DNR Issues Duckboat Safety Reminder

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DNR Issues Duckboat Safety ReminderWith many duck hunters anxiously preparing for the Oct. 3, Minnesota opener, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reminds people to make sure they pack the one thing that could save their lives – their life jackets.

“The lack of flotation devices is still one of the most common law violations among waterfowl hunters and the most common cause of duck hunter deaths,” said Tim Smalley, DNR boating safety specialist. “It’s been that way ever since 1988, when life jackets were first required on duck boats.”

Twelve hunters have drowned in boating accidents since life jackets were first required on duckboats more than 20 years ago. “While 12 deaths is 12 too many, before life vests were mandated, three to six hunters died in duckboat accidents nearly every season,” Smalley said.

According to national statistics, more hunters die every year from cold water shock, hypothermia and drowning than firearms mishaps. There have been no duck hunter drownings in Minnesota during the last three waterfowl seasons.

In 2005, two Minnesota hunters drowned in a single boat accident. In that case, apparently the 12-foot boat they were in swamped and filled with water, but did not sink. Their guns were still cased and decoys were in the boat.

Minnesota law requires a readily accessible U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket for every person on duckboats. Plus, for boats 16-feet and longer, there must be one U.S. Coast Guard approved flotation seat cushion on board, to throw to someone in distress. Seat cushions are no longer approved as primary flotation devices. Everyone on the boat needs a wearable personal flotation device of the proper size and type.

Life jackets made with the waterfowler in mind are available in camouflage colors. “They have mesh in the upper body that allows you to shoulder a gun,” Smalley said. “That way, you don’t have to keep taking the vest off when you shoot.”

According to water safety experts, having a life jacket doesn’t matter if it’s stuffed in a decoy sack when the accident occurs. “You just don’t have time,” Smalley said. “Trying to put on a life jacket during a boating accident would be like trying to buckle a seat belt during a car crash.”

The DNR discourages hunters from wearing hip boots or waders in the boat due to safety concerns. Hunters have drowned while trying to take their waders off after they have

fallen into the water or their boat has capsized.

“That releases any trapped air in the boots and at the same time binds the victim’s feet together so they can’t kick to stay afloat,” Smalley said. “However, if you do wear that sort of foot gear and suddenly enter the water, by pulling your knees up to your chest, air trapped in the waders or hip boots can act as a flotation device. You should practice that maneuver in warm shallow water before you need to do it in an emergency.”

The DNR offers these water safety tips for duck hunters:

Wear a life jacket to and from the blind; there are now life jackets available for around $35 with mesh in the upper body that allow hunters to shoulder a gun but still offer protection from cold water.

Don’t overload the boat; take two trips if necessary.

Learn how to float in waders and hip boats or don’t wear them in the boat.

Stay near shore and avoid crossing large expanses of open water, especially in bad  weather.

Let someone know where you are going and when to expect your return; tell them to call the authorities if you don’t return on schedule.

In case of capsizing or swamping, stay with your boat; even when filled with water, it will provide some flotation and is more likely to be seen by potential rescuers.

“If you are near a cell phone tower, it’s a good idea to bring your cell phone along in a waterproof, reclosable bag to call for help if you get into trouble,” Smalley advised. “You can use the phone without removing it from the bag.”

The DNR has a free publication about waterfowl hunting boat safety called “Prescription for Duck Hunters.” It is available by calling the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or toll free 888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

Or download a copy from the DNR’s Web site.