Safety on the water.

JC Cross

A couple of duck hunters are lost in Virginia on the James River. Apparently they ended up in the water and the search has now become a recovery effort. The extreme cold and ice has made this extremely difficult and the tools normally used such as side-scan sonar is not possible due to the ice. Until it warms up it will be a waiting game.

I have had some close calls duck hunting and have gone overboard as well as having minor mishaps like flooded waders and so on. I had a younger brother whose boat sunk in icy water and though he was in the water only five minute he was totally played out and weak when we drug him into our boat. He was just about to give up when we got to him. He did not even have the strength to yell for help and had trouble hanging on to a goose decoy that was holding him up.

We often take things for granted and feel we could climb back on board. It just is not that easy. A simple thing like failing to attach a kill switch or not wearing a PFD can get you killed. Especially as cold as it is now. Recently a navy SEAL died on the Chesapeake Bay when he fell out of a kayak. Despite his extreme physical fitness and training he was overcome by hypothermia. If it can happen to him I know it will happen to someone like me a lot easier.

I have watched dozens of water recovery operations and they are very sad for the family and friends. Especially when the bodies are not found quickly. I strongly recommend everyone wear a PFD at all times. Even if you fall overboard and eventually die from exposure you sure make it a lot easier to recover your body. I hope this reminder is taken seriously and do not take things for granted.
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Thank you for your words of wisdom. I forwarded your message to my son and his hunting partners. I've really been on them this season to wear their pfd's. I know younger hunters don't ever think tragedy will hit them but as you age you come to realize just how quick things can go from bad to worse.

Here in PA were past ducking season but are in the middle of ice fishing. Same safety consideration go for ice fishing. How many guys wear PFDs out on the ice. We had a fisherman go through the ice recently and even though EMS was called and on scene within 10 minutes it was to late.
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I don't hunt alone often but do occasionally when all my partners are unable to accompany me. As bad as I wanted to hunt this morning I didn't because no one else was available to come and I thought hunting alone was too risky. Another thing I take special care to do this time of year that I rarely do earlier in the season is get at least one other person in thr boat with me when going to retrieve downed birds. Normally I leave my hunting partners on shore to keep watch on downed birds and shoot any birds that have life reintroduced into them whIle I run to fetch the boat and ride out after the dead birds. I know even if someone is there to call for help when it is this cold if they can't get me back into the boat within a couple minutes it is game over, which is a big down side to only having one boat per group
Strange coincidence that this post came up today: just the other day a coworker said to me "be careful this weekend on the water, I don't want to read about you in the paper on Monday".
That lead to a discussion of winter boating safety, how i don't hunt in conditions that i once did as a younger man and how a PFD in winter conditions are more for your family to have closure than saving you life.
Unfortunately I think we all need a reminder of how dangerous this hobby is, even the smallest mistake can be costly.
Take time to review your safety gear. Think twice about conditions before you launch the boat or even leave the house. Coming home is more important than anything.
Not nearly enough attention is given to kill (deadman) switches. I have installed tether switches on all my outboards and NEVER run without hooking up. I'm sure there are Utube or training videos that show what can happen when you get run over by your own boat but it is not pretty. BTW, Mercury switches are the better ones to use because they can be reset without a special part.
Wearing your PFD and kill switch is critical in any winter boating, but especially with the ice and dangerous conditions that have been present for us East Coasters for the last month or so.

If you can, and I try to adhere to this, when hunting in any ice conditions I always want to have a buddy in a second boat with me. As much as we stay on top of our equipment you never know how it is going to fare in extreme conditions. I had to tow a friend in last week when his otherwise meticulous outboard blew a piston or had some other major failure on our way back to the ramp in below zero conditions.
While hunting the last day of December we opted out of paddleing to our spot and hunted the shore (-13). Still, we had to retrieve a few birds by canoe early. At first light partner shot a bird and it started drifting out of safe retrieving range for the dog.
Off in the canoe he went PFD'd up but in that air temp trouble happens quick. I went through the actions I would have to take if he went in,canoe ,pfd paddle all in place plus phone ready to make the 911 call. I did paddle out for the next bird, and we had discussed the conditions, the freezing fog glazes everything as soon as it touches it .

I always wear a Pfd once under way, years ago a ranger we know passed out and rolled his boat on opening day ,he went under and his partners had a hard time getting to him (no pfd). He lived but infections in his lungs almost killed him. Since that time I have always wore one. The few times I have had the misfortune to be in the water the pfd kept my head and torso dry and made self rescue possible.

Late waterfowl hunting ,it is what it is.
Always a good reminder.
My wife’s cousin passed away on December 23, 2013 when he was out in the currituck sound in a canoe preparing a blind for a hunt for Christmas Eve. We didn’t find him for 2 weeks and still have no closure on the events that brought him overboard. Has made hunting for me more “difficult” because the family fears the same fate for me.
Everyone stay safe.
Years ago I drew a blind at Bodie Island, NC, late in the season. We drove down from western PA, with a Sportspal Canoe atop my buddies SUV.

While we were near Kill Devil Hills, we got pulled over by a State Patrolman. He noticed our PA plates and inquired. "What do you intend to do with that canoe? Your not going to use it out on the sound are you?"

No sir was our reply. We are going to use it to take decoys out to the walk in blind and back, and that is it. He wished us well, and was on his way.

After our hunt at Bodie Island we hunted Currituck Sound, out of Grandy with a guide and did very well. We took ribbing from the other hunters and guides about the canoe atop our vehicle.

Having made yearly trips to NC for many seasons. My hunting partner and I always felt that big water always called for local knowledge, and proper vessels. Even so, we had some very trying times, when things got rough and the birds flew strong. Risk was always part of the hunt.

Ben - sorry to hear about the fate of your wife's cousin. May he rest in peace.
This thread is a profound reminder about our sport.

I frequently hunt alone and enjoy doing so.

Last week we had a 10' tide to close out rail season. I dearly wanted to get out one more time after them. But a 15 mph wind and more warned me that would be stupid in my canoe or a kayak, out in a big open flat. So I stayed home and moped. But I didn't put myself in harms way.

I am going to Nags Head next week with two buddies I grew up with to hunt for two days on the Pamlico Sound. I am glad we are using a local guide service. No temptation that way to use improper equipment without local knowledge. I believe everything I hear about the Pamlico Sound being one dangerous mother when the wind gets kicking.

Every October I put out my Blessing of the Fleet for everyone on this site. It's a stark reminder at the beginning of the season that funerals are possible as a result of our hunts.

God keep everyone safe on the water and may God give everyone of us the common sense to use our common sense.
I have a new hunting partner this year- after our first couple trips out he asked about my co2 life vest - i don't think there is a hole in the marsh over our heads

but if the boat turtles and you hit your head- well anyway

i told him it was a promise to my wife

a few days later - he had one too
I just don't hunt when there is ice anymore, too much danger for me.That has a lot to do with the fact that everywhere I hunt is tidal. You just don't know what's coming at you from where. Inland, you can find some options that are safer, like chopping a hole in a shallow lake or pond.
I to have made the same promise. Many times I hunt alone ,a text when I start out and return when available
UPDATE 01/21/21 (TJB) I held off from posting anything to this thread but after my 48 years of duck hunting on the open lake and reflecting on all the stupid things I have done I would say going out on the big lake without a life jacket on is probably the worst. Not just from the standpoint of one's own safety but also from the prospective if something does go wrong and you end up in the drink who else is now part of your mess. I have been a law enforcement officer for 40 years now with a good majority of my time spent as a death investigator and it does matter dead is dead whether you are found the same day or in a week or 6 months later it does not matter to you.

Unfortunately, this is not true for friends and family left with no closure and for the first responders who are responsible for looking for you. I have seen all the extremes of someone going in the drink. From people being pulled out and being OK, to folks being found for 5-6 months later. This has been with people I knew, strangers and also one that involved the death of a friend during a recovery effort.

So Just some thoughts to make things safer and better for everyone involved if you find yourself in the drink. YES I HAVE VIOLATED EVERYONE OF THESE IN THE PAST

#1 Life Jackets we should all wear them and they should be a bright color (orange) with a light and whistle unless you are jump shooting from a canoe or other sneak type endeavor and camo is needed. Having to locate someone with an orange life jacket on in a one and a half to two foot chop is bad enough in the daylight. Never mind at night and it being a camo life jacket with no light
This pertains to both getting you out quick enough for you to survive and that if the worst happens minimizing the chance of someone else getting hurt or dying looking for your body.

#2 let somebody know where you are going and when you get off the water (this one I do religiously). If you change, your plans let somebody know, this is rather easy now with todays technology.

#3 If it cold (single digits) two boats are better than one. I have been on both ends of the tow rope and it is a good feeling to know your all set rather the calling the CG or Sea tow. We were remind of this that last day of the season when a friends boat caught on fire.

#4 No duck or goose is worth your life. If it is two crappy out to be on the water stay home.

As I indicated, I have violated all of these in the past, not something I am proud of just a fact, hopefully someone will read these messages and take note.

JC thanks for starting this thread and causing me to reflect on the past. I will be making some changes going forward.
Everyone please be safe !!
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On another site, Willy just reposted a video a guy made after falling out of his boat while picking up decoys without a PDF on. The shock of the cold water almost did him in and he was lucky to finally get back into the boat.... completely exhausted. All this happened with his son watching from their shore blind while he struggled. Really hit close to home for me, because oftentimes (most times) I'm guilty of picking-up sans PDF before getting underway. I rationalize that it gives me more freedom of movement, that I'm in shallow water close to the bank, and that I always put it on as soon as I get underway to run back to the ramp.
Made me realize wouldn't take long for me to get in trouble regardless of the water depth, especially since I'm LONG past ten foot tall & bulletproof. Wear 'em!!
New York requires boaters to wear a PFD from November 1st to May 1st when in a boat 21 foot or smaller. Good thread to remind us all that we are not invincible.
Tom Whitehurst said:
New York requires boaters to wear a PFD from November 1st to May 1st when in a boat 21 foot or smaller. Good thread to remind us all that we are not invincible.

very true

and the state speed limit is 55 [;)]

but - really - how many hunters do you see wearing one
There is a large DU monument at the Pymatuning Wildlfie Management Area Building, Hartstown, PA, dedicated to Howard Reynolds.

Mr Reynolds was a ardent waterfowler, decoy carver, DU volunteer/chairman, and Lawrence County Coroner.

While duck hunting the White River, he reached to far for a decoy. Capsized his small vessel, and did not survive.

It was a privilege having known him, and his strong influence on western PA waterfowl conservation & decoy carving.

He was a very well respected man. The dedication of the monument was well attended and I shall not forget it.

NEVER REACH FOR A DECOY, let them come to you.

Your family and friends will thank you.