Water/Marine Safety for Waterfowlers

An article from WWA’s Words From The Wardens.

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Waterfowl Association’s September 1, 2018 eNewsletter.

BY WDNR Recreation Warden Martin Stone

I’ve been working as a conservation warden for more than 20 years now, and I’ve spent that entire time working along the Mississippi River.  It is a wonderful place to hunt and fish, or to just enjoy your time outdoors.  As many know, the Mississippi  River is a popular destination location for waterfowl hunters.

When I think about waterfowl hunting and the Mississippi River (or any waterways), I’m reminded of three safety regulations which could quickly turn a fun waterfowl outing into a tragic or life threatening outing.  I don’t mean to imply that these are the only regulations one must follow, or that others are not equally important, but when I think hunting and boating, these jump to mind.

  1. Make sure you have a life jacket (PFD -personal flotation device).  Each person on your boat must have a wearable US Coast Guard approved PFD, of the proper size for that person, and that is in good serviceable condition.  If not worn, make sure they are readily accessible to the person who may need to use it.  If your boat is 16 feet or longer, you also must have one US Coast Guard approved type 4 throw-able PFD on board was well. Ideal waterfowl hunting conditions of brisk winds, a boat full of gear, heavy clothing, waders, cold air temperatures and cold water temperatures really should have hunters wearing a life jacket during every outing.  Trying to locate and put on a life jacket during the panic of someone falling overboard or the boat capsizing is nearly impossible – Wear it Wisconsin.
  2. Always use navigational lighting.  All motor boats that are operating between sunrise and sunset must display proper lighting.  Make sure you display your red & green bow lighting so it’s plainly visible.  Make sure that the white stern light is visible for 360 degrees without obstructions.  Check to see that it’s well above all your gear and everyone’s head.  The sunrise and sunset times can be determined in the back of your Wisconsin Boating Regulations pamphlet.  Another critical safety aspect when hunters are heading to and from their favorite hunting spot prior to and after opening hours.  Remember, boat lights are designed per the rules of navigation for boats, not like your vehicle lights which are designed for driver visibility and also to seen by others on the road.
  3. Don’t exceed your boat’s safe operating capacity.  Follow your boat’s capacity plate normally located near the operator’s position.   Loading your boat with decoys & gear, and then with hunters sporting heavy waders & clothing, can quickly overload your boat’s safe carrying capacity and put you at risk of swamping or capsizing your boat.   Like life jackets and navigation lights, knowing the ideal waterfowling conditions and having a stable boat with plenty of free-board (space between waterline and top of boat) is critical for for the safety of you and your hunting partners (including your dog).