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Waterfowl Hunting & Boats
Safety on the Water
Happy duck hunter near Albany.
Waterfowl hunting from a boat blind is challenging and fun. In Oregon, such hunting occurs in rivers as often as on the marsh. This means the hunter has currents, river levels and, often, very cold water temperatures to deal with. Because of this, more waterfowl hunters die from drowning and the effects of hypothermia than from gunshot wounds. The following guidelines will help you stay safe and legal.

Required Boating Equipment:
Remember: All youth 12 and younger must wear an approved life jacket when in the boat underway. Game officers will check duck boats for required equipment - if you're not wearing your life jacket, it must be readily accessible.
For a full listing of required safety equipment for various size boats, check here. One often-overlooked piece of required equipment is the navigation light. If you're operating before or after sunset, turn your nav lights on! Clip-on sets are available at most sporting goods stores.
Remember, too, that any boat with a motor MUST be registered in Oregon. Manually powered craft do not. New boat? Registration lapsed? Check here on how to get it registered.

Recommended Equipment:
Waterfowling requires some specialized equipment.
  • Anchor: Much of Oregon's waterfowl opportunity occurs on rivers or bays with potentially strong currents. Use an anchor suitable for your boat and the river bottom. Anchor with enough line to keep your boat from drifting. In a marsh, a simple mushroom anchor may adequate. In a river, a "rocking-chair" anchor may be required. Check here for more anchor information.
  • Oars or paddles: You'll need them in case your motor quits, gets tangled in the camo netting, or sucks up debris or grass.
  • Water bailer: You are waterfowl hunting. Hopefully it's raining hard. Also, the dog and the decoys can bring a lot of water into the boat, making it less stable. Keep the boat as dry as possible.
  • First Aid Kit.
  • Extra foul-weather clothing: Hypothermia is a big risk for Oregon waterfowlers (check here for safety brochure). Mild hypothermia can inhibit responsible decision making. Avoid this by drinking hot, non-alcoholic fluids and staying as warm and dry as possible.
  • Compass and charts of the area.
  • Emergency tools and spare parts: Waterfowl hunting is a solitary sport with little opportunity for rescue by another party. Make sure your equipment is in good operating order and carry tools and parts as needed.
  • Cell Phone / VHF radio. On inland waters, a cell phone can be a life saver. On the Columbia River or coastal estuaries, get a VHF marine radio. It's more dependable than a cell phone. Check here for information on VHF radios.
  • Flood light: Many duck hunters depart hours before daylight or return after dark. A good flood-light is a life saver.

Hazards To Watch For
  • High water, bad weather: It's a given that waterfowlers like bad weather. A well-prepared waterfowler can easily handle it. However, if river levels are rising rapidly or if severe wind is forecast, get off the water. In these conditions, expect large debris flows in the river, possible blockages of channels or access points and hazardous navigation. Even the ducks don't fly in this weather, so get off the water.
  • Boat blinds can be unstable: Gusty winds can easily tip a boat blind over, especially for the smaller boats that aren't well anchored against shore. Pull the blind material down before trying to navigate and secure your boat carefully when it's up.
  • Overloaded boat: This is one of the biggest hazards for waterfowl hunters. Between people, dogs, guns, ammunition, decoys and all the other gear, even a good-sized boat can quickly become overloaded. An overloaded boat is unstable. An unstable boat in "good waterfowl weather" is dangerous.
  • Overloaded hunter: If you do end up in the water, think about what you're wearing. Waders? Ammo belt? Heavy waterfowl rain gear? How long do you think you'll float, and if you do float, how easy is it to get back into your boat? Always wear your life jacket. If you don't like the traditional life jacket, consider a camo float coat (extremely comfortable, waterproof and good protection from hypothermia) or an inflatable life jacket (very comfortable, doesn't inhibit your hunting). For more on life jackets, check here.
  • Firearms in the boat: Before launching, consider where your gun will be once you're set up. Never load your firearm before you're ready to hunt, and unload it when you're setting or re-arranging your decoys. When your ready, keep the muzzle of your loaded firearm above the gunnel and pointed away from the boat and other hunters. Always control the muzzle!
  • Alcohol: If alcohol and firearms don't mix, and boats and alcohol don't mix, then waterfowling from a boat should NEVER include alcohol. Wind, rain, cold, vibration - all amplify the affect of alcohol. Alcohol can speed the onset of hypothermia. Leave the alcohol on shore.

Waterfowl: General Information
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife