actual wading outings we use auto-inflating PFDs, about $80 thru the PHWFF catalog.

More on Float Tubes

We will develop our training program this spring and would welcome any suggestions or course materials you might have.

What do we get out of it?  Another unique opportunity for camaraderie for vets and volunteers, with folks wanting to come back and help at the next sessions.  A fun day for those fully capable, a smile and increased confidence from those who started with white knuckles because they’ve been there and done it.  A very few tire and cannot finish.  They have the option to come back to another session.  For the PL and Trip Leaders, a sense that we have done a big chunk of what we reasonably could to ensure the safety of our participants.

I’d be happy to answer questions or share our cert and training outlines.   You can contact me at