What Safety Precaution Should You Take When Hunting from a Boat?

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Hunting brings many opportunities from spectacular sport to fantastic food and the fun doesn’t stop when the land does. Hunting from a boat can open new doors in your hunting career and shooting from the water can bring an exciting new aspect to your favorite sport as well as open opportunities to hunt different game.

Hunting from a boat is challenging of course, but the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. Although it can be tough, the challenge can be what draws you back to boat hunting time and time again and the different perspective on your prey can be eye-opening. Hunting waterfowl from a boat is fantastic and you can get amongst the birds relatively easily if you know where to look. Hunting game that prowl the banks of a large body of water can be rewarding too and taking a shot from this perspective can make otherwise dull hunts more exciting.

So, one thing is for sure, hunting from the boat is exciting but it doesn’t come without its challenges and risks. It is important that you know what the risks are and address the challenges that hunting from a boat brings forth before you head out on the water with your gun or bow. In this article, we will be looking at the risks associated with boat hunting and going over the safety precautions you should take when hunting from a boat. By the end of this read, you will be fully informed and prepared to get out on the water to shoot your favorite quarry. Enjoy!

What are the Risks?

As you probably know boats come with a safety risk when you take them out on the water. When you add the use of a firearm to a boat the risk increases again. Hunting from a boat isn’t the safest of hobbies but if you know the risks you can assess them and prepare your self for the safest experience.

In the U.S, there are around 2,500 injuries and 550 deaths per year that are related to the use of boats both in fresh and saltwater. Around one-third of those accidents are as a result of hunting and fishing from a boat. When your attention is taken off the water there is an increased safety risk and when you are hunting it is inevitable that your attention will sway toward the hunt rather than the water. It is for this reason that hunters and anglers get injured and killed every year from drowning, hyperthermia, and gunshot wounds while out in their boat.

There are plenty of risks associated with the use of boats while hunting and here are just a few of them before we go more in-depth about the precautions you can take to avoid an accident. Falling overboard is one of the biggest risks, especially when standing in the boat to aim or collect your kill. Most hunters in freshwater tend to use flat-bottomed boats for better navigation in shallow waters. These boats can become incredibly unstable if overloaded or if the hunter’s weight is distributed unevenly on the deck. Taking too much kit on the boat can increase the risk of capsizing and drowning when you are too far away from the bank to swim back to land.

There are plenty of risks associated with boat hunting, with the main issues being poor stability, over-loading, and concentration errors. It is important that you are confident enough to head out on the water to hunt. You should not take an excessive amount of kit out on your boat, and you shouldn’t be overconfident and complacent on the water. You shouldn’t take a risk just to make a kill if you don’t feel 100% comfortable, and you should plan your day out on the water as much as possible.

In the next section, we will be looking at some of the laws and guidelines associated with boat hunting and how you can stay safe and legal when heading out hunting on the water.

Hunting Laws Concerning Boats

The laws and regulations for boat hunting will change from state to state so it is extremely important that you check what the local laws and guidelines are in your area before heading out in a boat for a hunting trip. This section is a guide on the overall laws and hunting regulations that surround hunting from a boat and should not be used as your primary source of legal information. Make sure what you are doing is allowed and legal in your region first!

The list below may or may not be applicable to you depending on where you are hunting, so make sure beforehand what the laws are and adjust to them.

  • A boat license must be acquired to use a boat with an engine on inland bodies of water
  • A boat with the potential of at least 5 knots of speed is required for use on all waterways
  • Never use alcohol or drugs on a boat in inland waterways
  • Always wear a personal floatation device (life jacket) when out on your boat
  • Verify all of your hunting equipment with the local board before your hunting trip
  • Always bring a valid hunter education card and/or permit with you on the water
  • Check the official hunting color of the state you are in (usually orange). This notifies other hunters and members of the public that you are out on the hunt
  • Hunting from a boat is limited to certain game types and species depending on the grounds, so make sure to check before heading out

Safety Precautions You Can Take When Hunting from a Boat

1. Educate Yourself Before Heading out on the Water

If you are the keen hunter that is looking to broaden your horizons with boat hunting, then it is important that you educate yourself as much as possible before you get out on the water. If you have never driven a motorboat before and you aren’t confident on the water, then you are setting out to fail. Chances are, if you are looking to hunt from a boat you have some level of experience, but even still, it is important to educate yourself and brush up on your skills before hunting from a boat.

If you are not a strong swimmer, you should also brush up on your swimming skills. Swimming in open water outside is very different from doing laps in the swimming pool, so make sure you practice and get comfortable in the water before entering the world of boat hunting. Even if you have an essential life vest, things can go horribly wrong when you are out on the water so brush up on your swimming skills.

Get to know your boat. Before you head out on your punt, flat-bottom, or canoe with your weapon you should head out for a day or two on the water to home in your skills. Learn to understand your vessel’s characteristics and how it handles long before you get on it with a firearm or bow. Not only will getting to know your boat keep you safe, but it will also improve your balance and confidence when the time comes to hunt from it.

2. Let People Know What You are Doing and When you are Doing it

Before it is time to head out hunting from your boat make sure to let someone know what you are doing. If you go missing on the water and no one knows that you are out there, your recovery time will be greatly increased. If the worst does happen and you fall in the water, injure yourself with a firearm, or capsize, having someone that knows where you are could save your life.

It is better safe than sorry so let at least one person know what you are doing, where you will be going, and the areas you will be hunting. Give them a list of locations, an estimated time of departure, and the time you will be back. It is also a good idea to give them a description of your boat and be sure to give them a call when you get back on land safely.

3. Load Your Boat Properly

Make sure that you do not overload your boat. Overloading is one of the main reasons that hunters and anglers capsize when out on the water. It makes it much harder to control your boat and it will reduce your stability greatly, especially when standing or kneeling to shoot. Bring your essentials of course, but make sure you do not over-plan and bring unnecessary items that you will unlikely need.

Make a list of the items you will be bringing on your boat, and if possible, get the weight of your load and make sure that you are not putting strain on your hunting vessel. If your kit is over the load limit of your boat (including you and other hunters on the boat) then either cut down weight dramatically or find yourself a bigger vessel.

Make sure you evenly spread the weight over the entirety of the boat. Ensure that you are not loading your boat heavy on one side, instead, spread the weight evenly throughout. Make sure you still have room to move and that there is an unobstructed area that you can shoot from without clambering over your kit.

4. Have a Safety Plan In case of an Accident

Even if you load your boat properly, brush up on your boating and swimming skills, and fill your brain with hunting and boating knowledge, you should still plan for the worst. Prepare for the worst possible situation, so if it does arise, you will know exactly what to do.

Think about possible changes in weather conditions, motor failure, falling in the water, capsizing, and firearm incidents. Although the likelihood of an accident is slim if you are responsible on the water, planning for the worst could save your life.

5. Be Responsible When Hunting on Your Boat

Be responsible when you head out on your boat. Get plenty of rest before your trip so you are in the best possible condition on the morning of your hunt. By all means, have a drink or two the night before your hunt, but don’t go crazy and party! That is asking for trouble the next day.

The same goes for when you are on your boat. This is obvious to most, but do not drink while your hunting, especially when you are on a boat. Alcohol slows down your reactions and increases the rate of which your body loses heat. Drinking will be detrimental to your hunting and is a huge safety risk, so save the beers to celebrate once you are back on dry land.

Make sure you dress appropriately for the weather and bring a change of clothes if you have room on the boat. If you do fall in the water or get wet, having a change of clothes will reduce the risk of hyperthermia and keep you warm and dry if you get into a sticky situation.

6. Check the Weather and Wind Conditions Prior to Your Trip

Check the weather way before you go and plan around it. Prepare for a trip during good weather and low wind conditions. This will make your hunting experience both more enjoyable and much (much) safer. As you head out of the door, check the weather and wind conditions again, and if something has drastically changed then head back inside and go another day. After all, missing a day of hunting is better than putting your life at risk.

Keep a radio onboard your boat and keep up to date with local weather conditions so if anything does change on the water you can get back to land in time. Educate yourself on how to predict the weather as well. If you are on the bank and see a less than favorable cloud, wait for a while and see if it rolls over. If you see lightning, count the seconds between the flash and the thunder and divide the seconds by 5 to predict how far away the storm is. If you see lightning while out on the water, head to shore immediately and wait to see what happens. If the weather clears up, by all means, head back out but if it doesn’t then it is best to pack up and call it a day.

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