Inexperienced boaters at risk when on the water to hunt or fish

Boating is usually considered a warm-weather sport but, as waterfowl hunters and anglers know, fall can be the best time of the year to participate in boating activities. It can also be a dangerous time of year for avid sportsmen and women who don’t consider themselves boaters but want to use a boat to get to their desired hunting or fishing spot. More single-boat accidents take place during this time of the year, and with water temperature on the decline, these accidents can prove deadly.

Overloading a small boat with equipment is a quick way to end up in frigid water by capsizing or falling overboard. Either can turn fatal quickly. Sudden immersion into cold water delivers a brutal shock to the body, triggering a spontaneous inhalation reflex. The simple act of wearing a life jacket can be enough to keep one's head above water when this involuntary gasping happens, keeping lungs from filling with water. By keeping capsized boaters afloat, life jackets also enable them to conserve energy and get out of the water.

The body loses heat 25 times faster in water than in air of the same temperature. Hypothermia begins with shivering and a loss of feeling in the extremities. Eventually unconsciousness settles in, and without a life jacket to hold a person up, the hapless boater will drown.

The following simple steps can make a cold water boating expedition much safer:

  • always wear a life jacket -- new styles and camouflage patterns, including float coats, make wearing a life jacket much more comfortable;
  • dress properly for the cold -- layered clothing can provide insulation and trap air to hold warmth;
  • wool and synthetic materials are good choices, but cotton wicks cold water in toward the body;
  • never boat alone; and
  • let family members or friends know what your plans are.

Boating can be an excellent way to hunt or fish in cold weather, but be safe. Planning ahead for the possibility of a cold water accident can save a life.