Any time you're in a boat, safety is of utmost importance, but when the cold water can kill you in a couple minutes, it's even more critical! Rule No. 1: Wear your life jacket. There are many styles now that won't inhibit your shooting or movement in any way. That goes whether you're boating or wading!
Even above taking a limit of ducks, returning to enjoy the chill of excitement again is even more important.
Boating Tips for Hunters
Most hunting takes place on boats that are less than 16 feet long, which is the length of boat that has the dubious distinction of being involved in the lion's share of boating fatalities. Boats less than 16 feet long often have flat bottoms or semi-v hulls and are known for their instability. It's no surprise then that the primary causes of hunting accidents on the water are capsizing, falls overboard and flooding or swamping.
"The high rate of boating fatalities among sportsmen is not only a reflection on the types of boats being used for outdoor sports," says Chris Edmonston of the BoatU.S. Foundation, "but also on improper boating techniques like landing waterfowl, retrieving decoys and moving around a small boat."
This isn't to say hunters should stop using small boats. What it says is that they should take precautions in small boats, precautions like correctly loading the boat and using caution while moving about the boat and landing waterfowl. And above all, a sportsman should always wear his life jacket.
Loading The Boat
Correctly loading a small boat starts from your very first step onboard. First of all, step gently into the center of boat; avoid stepping on the sides (called gunnels) or the seats, or jumping onboard. Secondly, if you have a lot of gear, hand it to someone on the boat, or leave it on the pier and reach for it from the boat. Boarding a boat with a handful of equipment gives you extra weight and instability, and leaves you without a hand to steady yourself. Also, it is important to hold on to something whenever boarding or moving around the boat, even if you feel stable. You never know when another boat's wake, someone else in the boat losing their balance or your dog's sudden movement can cause a chain of events that might leave you in the water, or in the bottom of the boat with an injury.
When loading gear, it's important to distribute the weight evenly around the boat, making sure not to overload. Take special care not to load too much in the back (stern) of the boat since once the boat picks up speed the stern will go lower in the water and is prone to swamping. Additionally, it's important to keep the center of gravity low in the boat. Piling gear high can raise the center of gravity and can cause the boat to tip over unexpectedly. This same rule goes for the people in the boat, which is why you should avoid standing in small boats. Make sure your anchor and dock lines are properly stowed to avoid tripping. And as you are loading, be sure you have brought along a life jacket for each person aboard—it's the law.
Better yet, have everyone in your group put on the life jackets before even leaving the dock.
To avoid overloading the boat, check the vessel's capacity plate. The capacity plate states the total amount of weight (including people, gear and motor) the boat is made to hold. Be sure to take into consideration the weight of the gear you've brought along.
Moving About The Boat
Once in the boat, it's a good idea for all passengers to avoid standing. Small boats can easily become unstable, and when a number of people and/or dogs are sharing the space, the danger of capsizing increases.
Hunters should stay seated while shooting so they can brace themselves for the gun's recoil. Standing up in an unstable boat will raise the center of gravity and only make the boat less predictable. When setting decoys, be careful not to lean too far over the sides of the boat. Some boats, like bass boats, are specially designed and weighted for standing, just be sure to keep your legs spread for stability, lean against a seat where possible and wear a life jacket.
Did you know?
• 70 percent of hunters who died in boating accidents fell overboard as a result of their boat being improperly loaded, or due to moving around the boat unsafely.
• 86 percent of hunters who died were not wearing life jackets.
• Hunters are far more likely to die from drowning than from an accidental gun shot wound.
• 47 percent of hunters don't carry a lifejacket on board.
Source: Boat U.S. Foundation, boatus.com