Are Fishing Waders Dangerous? (How To Stay Safe)

Fishing waders help anglers get better access to water, increasing the likelihood of catching fish. Getting out into the water can greatly improve your fishing experience. But many people wonder if waders are dangerous or if they pose too much of a risk to justify their use.

Fishing waders are not inherently dangerous. To stay safe, one must use common sense, take precautions, and avoid unnecessary risks. While one is born with common sense (or not), the other two steps are the result of knowing what to do and making sure you do them.

Many people forget that any sport you do on the water involves risk. While fishing waders are not risky in and of themselves, they pose a risk if the person wearing them is unprepared. The following will help you understand why fishing waders are safe and what to do to keep them that way.

Are Fishing Waders Safe?

Fishing waders are not safe or unsafe. However, if they are used incorrectly, they can make it more likely you’ll end up in difficulty than if you don’t use them. Understanding how to use waders correctly is paramount for anyone thinking of using them on their next fishing trip.

Bad Decisions

When wearing waders, an angler must be aware that, if misused, waders can become deadly. If the angler puts themselves in a situation where the waders fill with water, the weight of the water and restricted nature of the waders can exhaust an angler and they can drown. The angler could also make it to shore safely but suffer hypothermia.

These are just two possibilities. Other risks include the angler over exerting and suffering a health issue, or falling and breaking a bone. The waders in this case are only dangerous because of the poor decision making of the person wearing the waders.

Equipment Failure

If a wader gets torn or punctured, it can fill with water rapidly. This can result in the same problems of hypothermia or, at worst, drowning. If the angler does not react quickly but appropriately then they can find themselves in serious trouble.

Environmental Conditions

Every single body of water has underwater idiosyncrasies. These can be drop offs, submerged tree branches or trunks, rocks, human debris, etc. When an angler in waders encounters those, how they respond can be the difference between safety and danger.

If an angler falls into a drop-off, for example, they can submerge the top of their waders and the waders can fill with water. If the drop-off continues the angler can find themselves in flooded waders, drifting with the current, being pulled to the bottom. If they know what to do, they can maneuver back to relative safety.


There are many scenarios that can lead to an unsafe situation for an angler in fishing waders. A flash flood can cause an increase in the water level. A rainstorm can expose the angler to lightning while the waders delay their return to shore. The water can become muddy obscuring underwater risks. Any one of these could lead to a situation where the angler in waders can become injured.

How To Keep Safe In Waders

Waders are no more or less dangerous than most inanimate objects, and a good deal safer in the right environment than many. Fishing waders are only dangerous if a few select scenarios occur. Staying safe when using fishing waders requires two actions: take precautions and avoid unnecessary risks.

Take Precautions

The more thought you give to your experience with waders, the less the chance something will go wrong. Check the weather right before you head out. Take note of any possible severe weather. Make sure when on the water that you pause occasionally to observe your surroundings. Take note of any currents, state of the bottom of the body of water you are wading in, noticing any debris or obstacles.

Other suggestions include scoping out the area you will be fishing before you enter the water. Understanding the lay of the land can help you avoid trouble areas. If where you plan on fishing has an area that has a swift current, taking note of turbulent sections can help you avoid a tripping risk. Observing underwater obstacles can help you avoid getting snagged.

When playing a fish, try to get to flat and firm ground as soon as possible. This will reduce the chances you slip and fall while landing your catch. If no flat or firm ground is available, do what you can to anchor yourself in place for the duration of the process of landing or netting the fish.

Avoid Unnecessary Risks

Every single body of water has the potential of becoming deadly. It might not be because of angler negligence or lack of care. Flashfloods, storms, and wind can all can put an angler in harm’s way and how that angler is prepared can ensure that the angler is safe. A big part of that is avoiding risks that can be avoided.

Do Not Tempt The Weather

If the weather is threatening or if it is already stormy, assess whether it is worth going fishing. Unless you know that the weather will not pose any threat to you at all, delay your trip. One trip is not worth getting yourself in trouble.

Tell Someone Your Plans

Whenever someone goes missing, it is almost a given that time will be lost trying to figure out where they were last. If searchers had that information, they might be able to locate the individual quicker. Always let someone know where you are headed and if at any point during the trip you change your plans.

If you are fishing a remote location with no cell phone coverage, leave some obvious sign that not only alerts someone of your visit but also your intentions. The easier you make it for someone to find you, the quicker they will be able to do so if you need help.

Carry A First Aid Kit

Every angler should have a basic first aid kit to address stings, hook gouges, falls, broken bones, etc. The kit does not have to be big, but it must be stocked sufficiently to address most injuries or illness. It should also have a couple of water purification tablets as well.

Map Out Your Trip

This basic step can cut down on the time it takes you to get to your fishing location. It also can provide a roadmap to you if you ever need help. Leave a map with someone before you leave so that in the event that you do not return or call for help, it is easier for help to locate you.

If you follow these very basic tips, you will reduce the chance of you breaching your waders, injuring yourself or if you get into trouble, being impossible to locate.

Can You Drown With Waders?

You can drown with waders, but you won’t drown as long as you take the right precautions and understand what to do if your waders fill with water. Any time you are around water, if a certain sequence of events happens, you can find yourself in trouble.

With fishing waders, those chances are increased because of the nature of waders, the tendency of humans to ignore danger until it is a crisis, and the hundreds of influencing factors that can contribute to waders flooding.

Flooded waders, however, are not a death sentence. Contrary to what many believe, waders do not “pull you under.” When submerged, waders weigh the same as the water all around you and because of that, they do not possess a great sinking potential. Left alone, some waders will even float.

What does happen is one of three things:

  1. The waders plus the person’s clothes weigh the person down and exhaust them
  2. A current pushes the waders and the person into harm’s way
  3. The person with submerged waders panics and makes bad decisions

Any angler that uses fishing waders will withstand a breach of the water at some point. It might be because of a leak, or the wearer stepping into water deeper than the waders. Regardless, the result are waders full of water and a challenge for the person using the waders to haul themselves to safety. It is what you do afterwards that determines whether you survive, injure yourself, or drown.

9 Wader Safety Tips

1. Calculate The Risk

There is a formula you should employ before entering the water in waders. It was developed by the USGS, and it is what government employees and contractors use to determine if it safe to venture into the water wearing waders.

Mark a location and drop a stick into the water (point A). Count 5 seconds and mark where the stick is located (point B). Count off the number of feet the stick has floated and divide by 5. That gives you the average number of feet a stick will drift per second. If that number is higher than 8, the water is too dangerous to venture out in.

This is because at that rate, a current can sweep a person off their feet or pin their feet or legs to underwater obstacles. Knowing where the current is strongest and weakest will make it much easier for you to use your waders safely.

2. Wear A Wading Belt

You should invest in a wading belt if you use fishing waders. The extra expense is worth the investment. If you can, invest in two belts. Wader belts constrict the space water can get into if your waders become submerged. That can buy you enough time to recover or to get to safety before your waders become entirely flooded.

3. Follow The Manufacturer’s Advice

Pay attention and adhere to manufacturer size charts and recommendations. Always try on waders before buying them. Understand the manufacturer wader temperature rating. The parameters mapped out by the manufacturer are the result of testing in lab conditions and with some manufacturers, in the field. Use them as a guideline when picking out your waders.

4. Choose Based On Where You Fish

Neoprene is the best insulation for waders on the market. It is also the most durable, which helps ensure your legs stay warmer when fishing in cold water. Conversely, breathable waders will help keep your legs cooler if you are fishing in warmer water.

5. Slow Down

Speed-fishing when using fishing waders is asking for trouble, even if such an occurrence poses no risk to you beyond getting wet. When you rush through part of a body of water, you are not fully aware of your environment, even if you think you are. You will miss divots in the bottom of the body of water you are fishing as well as rocks, tree trunks and other debris.

Take your time when moving in your waders. Examine your path before you start moving and map out where you plan on stepping. Take note of obstacles and any drop-offs. The more you can notice before you step, the less chance you will end up surprised.

6. Use A Wading Staff

A wading staff can help you “see” the bottom of where you are walking, but it also can help steady you if you run into trouble. If, for example, you start to lose your balance, a wading staff can help you regain your footing.

It can also give you support if you are moving through a place with a stiff current. Finally, if you are not sure what lies ahead, a wading staff can serve as a depth marker for you. As a safety tool, a wading staff has so many benefits, it is difficult to justify not using one if you are using fishing waders.

7. Shuffle Versus Step

The tendency when traversing water is to step through it. A better strategy is to shuffle through the water as much as possible. This lets you feel when a drop off has started. It also lets you catch yourself before committing when walking around rocks or debris.

8. Carry Fire Making Tools

Accidents happen and if they happen when it is cool enough, getting warm after getting dumped in a body of water can be tricky. Drying off naturally runs the risk of your body cooling to a dangerous level and hypothermia settling in. Even when the air is relatively warm, you can still get hypothermia if you are not careful.

Always carry fire making tools with you when fishing. At the least, carry a lighter and something that can be used as tinder. You do not have to dedicate a lot of space for your fire making kit, just enough to let you get a fire started to warm up.

9. Call For Help

If you get injured beyond something very minor, call for help. This is particularly good advice if on top of your injury, you are soaking wet. Unless you know you can make it back to your vehicle or camp, ask for help if your injury is the least bit serious.

What To Do When Your Fishing Waders Fill With Water

Understanding what to do and why can make extracting yourself from water with submerged waders on much easier. Our bodies are not as dense as water. That is why we float when in the water. The water in waders is the same as the water outside of your waders. That means if you use your head, control panic, and initiate floating, you can navigate yourself to the shore with little issue.

How To Get Out Of The Water With Flooded Waders

Water weighs a lot. If your waders take on 20 pounds of water, you must lug 20 extra pounds to the point the waders will start to drain. In addition, if your waders are swamped, your pants will be wet. There is a good chance other articles of clothing you wear will be soaked, and heavy as well. While you will not sink in waders if all things are equal, you will tire easily.

As you tire, two things happen: You become less able to perform physically and your core temperature starts to adjust to the water, reducing with each moment you are immersed. Those two things, heavy clothes, fatigue, and lowering body temperature spell potential disaster.

To get to safety, you need to do the following:

  • Control your emotions and calm yourself so you can think clearly
  • Throw your rod and any other equipment towards shore or let them go where you fell in if the water is deep
  • Do not fight the current but use it to guide you to shore
  • As soon as you can, get on your stomach, feet upstream and swim across the current in a diagonal motion, towards the shore
  • When swimming, move deliberately and always keep at least one arm in the water (this helps with buoyancy)
  • Once you are in shallow water, do not attempt to stand up, work your way to shore
  • When you are on the shore and clear of the water, flip to your back and lift one leg after the other to let the water drain from your waders
  • Get yourself warm as quickly as possible

Final Thoughts

Fishing waders are not dangerous by themselves. Used properly with the right precautions, waders are no more dangerous than any other piece of fishing equipment. The safety steps included here will ensure when you use your waders, your fishing adventure will be safe and all risks are minimized.