Bryanna R. Poulin Public Affairs Specialist
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas—Duck hunting season is in full swing and whether hunting on the river or wading in back waters the risks associated remain the same.
Although many hunting trips could go seamlessly smooth there is no guarantee the next trip will be the same.
“A fall overboard or boating accident can happen unexpectedly,” Jeremy E. Wells, natural resource specialist Little Rock District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.
Russell Malahy also a natural resource specialist with Little Rock District USACE reiterated Wells by saying “A boating accident can happen at any time,”
Even if a hunter follows every safety precaution no outdoorsman is invincible.
Malahy remembers a time loading his 10 foot boat during a chilly winter morning to go duck hunting with his friend.
“At that age I was bulletproof and ignorant to the world,” Malahy joked. “Off we went with about 2 inches of freeboard, loaded to the brim with our gear and a small horse and a half outboard that could barely push us.”
However as the two youngsters plowed through the water another boat came upon them at accelerating speeds.
“They trailed us for a while,” Malahy said. “Then, I assume, decided they couldn’t wait and went to pass without a care of slowing down throwing a wake any surfer would have thoroughly enjoyed.”
While a surfer would enjoy the heavy wake the near fatal accident for Malahy and his buddy could have gone much worse.
“At the time, the only thing that came to mind was a few select curse words for the gentlemen, not realizing the dangers we just merely escaped,” Malahy said. “Call it luck, call it faith, call it whatever you would like but for some reason that morning we never swamped the little boat. We were not wearing life jackets, tremendously overloaded, and ill prepared for any accident. I think back about that day and ponder on the decisions we make in life.”
Experience like this makes Malahy understand the importance of duck hunting water safety.
“Some accidents we are lucky to learn from but not everyone ends up as lucky as we were that cold dark morning,” Malahy said.
Even though Malahy didn’t encounter any incidents that day there are a number of things that could have gone wrong. Both Malahy and Wells stress the importance of safety while in or around the water during duck hunting season.
“It is important to wear your life jacket and consider all safety precautions while boating and hunting so you can return home to those that love you,” Wells said.
“Being safe is important because your family needs you to return home alive,” Malahy added.
The most obvious safety measure would be wearing a Personal Flotation Device (PFD). But some find endless excuses to not wear them.
“The most common excuses are they are bulky or hunters think they can’t shoot while wearing one or the water is only waist deep water,” Malahy said.
Wearing a PFD decreases the chance of drowning. It doesn’t mean a hunter is completely out of the woods during hunting.
“Other hazards hunters face when boating during duck hunting is hitting floating debris, logs, running aground, taking on water, and capsizing,” Wells noted. “All these things could lead to damaging the boat motor or lead to a serious boating accident and you finding yourself in the cold water.”
In other words threats are everywhere.
“Hunters could overload their vessel and have improper weight distribution,” Malahy added. “There are underwater obstructions or complete carelessness and racing to the duck holes.”
Even though wearing a PFD can keep a hunter from drowning it doesn’t protect against the other reasons for fatalities.
“I wouldn’t say that all fatalities are from drowning alone,” Wells believed. “There are other causes of death like hypothermia, shock, impacts from striking an object and other injuries sustained from boating accidents.”
Basically since duck hunting season is during the winter nobody is immune to the cold water.
“Falling in the cold water or accident injuries could also lead to other serious illness or medical emergencies,” Wells said.
Of course if drowning doesn’t cause a fatality, hypothermia could.
“Other risks are cold water immersion, which leads to hypothermia, propeller strikes from falling overboard and not wearing a kill switch,” Malahy said.
Simultaneously wearing a PFD coupled with a kill switch increases the chance for survival if thrown overboard.
“If you do fall overboard, your life jacket will keep you afloat and the shutoff lanyard will keep your boat from running uncontrolled,” Malahy added.
If someone is wearing a PFD and floating in cold water there are simple life saving techniques for hypothermia.
“Hypothermia can kill,” Malahy said. “Huddle with others if you can’t get out of the water. If you are by yourself draw your knees up to your chest and float.”
Nevertheless according to the U.S. Coast Guard in 2015 there were 428 deaths caused by drowning and only 63 had their life jacket on.
Yet wearing a PFD is personal accountability so it’s important to try to encourage people who aren’t wearing it.
“If you’re a captain of a vessel take a stand for safety and make all passengers wear their life jackets while riding in your boat,” Malahy said. “Also people can appeal to their friends and family to wear it for those they love.”
Wells believes encouragement and being firm is important.
“Try to encourage them to wear their life jacket, remind them that something could go wrong at any time and they need to return home to those that love them,” Wells emphasized. “Or simply refuse to operate the boat until everyone has on their life jacket.”
Since USACE is the largest provider of water-based outdoor recreation in the nation educating guests on water safety is one of the top priorities.
“We have an aggressive water safety campaign nationwide to educate and inform the general public in the importance of wearing a life jacket, boating safety and just being safe around water,” Wells concluded. “We do this though use of many outreach tools to include ranger interpretive programs, social media, media publications and literature, advertising, water safety booths at events, to just a park ranger talking to someone on the lake shore.”
The most important takeaway is to always wear your life jacket and heed all safety precautions while boating and hunting so you can return home to your loved ones.
For more safety tips go tohttp://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Recreation/National-Water-Safety_Program/