Yes, ducks have the major advantage over humans when it comes to water: they float.
Some hunters forget this simple fact when they’re loading their boats before dawn for a waterfowl hunt. They forget to pack essential safety gear, such as life preservers, a fire extinguisher, throw cushions, and an air horn.
“A lot of times, duck hunters don’t consider themselves boaters,” says Sgt. John Anderson, boater safety coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “But hunters need to realize that safety requirements still apply if they’re using a boat.”
More hunters die from drowning, hypothermia, and cold-water shock every year than from gun accidents. When the water is cold, it’s especially important to wear a life preserver.
“In 38 degree water, an average person might survive up to four hours,” Anderson says. “But once you’re in the water, you have less than 10 minutes before your muscles stiffen and you probably won’t be able to swim anymore.”
Hunters using boats can be lulled into a false sense of security because the water around their blind is shallow. However, chances are that they had to travel across much deeper water to get to their hunting location. Hunters can also hit a log hidden in the darkness and fall from their boats.
Several types of life preservers are available. The least expensive is a vest type with mesh shoulders. These can be worn under a hunting jacket; the mesh allows hunters to shoulder their guns without interference.
Inflatable vests are a second but more expensive option. Most inflate automatically if you plunge into the water. Always wear these outside your jacket. If worn inside, they can impede movement when they inflate.
Hunters might consider a float coat. These are camouflage coats with flotation built in. While these can cost more than $100, they are comfortable and warm, and you don’t have to worry about forgetting to put on your life preserver.
Finally, be careful about overloading the boat. A plate attached to the boat will usually tell how many people it can haul. Manufacturers put the average weight of a person at 150 pounds, so a boat with a capacity of four people can carry 600 pounds. Two 250-pound hunters with a dog, gear, and motor on the back can easily exceed the weight limit of a six-person boat.
Hunting is one of the safest hobbies around. Let’s keep it that way.