July 12, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 28

Inflatable suspenders sought as memorial

Jim Szymanski said this week that he and other organizers are more than halfway to their goal of raising $20,000 for inflatable suspender collars for the Haines fishing fleet. Many of the donations are from fishermen, he said.

The flotation devices slip over a fisherman’s suspenders, so they’re always attached, said Szymanski. He launched the effort as a memorial to friend and gillnet skipper Richard “Dick” Boyce.

Boyce was presumed drowned after falling off his gillnet boat last week north of Juneau.

Szymanski, a 35-year commercial fisherman, said he and other fishermen don’t wear life vests. “They’re too hot and they’re too cumbersome. That’s just the way it is. Plus, you can have anything that grabs a net, like buckles or straps. It’s going to be a hazard.”

Further, a busy fisherman isn’t likely to stop to put on more than his boots and bibs, Szymanski said. “As a practical matter, it’s not going to happen with any regularity.”

But fishermen wear rain gear bibs about 90 percent of the time aboard a boat, he said. “If you’ve got you’re rain gear on, you’ve got (the flotation device) on… so it would be automatic. This is about the only thing manufactured that has a practical application to the fleet.”

Szymanski said he’s never seen a fisherman wearing the inflatable collar, but he’s seen them in catalogs. “It’s the first thing I thought of with (Boyce). If Dick had been wearing one of these, we’d all be laughing now. It would be a good story about him falling off the boat.”

Fishing is inherently dangerous, but the flotation collars can at least reduce some of that risk, he said. “This is something that’s doable. It’s something for Dick. I think he would have approved.”

Fishermen can afford to buy the devices for themselves, Szymanski said, but he fears they won’t. “Very few will. Maybe now, after you’ve had this kind of grief and misery and sadness, some will… But it’s the culture. It isn’t macho to wear something like this. Be a real man and think about the people who love you and are counting on you to come home.”

The devices retail at $175, but Szymanski said Stormy Seas, the manufacturer, has expressed willingness to make a significant discount. He hopes to have the ones sent here embroidered, “In memory of Dick Boyce.”

Donations may be made to the Richard Boyce Memorial Fund at the Haines bank or by sending a check in the fund’s name to P.O. Box 418, Haines, AK 99827.