Risk Assessment & Safety Should Be Priority One For Outdoorsmen

Vessel-Recovery-2-DeadIn the span of one week here in southern New England, we lost 3 lives to the dangers of maritime duck hunting in frigid air and water temps.  One of the lost souls was a mere 21 years old and a student at Brown University.  He was duck hunting from a Kayak in 20 degree air temps and the water was well below 40 degrees.  His body was not discovered for 11 days (disappeared on January 1, his body recovered on January 12).  The second was a tragedy where 3 men capsized in their 15′ aluminum skiff, while venturing out to duck hunt, on the Westport river.  2 of the occupants died.  At the time of the USCG rescue, the air temp was 8 degrees and the water temp at 35 degrees. Both of these scenarios are indeed tragedies.  In one case a young life was lost, following a passion he obviously had for hunting, and the other, 2 lives were lost, and the latter were tried and seasoned maritime anglers and hunters (one of the lost was the venerable Steve James, president of the Boston Big Game Fishing Club and the 27 years sponsor and organizer of the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark tournament held on Martha’s Vineyard).

Body found washed ashore in Falmouth identified as missing duck hunter
Read more: http://www.myfoxboston.com/story/24428681/2014/01/12/body-found-washed-ashore-in-falmouth#ixzz2qJUg1OGE

Monster shark tourney organizer dead in duck hunting accident
Read More: http://www.mvtimes.com/2014/01/07/monster-shark-tourney-organizer-dead-duck-hunting-accident-18547/

As I take this all in and say my prayers for the family and friends lost in these tragic scenarios, I can’t help but wonder what was going through these people’s minds to brave the near frozen waters, in very cold to arctic temperatures, all for the pursuit of downing a few ducks before the season ends.  I am as obsessed and addicted to fishing & hunting as any, no question, however, I always gauge the levels of risk I take when in the field or on the water.  From there, I make the rational call to either proceed in my expedition or call it off.  I have taken my boat from the marina, many times, saying, this is OK, the boat can handle it, only to come to realization as I clear the river and the barrier islands that while the boat may very well be able to handle it, I am not willing to take the chance with my safety or that of any possible passengers I have (and this is in more temperate weather, where the water itself won’t cut my survival time down to 30 minutes or less).

elevated_tree_stand_fallThe same holds true for my hunting efforts.  Now, to be fair, where I primarily hunt, the likelihood of getting truly lost is not there, yet, I carry a full compact survival kit every time I head in, for one never knows what can happen.  Getting lost is more of a worry where one is unfamiliar with the land, or the land is soo vast, that getting turned around a few times can completely disorient you.  What is something that I always consider is that getting hurt is a much higher probability, in any number of ways (fall, cut, shot, animal attack, etc…).  These are very real and present risks that need to be planned for, even if only minimally so, as preparation can be salvation in a bad scenario.

Many of us spend hundreds of hours in the wood scouting and hunting every year, and I also spend a couple hundred hours on the ocean every season as well.  Safety must always be first and foremost in our efforts, as, for me, these are hobbies done for enjoyment and relaxation.  I just can’t be relaxed if I am taking an excessive risk that endangers myself or others, and that prevents me from having the so called fun I am supposed to having.

For example, when I climb up into a tree stand, I NEED to have a full arrest harness on.  It’s not a nice to have, it is a NEED.  I read many articles this past season (and do every year) where many hunters fell from their tree stands, due to lack of a full arrest harness or being “too confident” because they have done this a thousand times.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there were a few times this past hunting season, during the gun seasons, where I climbed up in a tree stand without my harness (as I didn’t have it with me).  You know what, I never stayed up on that stand for more than 30 minutes, as all I kept thinking was “dummy, this is when you will slip or make that mistake”, so, I climbed down and went about still hunting using natural cover, and was able to be in the game, rather than in my head.

I know my limits, and yes, sometimes, I push beyond them or ignore the right thing to do, but, for me, when I do that, my mind is screaming at me to reduce the risk or back off, as getting injured or worse yet, killed, doing something I love is nonsensical to me.  The older I get, the more I tend to listen to and heed the common sense that I know is right.  Some may call me a “wuss” in some of these cases, but at least I will be alive or in a position to do what I can to retain my life.  Safety must be a top priority when engaging in the sports that we love.

immersion-survival-gumby-suitWhen I think about the tragic deaths I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I tend to think of the commercial fishing industry.  These boats have requirements for safety gear and are supposed to train on how to use the lifesaving apparatus’ they stow.  Gumby suits (survival/immersion suits) are on these boats (or at least they should be).  In colder waters, it is these survival suits that literally mean the difference between life and death.  Hypothermia and subsequent loss of consciousness set it at alarmingly fast rates when the water is below 40 degrees (even faster than most thing when the water is 60 degrees).  For the duck hunters who were lost in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, it was the fact that the waters were no more than 35 degrees when they went in, and the air temps anywhere from 8-20 degrees between the 2 accidents, with wind in play as well. If you look at the chart below, you will see that hypothermia would have set in within 2-3 minutes and unconsciousness in less than 30 minutes (for the average person, it is much less than 30 minutes).  In the water, unconscious, one simply has no chance, even with a life preserver, as the body will shutdown completely in less than 45 minutes for most.  This is where gauging the risk and making the rational decision comes into play.

Cold Water Survival Time (w/o protective gear)

Water Temperature

Loss of Dexterity

Exhaustion or

Expected Time of

Degrees C

Degrees F

with no protective clothing        





Under 2 min.

Under 15 min.

Under 15 to 45 min.

0.3 to 4.5

32.5 – 40

Under 3 min.

15 to 30 min.

30 to 90 min.

4.5 to 10

40 – 50

Under 5 min.

30 to 60 min.

1 to 3 hrs.

10 to 15.5

50 – 60

10 to 15 min.

1 to 2 hrs.

1 to 6 hrs.

15.5 to 21

60 – 70

30 to 40 min.

2 to 7 hrs.

2 to 40 hrs.

21 to 26.5

70 – 80

1 to 2 hrs.

2 to 12 hrs.

3 hrs. to indefinite

Over 26.5

Over 80

2 to 12 hrs.



We all love the outdoors.  Hunting, Fishing, Hiking, Exploring, Scouting, whatever it may be.  It is the process of knowing what can go wrong that should be your driving factor for risk assessment.  Probability comes into play here, but, we often underestimate this aspect base don our “experience”.  Don’t let that be your downfall.  I play the game with myself as well, and the more I read and see of fellow sportsmen and women falling victim to senseless accidents, when the risks were very high, the more I try to temper my rational thought with my “I’ve done this a hundred times” mentality.  Be safe and think it through, but remember, most of us do this for fun, and for it to be fun, we need to be available for that to happen.

There are hundreds of other scenarios, spanning every outdoor activity known to man.  True common sense and rational assessment need to be brought to each and every one, so we can all enjoy this planet and keep doing so, as safely as is possible.