Below Zero: Duck hunting safety

This is part of a series about all things cold weather – our missions, operations, and safety guidance. Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and look for our #belowzero stories, images, and tips!

Waterfowl hunting, more popularly known as duck hunting, is a popular winter sport throughout the country. While the activity isn’t widely thought of when referring to boating safety, it’s not a forgotten boating community.

From November 2016 through January 2017, Coast Guard crews along the Eastern Shore have responded to numerous requests for help from duck hunters, five of which ended in fatalities.

Popular outdoors shows like Duck Dynasty have brought more attention to the sport, and as such, a safety reminder is in order.

Before heading out on your trip:

  • Take a boating safety course with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
  • Use the Coast Guard mobile application to file a float plan.
    • Leave your float plan with a friend or relative.
    • Include a description of your boat and equipment name, names of passengers, planned destination and route, expected return and when and who to call if overdue.
    • Family members should not hesitate to contact the Coast Guard once boaters have surpassed their planned return time and can’t be reached. Timely notification is crucial and key in how long boaters are exposed to the harsh elements
  • Check the forecasted marine weather prior to getting underway.
    • Compare the expected sea state (wind and wave heights) to the capabilities of your vessel.
    • Dress appropriately for the water temperature, because cold water lowers body heat dramatically faster than cold air. Even if you are not planning on entering the water, the possibility of that happening is very real. An unexpected fall overboard is one of the leading factors in boating deaths.
  • Acquaint yourself with the area.
  • Make sure the boat has enough fuel.
  • Hunt with a companion or group, staying within visual or voice contact. Boating safety increases with numbers.
  • Maintain safety gear onboard your vessel.

During your hunt:

  • Wear a life jacket. While there are many factors that can contribute to boating accidents, a life jacket can save a life even after an accident has occurred. Federal regulations require a life jacket onboard for each person on the boat, but the Coast Guard recommends that you wear your life jacket at all times when boating. If you do find yourself in trouble and in the water, stay with your vessel for as long as possible, even if capsized. Do not try to swim for shore.
  • Prevent capsizing.
    • Reduce speed in rough water.
    • Load carefully.
    • Secure loads from shifting and adjust for changing conditions.
    • Wait for weather to improve.
  • Avoid alcohol. The marine environment can accelerate one’s impairment. Alcohol will decrease the ability to act quickly if you find yourself in cold water.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Aaron Baker, an avid duck hunter, demonstrates proper hunting safety gear near Wachapreague, Va., Sept. 26, 2016. Baker's personal floatation device and personal locator beacon do not interfere with his hunt, and just might save his life. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Nate Littlejohn.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Aaron Baker, an avid duck hunter, demonstrates proper hunting safety gear near Wachapreague, Va., Sept. 26, 2016. Baker’s personal floatation device and personal locator beacon do not interfere with his hunt, and just might save his life. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Nate Littlejohn.

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