By Bob Brown
When it comes to boating safety, waterfowl hunting has never received the same amount of public attention as summer boating activities. Waterfowl hunting, more popularly known as duck hunting, is a popular winter sport, and while the activity is not widely thought of when referring to boating safety, it is important duck hunters have a proper boating education.
With the recent opening of waterfowl and upland game hunting seasons, the Washington State Parks Boating Commission wants individuals who hunt from boats to be safe and know boating laws before heading out onto the water.
Boats have always been part of waterfowl hunting and often necessary for hunting open waters, marshes, sloughs and other areas difficult to access by foot. However, using a boat can be dangerous.
That danger is not always appreciated by some hunters who are affected by the “It can’t happen to me” syndrome and fail to realize that using a boat produces more challenges and risks that require planning and greater hunter skills.
In a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) article titled "Hunting Big Water, Moving Water and Marine Areas," it was stressed there are times when some waterfowl hunters use boats in areas and conditions that would be avoided by cautious boaters and should definitely be avoided by inexperienced boaters. The best duck hunting weather is typically the worst boating weather, and waterfowl hunting usually means traveling to and from favorite hunting areas in the dark, often in boats loaded with eager hunters, restless dogs and lots of equipment. All these conditions are major factors in boating accidents and fatalities. According to Coast Guard findings, the primary causes of boating fatalities are capsizing, swamping and unexpected falls overboard.
Christina Fremont, communications consultant with Washington State Parks, said, Washington's recreational boating accident data for 2017 through October shows there have been 104 accidents. When the vessel activity was known, 13 percent happened while the person was fishing or hunting. Also, of the 104 accidents, 48 percent were in boats under 19 feet.
"That last statistic is important because most hunters and anglers are using boats under 19 feet in length,” Fremont said.
State Parks officials recommend the following boating safety tips for waterfowl hunters:
• Don’t overload your boat.
• Stay near shore and try to avoid crossing long stretches of open water.
• Should your boat be swamped or capsized, stay with it.
• Bring your cell phone along and keep it in a waterproof container so it will work case of an emergency.
• Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket or float coat. Besides keeping you afloat, they provide added insulation to keep you warm.
• Get a weather report before you go, and keep a watchful eye on weather conditions throughout the day. Conditions can change quickly and become dangerous, especially in open water.
• Before the trip, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. Should you have a problem, authorities will have an idea where to start looking.
• Take a boating class and get a Washington State Boater Education card.
Information regarding the State Parks Boat Safety Program can be had by calling 360-522-0744.

Bob Brown lives in Roy and is a freelance outdoors writer. He can be contacted at robertb1285@centurylink.net.