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Duck hunters who hunt from a boat are encouraged to include boating safety as part of their hunting plan. Waterfowl hunters use boats on some of the coldest days of the year. Not only is the water deathly cold on these days, but the hunter is likely wearing enough layers to make themselves heavy and clumsy, and if they go into the water, they are in serious trouble.
“Safety on the water, regardless of the time of year, always begins with wearing a life jacket,” said Susan Stocker, boating law administrator and education coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “This is a situation where a life jacket or a float coat can mean the difference between life and death.”
Iowa law requires a readily accessible, wearable, U.S Coast Guard-approved life jacket for every person on the boat, including duck boats. Boats 16 feet and longer must also have one U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type IV throwable device on board. Life vests come in a variety of styles and types developed specifically for hunters that allows hunters to shoulder a gun while still offering protection from cold water.
Duck boats are painted to blend in to the background and often have netting or dead vegetation attached to their craft to enhance the camouflage effect. It’s important to keep the red and green navigation lights and the all-around white light in the stern visible from sunset to sunrise, as required by law.
Hunters should also be aware of how much gear they are bringing in the boat.
Stocker advised hunters to review the amount of gear they bring to avoid exceeding the maximum weight for the craft. The vessel’s capacity plate states the total amount of weight the boat is designed to hold and includes the passengers, fuel, dog, decoys, everything.
“It’s important to distribute the weight evenly around the boat, taking care to avoid loading too much in the back,” she said.
Overloading the boat can create a dangerous situation by reducing the amount of space between the waterline and the top of the boat. The less space between the water and the top of the boat, the greater the chance that water will swamp the boat.
“Duck hunters recreate in difficult conditions – they go out before the sunrises, its cold, the wetlands are nearly frozen, its most likely windy,” Stocker said. “These factors are important considerations when going through the hunting plan. We’re encouraging them to include reviewing their on-boat gear along with making sure they have a lifejacket in usable condition as part of that plan because the goal at the end of the day is for everyone to return home safely.”