Duck Hunting Boat Safety

When a selecting a boat for duck hunting, safety is the primary consideration. Additionally, it’s the primary concern during the entire hunt. Everything is wrapped around safety, without it you won’t live to hunt another day. I understand it’s difficult to select a boat when you might not have ever had one, and because of that, you are not familiar with the water conditions during the various seasons.

This all applies to purchasing a boat too. But there are some basic safety considerations:

1. High transom,

2. High sides

3. Select a motor that has enough power to push you over super choppy (2 to 3 ft or more). A boat that can handle windy water conditions even if all your gear is loaded down, deeks, guns, dogs, guys, etc. As far as motorized duck boats go, I’ll give you the low mark: In my opinion, a 25hp motor would be the smallest you’d go on a 16 to 18ft boat, and even then you need to make sure you are not weighing the thing down with unneeded gear.

My 18ft Excel boat with a 35hp mudbuddy is the absolute minimum power to weight combination with the length and weight of this heavy duty boat, along with the low transom, low sides. I recommend going smaller on the boat, but with higher sides. I’d prefer a slightly smaller boat but with max power. 16 to 14 ft with 35hp is more ideal in my opinion. Even with the weight of guys, dog and gear, you are pushing the boat up so it can plane and ride rough waters better and move faster with more control.

Minimum Safety Standards: READ THE COAST GUARD SAFETY BOOK….over and over. Understand the buoys – Red right returning, Green going (to the ocean)….don’t assume anything. I was on Petaluma River several weeks back in Fog. I’m very careful in conditions like that….but who plans on nearly hitting a huge sailboat parked in the middle of the channel, at night, in the fog, NO LIGHTS ON THE BOAT….who? I do, that’s why I missed it, saving the life of the two boys on the boat and continuing on (to a rather dismal hunt, but I won’t go there).

ALWAYS wear safety vests. I always wear it during transport. There are times when I don’t wear it at the hunt location, but its super shallow (like I’m kicking up mud shallow). Normally, every time I’m moving the boat EVERYONE is required to wear a safety jacket…you’ll see that in my videos. Ain’t nuthin sissy about living to hunt the next day!! Oh, and if you fall into the water with waders on, you are absolutely DONE without a safety vest, and even then, you need to get back to the boat quick.

Push Pole: It’s simple….get out of the vessel, your chances of getting injured or run over by the boat that suddenly started drifting towards you in a stiff wind (while you are knee deep stuck in mud) is SUPER high. Stay in the boat because you have a push pole, then your risk is lower.

NEVER walk in front of the boat or get out of the boat while the prop is engaged (engine in gear). The boat can jump and move quickly, footing is bad, people fall or spin in directions you wouldn’t think are possible, but they can’t control. Do not chop up your hunting partner!

HANG ON, don’t just stand there!!! When you are trying to blast out of mud…if you catch good water and your engine is going gang busters, it will put you down on the deck rather suddenly….or throw you and your hunting partner out of the boat. Nothing like a prop to remind you of how weak your flesh and bones are compared to high RPM metal.

Good Lights of course, one on the front of the boat for navigation, one in your hand for pinpointing objects.

Emergency Horn

GPS….ever wanted a GPS and couldn’t find an excuse? Now you have one. Big water, no visibility fog, and night time (common in Napa at least) means meandering about and running into things when you can’t figure out where the center of the channel is. Trust me, I’ve been lost WITH A GPS and with just a small amount of fog because it throws off all of your normal reference points in areas that you are absolutely certain of. It’s that certainty that actually gets you in trouble. Fog totally hoses depth perception if you can see something. This has happened to me many times. Unlike an airplane, I STOP MOVING and study the GPS more carefully then move in controlled segments to the next spot I think I should be at. Then I patiently stop the boat again and take my time studying to make sure I’m centered and headed to the right channel or hunt spot. Even with a GPS if you cannot see at all and it is pitch black, believe me your mind will try like crazy to come up with something new. That’s why I stop moving and focus on one thing, my bearings.

Finally, guess what, when it’s that dense with fog you aren’t going to kill birds anyway, so you might as well chill out and make sure you get to the right location (since the fog will eventually clear) and just go easy. There’s no rush.

Stow Flares, keep them away from sources of flame. I’ve got to refresh mine.

Stepping out of the boat: If you get stuck in mud and the boat is moving towards you (over you) absolutely DO NOT turn around to face the water. Hang on to edge of the boat for dear life and let it pull you out of the mud. If you flip around and face the water, (which can be a temptation as if you are going to swim away) the boat will roll right over you. Avoid all of this by using a good push pole. I get the chills when I think about it because I’ve had it happen to me while I was by myself.

Night Boating: constantly check ahead of you, scan the area with your light…boats are out there at night with no lights and moving, or parked DUH. Look for dark objects in the water ahead of you. Make others in the boat pay attention. Never assume people have their lights on. Even if they do, the boat ahead of you could be positioned in such a way that the light cannot be seen.

Background Lights: When background lights on the shore (like a row of houses, or distant city lights or farm lights) are glaring and shining, it’s extremely difficult to make out boats on the water because their lights just blend in with the rest of the lights. At night while driving a boat, it is nothing like driving on the road. Depth perception, lights, visibility, everything is hosed up so you need to pay attention. There’s no lines in the river or open water….no one is following a path half the time.

Carry extra spark plugs and the socket and wrench to replace.

Small tool kit.

Fire Extinguisher – I’ve used mine once. Nothing is scarier than a fire on the boat when you are in open water. There’s nowhere to go except off the boat if you can’t get it under control….and that darn gas tank….FOLKS…keep the gas tank in the front of the boat and run the gas line to the engine. Or put the battery in the front and the gas in the back!! Had my gas tank been by my battery, which caught on fire, it would have immediately exploded. Even the vapors are dangerous. These scenarios are real.

Excellent battery

I use the bass pro shops XPS battery charger that is bolted to the inside gun box. The charger conditions the battery and has kept the battery trustworthy and fresh. I have a deep cycle battery from bass pro shops, it’s too big but it never fails. I also have a trolling motor for off-season fishing, that’s why I went with a big battery. Extra Water and a couple of snack bars (it’s going to be a very long night because I didn’t read that tidal chart properly) and that last duck was really worth it. Well, those are the most practical and important safety tips that come to mind right away.