While it may not be the most exciting topic, bowfishing safety is something that should always be on your mind if you’re going to participate in the sport. The combination of ever-changing water conditions and fast-paced action can lead to bruises and scrapes or even an unplanned dip in the water. Accidents can happen fast, so read our bowfishing safety tips and safety gear checklist below to make sure you’re prepared for the next outing.
Bowfishing Safety Tips
Let’s start with the first rule of boating safety: Wear your life jacket at all times! If using a boat, you must have enough life jackets for each person on board. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a great swimmer or not; accidents can happen fast and there may not be time to grab a stowed life jacket in case of disaster. There are many types of personal floatation devices (PFDs) available, and inflatable life jackets in particular have become very popular with anglers. If you’re interested in an inflatable life jacket, check out this fact sheet.
Next, know your environment before getting on the water. Do a little research of the lake, river, or waterway to become familiar with the areas where you’ll be bowfishing. If you’re in a boat, don't drive quickly into areas you can't see what’s around the corner; there could be someone on the other side. Watch out for rocks and tree stumps when boating in shallows. Also, don’t fish in areas where it’s not permitted – they’re off limits for a reason.
Check local water reports and weather forecasts to alert you to conditions you should be aware of before you venture out. You can also download apps to automatically send you alerts about severe weather; just don’t rely on them if you’re in an area with limited service. If you’re bowfishing and the weather starts to look questionable, go somewhere where you can check the radar and get out of the water until the front passes.
Make sure you bring safety gear and store it in a waterproof container like this one. Keep a first aid kit, waterproof flashlight, maps, flares, and horn or whistle in the box. Also, remember to check the expiration dates on your flares regularly! It’s not a bad idea to keep copies of your boat registration and or fishing license in the waterproof box, too. Although this won’t apply to most bowfishing boats, note that fire extinguishers are required on boats with enclosed engine compartments (not outboards), enclosed living spaces, or permanent fuel tanks. For more information, refer to the U.S. Coast Guard’s resources for recreational boaters.
You should always wear the appropriate clothing, including sun protection, when bowfishing. Layers are a great option for staying comfortable if you’ll be out for longer periods of time. If you’re sticking to the shallows, consider hip waders or waterproof boots to keep you dry and protected from chilly waters. Also, be mindful of the depth of water you are wading in and step with caution.
Remember to pack bug spray, too! This is especially important if you’re bowfishing at night. The bright lights that help you spot your target will also attract all sorts of biting and stinging insects that will target YOU. Insect repellents with DEET have been a longtime favorite of outdoorsmen. An alternative option is a formula with Picaridin. Picaridin is odorless and feels less oily than products containing DEET, so it’s a great alternative if you hate the smell and feel of traditional sprays.
Finally, always tell someone where you will be going, when you will depart and when you will return. Make a plan so that person knows what to do if you don’t come back as expected. Having someone waiting for you will ensure that if something unexpected happens, help can be dispatched quickly.
Now, check out this list of safety gear you should keep on your boat:
Safety Gear Checklist
- Life vests (one for each boater)
- Flares (make sure they aren't expired)
- First aid kit
- Whistle or horn
- Fresh water
- Non-perishable snacks and food
Remember to keep your safety gear on your boat and always follow these tips to help ensure a safe trip. Afterall, as Greg Oxford, host of Bowfishing TV put it, “There’s not a fish on the water that’s worth tearing up your boat, tearing up your equipment, or risking your life.”