Outfitting a Duck Boat

A checklist of safety items and other useful equipment for boat hunters.

by Wade Bourne

Hunting from a boat is a great way to utilize North America's public lakes, rivers, marshes, and swamps. A boat outfitted with a blind and the proper equipment will allow hunters to follow ducks that move as water or feeding conditions change. My personal rig is a 16-foot Go-Devil boat and motor with an Avery Quick-Set blind. This is no big-water outfit. I use it mostly in backwaters when the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and their tributaries are flooding. This boat-blind has provided me with many wonderful hunts in the past 15 years.

One key to success in this style of hunting is carrying the right gear. My boat has a spacious dry locker, and I stock it with items that facilitate my hunting efforts in different situations.

Following is a list of what I carry on board my duck boat. Other hunters might add or subtract from this list according to the special needs of where and how they hunt.

Safety Items

The U.S. Coast Guard requires the following items aboard boats 16 feet to less than 26 feet in length:

  • a Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each passenger
  • a throwable Type IV flotation device
  • a sound-producing device such as a whistle or air horn
  • a visual signaling device (flares and flare gun)
  • a fire extinguisher

The boat must also be properly registered and numbered, and the navigation lights must be operable for running in the dark. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadrons offer free boat inspections, and hunters can set up an appointment for a safety check by logging on to safetyseal.net.

I also carry several other safety items for special emergencies:

  • Survival kit – including strike-anywhere matches in a waterproof container, a candle, space blanket, multi-tool, survival snacks, and parachute cord
  • First-aid kit – a comprehensive kit with a first-aid manual in a waterproof container
  • Extra clothes – a full change of clothes (underwear to parka) in a waterproof canoe bag. If a hunter falls into the water, dry clothes will help ward off hypothermia.

Hunting Equipment

Besides safety gear, here's a list of equipment that can come in handy on a hunting trip:

  • Decoys – two dozen mallard decoys rigged with extra long anchor lines, which can be half-hitched for use in shallow water
  • Push pole – for poling through shallow water, picking up decoys, checking bottom depth, etc.
  • Long-handle paddle – in case the motor quits
  • Hard-hat spotlight – a mega-candlepower headlight mounted on a hard plastic safety helmet. This spotlight shines where I turn my head, allowing hands-free illumination for nighttime running.
  • Avery Double-Duty dog platform/ladder – With this hang-on dog platform/ladder, my Lab can easily climb back into the boat.
  • Sta-bil fuel stabilizer – When added to fresh gas, this product keeps moisture from forming and freezing in the gas tank and fuel line.
  • Tool chest – miscellaneous tools (pliers, wrenches, socket set, screwdrivers, etc.) for doing simple repairs on the motor, boat trailer, and accessories
  • Quick starting spray – canned ether for providing hot-start capability if the motor gets cranky
  • Rescue Tape – a product designed to make on-site repairs of the fuel hose
  • Small chain saw – for sawing logs when exploring for ducks up small creeks and sloughs
  • Limb pruners – When hunting, I like to position my boat in brush or next to a tree with overhanging limbs. I use the pruners to trim limbs out of the shooting lane and cut additional brush for the blind.
  • Stout nylon rope – for securing the boat to a tree or brush
  • Camouflage netting – for covering the motor and bow of the boat and for breaking up the opening formed by the two top rails of the Quick-Set blind
  • One-burner camp stove/heater – for warming food and beverages
  • Hand-held GPS – to help navigate flooded swamps and brushy backwaters during periods of high water
  • Camo duct tape – for everything else

I carry shotgun shells, calls, a thermos, sunglasses, a multi-tool, decoy gloves, zip ties, and other small items in my blind bag. I also keep my cell phone in a plastic bag in my parka pocket.

A final word of caution: hunting from a boat is effective, but it can also be dangerous if simple safety rules aren't followed. Each season, several waterfowl hunters lose their lives because they venture out in craft that are too small to handle rough waters or because they aren't wearing a life jacket when an accident happens. Don't head out on big water in little boats, and always wear your life jacket when your boat is under way and insist that your passengers do likewise. Erring on the side of caution may keep you from becoming the next tragic statistic.