Waterfowl Hunting in Maryland

Duck Boat Safety Tips for Maryland Waterfowlers

Capsizing and falling overboard into cold water are major hazards for waterfowl hunters. According to national statistics, more hunters die every year from cold water shock, hypothermia and drowning than firearms mishaps. As a responsible hunter, you need to be aware of the dangers and follow a few simple rules to make your hunt on the water safer.


  • Maryland law requires a readily accessible U.S. Coast Guard approved life vest for every person on duck boats.
  • For boats 16 feet and longer, there must be one U.S. Coast Guard approved flotation seat cushion on board, to throw to someone in distress.
  • Seat cushions are no longer approved as primary flotation devices. Everyone on the boat needs a wearable personal flotation device (pfd) of the proper size and type.

Safety Tips

  • Don't wear hip boots or waders in the boat. If you fall into the water, air trapped in the boots is released, binding your feet together so you can't kick to stay afloat. If you immediately pull your knees up to your chest, it's possible to float, but make sure you practice this before you really need to do it.
  • Wear a life jacket to and from the blind. Life vests are available for around $35 with mesh in the upper body that allow hunters to shoulder a gun but still offer protection from cold water.
  • Don't overload the boat. It could result in a dangerous loss of freeboard, and too little freeboard is an invitation to the first large wave to swamp your boat.
  • Stow visual distress signals on board in a waterproof container.
  • Know the weather forecast for the area. High winds can be dangerous. Cancel trip if water conditions aren’t safe. Keep an AM radio handy for the latest updates.
  • Never overload your boat. Load gear low in the boat and distribute the weight evenly.
  • Never anchor from the stern.
  • At the first sign of a storm, head for shore or safe harbor.
  • Carry a throwable flotation device in case someone falls overboard.
  • Stay near shore and avoid crossing large expanses of open water, especially in bad weather.
  • Always stay seated when shooting from an open boat.
  • If your boat does capsize or swamp, STAY WITH THE BOAT and use distress signals. Even when filled with water, the boat will provide some flotation and is easier to see by potential rescuers.
  • Bring your cell phone along in a waterproof, re-closable bag. You can use the phone without removing it from the bag.
  • If wearing chest waders, use a belt to keep them from filling up with water.
  • Unless the clothing is creating a hazard, do not remove extra clothing. It can help prevent hypothermia.
  • To retain body heat, pull your knees to your chest and keep your elbows to your sides.
  • When overboard without a PFD: Trapping air in hip boots and chest waders by bending your knees and raising your feet then lying back in the water can help you stay afloat. An oar under the knees and another behind the back and shoulders can be used to keep you floating. Decoys stuffed inside your jacket will provide buoyancy.
  • Always tell someone where you are going and when to expect your return.