More hunters die from drowning and the effects of hypothermia than from gunshot wounds. Most of the accident reports from waterborne hunting fatalities are not dramatic stories. The hunter didn't succumb in an "Outdoor Life and Death" struggle with a twenty-foot python or enrage a hippopotamus that attacked his boat. Rather, the accident reports usually read: "Fell out of boat reaching for a decoy and never resurfaced" or "Capsized boat while standing to take a look at passing ducks...struggled briefly in the cold water, then seemed to become paralyzed before help could arrive."

Many hunters do not regard themselves as "boaters" and, as a consequence, do not consider the special conditions and challenges of the marine environment. To ensure a safe hunting trip, make a point to KNOW BEFORE YOU GO about your boat, its equipment, the weather and yourself.

Your Safety Equipment
Personal flotation devices (PFD's) are essential to safe waterborne hunting. Statistics show that the majority of capsizing and falls overboard occur with boats less than 20 feet in length. Many hunters don't realize that a PFD is REQUIRED to be carried for each person aboard, the same as in other boat outings. It is strongly suggested that everyone wear one. Many special purpose Coast Guard-approved PFDs are on the market today. Special vests for hunting and fishing are available.
Other items of safety equipment that is ADVISABLE to have onboard:

  • Day and night visual distress signaling devices.
  • Anchor with enough line to keep your boat from drifting.
  • Oars or paddles as a supplemental form of propulsion.
  • Water bailer (coffee can or scoop made from a bleach bottle).
  • First aid kit.
  • Extra foul weather clothing.
  • Compass and charts of the area.
  • Emergency tools and spare parts.

Your Boat
Be familiar with the characteristics of your boat. Most hunters use smaller, more easily transportable craft like johnboats, bass boats or canoes. Some boat designs are not as stable as others. These types, because of their flat bottoms or narrow beams, are more prone to swamping or capsizing. How can you avoid an unplanned fall into the water?

  • Never cross large bodies of water during rough weather.
  • Stay with your boat if you capsize and can't get to shore.
  • Avoid standing up or moving around in the boat. This includes your dog!
  • Remain seated and be certain to store your equipment properly.
  • NEVER move about your boat with a loaded gun or rifle.
  • Don't overload your boat with passengers or equipment. Know the carrying capacity of your boat; use the capacity plate attached to the inside hull as guidance.

Your Personal Limitations
As a boat owner, you have a personal responsibility to maintain physical preparedness while out on the water since the lives of others may be affected by your actions. Are you aware that many external factors can impair your mental alertness? Some of these stress factors include:

Fatigue: Hunting can be a physically demanding sport. Hours of sitting with exposure to wind, sun and glare can slow your reaction time. Don't overextend your endurance by staying out on the water longer than you should.

Hypothermia: Hypothermia occurs when the body is subjected to prolonged cold temperatures. The most common cause of hypothermia is exposure to cold water, though long exposure to cold air can cause it as well. Immersion in cold water is the leading killer of boating hunters. A person immersed in cold water can lose body heat 25 times faster than in air at the same temperature. Each person is affected by the cold differently. Dress appropriately for the environment you are in.