Accidents happen when least expected.
A fellow waterfowler learned his lesson about boating safety the hard way. A couple of years ago, he loaded the boat with his usual hunting paraphernalia, along with his retriever and headed across the lake to his duck blind. The hunter allowed the lab to stand and move about unchecked in the boat. The retriever swamped the small boat unexpectedly and both were dumped into the lake. The frigid water temperatures could have created a potentially fatal situation, but for another boat happening along and rescuing them within a matter of minutes after they plummeted into the water.
In a separate accident two other duck hunting friends are also lucky to be alive.
It happened at the Riverside boat ramp on the Trinity River around 7:30 a.m. on December 14. The two duck hunters had loaded a 15-foot john boat with waders, decoys, firearms and life jackets. The temperature was 29 degrees. While loading, one of the hunters placed a sack of decoys on the drain plug, causing the plug to unlock. Water pressure against the plug forced it out of the boat. No one noticed the boat was taking on water until they left the launching area. By then it was too late. The boat was sinking.
The hunters grabbed their decoy bag for flotation and swam to shore. None wore a life jacket, but miraculously, no one drowned. One hunter required emergency-room treatment for hypothermia. His body temperature had fallen to 92 degrees.
Fortunately, no one died in either one of these accidents. Unfortunately, this situation is all too common when hunters use boats.
For some reason, hunters tend to ignore the dangers associated with boating. We realize that waterfowl hunting requires an enormous amount of gear. In addition to decoys, waders, guns and ammunition, the most important piece of equipment you need is a personal flotation device (PFD), otherwise known as a life jacket.
Waterfowl hunters, along with any other type of winter boater, should be aware of the dangers of cold water. Cold water is defined as any water with a temperature of 70 F or lower, and it can be a real villain, especially if you unexpectedly fall in.
The first hazards of cold water are panic and shock. The initial shock severely can strain the body and may cause instant cardiac arrest.
Survivors of cold-water accidents often describe having their breath "knocked out" of them upon their first impact with the water. Disorientation also may occur after cold-water immersion. Folks have been observed thrashing helplessly in the water for 30 second or more until they were able to get their bearings. In addition, immersion in cold water quickly can numb the extremities to the point of usefulness. Cold hands may be unable to fasten the straps of a life jacket, grasp a thrown rescue line or hold onto a boat.
Hypothermia is an added danger when hunting around water. The loss of inner body heat most commonly occurs when the air temperature is between 30 and 50 degrees, a common situation during most state duck seasons.
If you find yourself in cold water, try not to panic. Think survival. Keep movements to a minimum, and if you do have to tread water, do it slowly. This will reduce heat loss and aid retention of the air trapped inside your clothing, which can provide buoyancy and insulation.
By the following few simple safety rules, you can keep you and your hunting partners out of jeopardy.
*Each person on board should wear a life jacket or other personal flotation device.
*Don't overload the boat. Check the capacity plate, and never exceed the weight limit or number of people (this includes your dog) you can safely have aboard. Consider the weight of your passengers and equipment.
*Hunters and their dogs should always remain seated. If you must move, stay in the center of the boat and keep a low center of gravity.
*Always check the weather, and stay on shore if bad weather occurs or is expected.
*Tell a responsible person where you are going and when you will return.
*Carry extra clothes in a waterproof container. Keep a survival kit with you, including matches in a waterproof container. This allows you to build a fire for warmth and to dry your clothes if wet.
*If your boat capsizes, stay with it. If the boat is still afloat, climb on top. You're more likely to survive if you're not in the water.
*Wear your life jacket. This keeps you warmer and your head above water.
In addition to the few simple rules listed above, you should also observe the rules of safe firearms handling and transport. All firearms being transported in a boat during hours of darkness should be unloaded and cased. Smart hunters do this regardless of the time of day.
Use common sense when boating to your favorite hunting spot. Allow extra time so you don't forget important safety precautions and don't let your next waterfowling trip turn into a tragedy.