Hunting from a boat

Many duck hunters use boats as hunting platforms or for travel to and from hunting areas in Victoria. Some use powered boats, while others use non-motorised watercraft such as punts, sneaker boats, canoes or flat bottomed boats.

You are allowed to hunt duck from a boat under power up to a speed of five knots on waterways such as rivers, creeks and streams.

You are not allowed to hunt duck from a motor boat with the motor running (whether it is in gear or not) on open water such as lakes, dams or swamps. 

A motor boat operating at a speed of five knots or less can be used to retrieve dead or wounded ducks.

Apart from the examples above, aircraft, boats or motor vehicles must not be used to pursue, hunt, take or destroy game in Victoria.

Twelve steps to safer boating

Regardless of what type of boat is used, hunters need to have a basic knowledge of safe boat operation before heading out onto the water. Safe and responsible hunters will use extra care to avoid accidents on the water.

If you intend to use a powered boat (defined as any boat with an engine) to hunt ducks, you will need to obtain a boat operator's licence. Prior to applying for a licence, you will need to sit a computerised knowledge test. This test ensures that all recreational powerboat operators have a basic knowledge of waterway rules and safe boat operation. For more information on the boat operator's licence, please contact Maritime Safety Victoria on 1800 223 022 (freecall) or visit www.transportsafety.vic.gov.au.

Duck hunters who use non-motorised watercraft such as punts, sneaker boats, canoes or flat bottomed boats are exempt from the boat operators licence. However, you still need to have a basic understanding of safe operation when using such watercraft.

The following document provides basic safety tips for duck hunters who use non-motorised watercraft for hunting. If you intend to hunt from a non-motorised punt, sneaker boat, canoe or flat bottomed boat this season, you should be familiar with the following safety tips before heading out onto the water.

Responsible duck hunters will know and apply these safety rules at all times and will insist that other hunters do the same.

1. Know your boat

Hunters should be aware that boats such as punts, sneaker boats, canoes or flat bottomed boats, which are typically used for hunting, can be prone to tipping or capsizing suddenly. Almost half the fatal incidents involving recreational boaters since 1999 involved capsizings. Make sure you know the characteristics of your vessel before hunting from it. Do you know if your boat will stay afloat when filled with water or capsized? You need to know. It's best to stay with the overturned boat if you can't swim to shore.

Never stand up in your boat, punt or canoe. Any quick movements or large shifts of weight could make you lose you balance and fall in, or even turn the vessel over. There is no reason for you to stand to take a shot. Always shoot from a seated position. If you take a dog with you in your vessel, make sure it is under control at all times.

2. Know the weather conditions

Always know what the weather is doing. Never venture onto the water in rough conditions or when rough conditions are predicted. Punts, sneaker boats, canoes or flat bottomed boats can be very dangerous in severe weather. Avoid large bodies of water at the first sign of adverse weather.

3. Avoid fatigue

Duck hunting can be physically demanding. Many hunters underestimate the physical demands of hunting. The effort required to drive to a hunting spot, set up camp and set out decoys can be draining. Staying ready to shoot when you are hunting can also be tiresome for you and your hunting companions. Don't let yourself become fatigued. Fatigue may impair your judgement and slow your ability to recognise or react to potentially dangerous situations. If you are feeling tired, head back to camp.

4. No alcohol or drugs when boating

Alcohol and many day-to-day drugs and medicines dull and slow your mental and physical reactions. When using watercraft, this is an extremely dangerous condition as the ability to recognise and react to dangerous situations swiftly and accurately is essential. Alcohol also increases the rate of body heat lose, heightening the chances of hypothermia and drowning.

5. Lighten your load

Do not overload your watercraft. It is easy to underestimate the weight of safety gear, firearms, dogs, decoys and ammunition. Know the carrying capacity of your boat, punt or canoe and stay within its limits. Overloaded boats are unstable and one of the leading causes of boating accidents.

6. Wear the right clothing

Clothing should offer protection to the elements but not restrict your movements. Wherever possible, wear clothing that you can swim in or that you can get out of quickly if you fall in. Avoid clothing that will significantly reduce buoyancy. If you need to be rugged up, wear a lifejacket. Never wear waders in a boat.

7. Never get into a boat if you can't swim

You've got to be able to swim well before getting into a boat. If you can't swim, don't go in a boat learn how to swim first. You also need to be able to swim with clothes on because that's the way you will go into the water. Remember, duck hunting clothing is often bulky and can hinder swimming and buoyancy.

8. Wear a PFD

Significant number of fatalities associated with boating are caused by people either not wearing a lifejacket or Personal Flotation Device (PFD), or not having it correctly fitted. If you are not a strong swimmer, always wear a PFD when in a boat.

The wearing of PFDs and lifejackets is compulsory on certain vessels, including those less than 4.8m in length.

PFDs should also be worn under the following circumstances:

  • at the first sign of bad weather;
  • in an emergency situation;
  • between sunset and sunrise or periods of
  • restricted visibility;
  • when operating in unfamiliar waters;
  • When boating alone.

You should always carry enough PFDs for each person in the boat. Also, make sure that you maintain your PFDs in full working order.

Many duck hunters are under the false impression that life jackets hinder your ability to hunt. However, there are several styles of lifejackets on the market that can be comfortably worn under camouflage gear when hunting. Some US manufacturers also make camouflage veststyle life jackets that are specifically designed for duck hunters. Contact your local boating store for more information on life jackets and PFDs.

For more information regarding a legal, safe and responsible boating, please contact Maritime Safety Victoria on 1800 223 022 (freecall) or at www.transportsafety.vic.gov.au

9. Never hunt alone

Always hunt with a companion. Not only does hunting with a companion make hunting more enjoyable, it means you have another set of eyes to watch weather conditions and it means you have someone to either help you or go for help if something goes wrong.

10. Have a safety plan

Know what you are going to do if you or someone else falls in. It is essential that you have some idea of how you are going to react. A game plan may save you precious time to do something that may save you or a hunting companion.
Every time you go hunting from a boat, you should think about the various situations that may occur. Where can I get of the water? What will my friends do if I fall in? What can I throw to my companion if they fall in? Be mentally prepared. It could save your life or that of a hunting companion.

11. Shoot safely

If you are in a boat with another hunter, it is important to agree on zones of fire and stick to these zones. One way might be for the hunter in the back of the boat to face the rear and only shoot at birds approaching the boat from behind. The hunter in the front should face forward and only fire at birds approaching from the front. Never stand in a boat, punt or canoe to take a shot. You may fall in or capsize the vessel.

12. Check your equipment

Check your gear before any hunting trip. All equipment used should be kept in good working order. Lifejackets and PFDs should be tested before you leave on your trip to ensure they keep their buoyancy. Checking your equipment will help you to avoid accidents on the water and make your hunting experience more enjoyable.

For more information regarding a legal, safe and responsible boating, please contact Maritime Safety Victoria on 1800 223 022 (freecall) or at www.transportsafety.vic.gov.au