Layout Hunting -- Safety & Equipment

Duck hunting for diver species like Canvasbacks, Redheads, Ringnecks, Eiders, Goldeneye and other diver ducks.

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Layout Hunting -- Safety & Equipment

Postby Gold-N-I » Mon Jul 02, 2012 11:15 am

About 6-8 months ago I stumbled across a great online resource for Layout Hunting Divers on Open Water. It listed all recommended equipment, safety procedures, rigging, etc. Of course I did not save the "Link" to my internet favorites and now I can't seem to find it again.

Does anyone know a location online where a fairly complete layout hunting resource can be found? It would be great to have it as a yearly refresher or to pass it along to other hunters just getting into the sport.
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Layout Hunting -- Safety & Equipment

Postby DeadEye_Dan » Mon Jul 02, 2012 12:15 pm

A bunch of us on another forum collaborated on one a few years's a pretty good start.

In the interest of trying to pull all the great ideas included in this thread together, I've revised the original post and integrated nearly all of the other suggestions/tips/ideas below. I hope this information proves useful for some of the newer guys. I know that I've picked up a couple new ideas and will be adding them to our layout rig. Good Luck to all and be safe.


“The SOLAS Convention in its successive forms is generally regarded as the most important of all international treaties concerning the safety of merchant ships. The first version was adopted in 1914, in response to the Titanic disaster, the second in 1929, the third in 1948 and the fourth in 1960.”

This is the convention that dictates basic equipment and actions that will be deployed during navigation, boarding a watercraft, etc…I have adopted this idea for layout hunting.

Basic Equipment List

A. Tender Boat Gear
• PFDs, recommend lifejackets or inflatable suspenders for each person aboard
• Paddle
• Flares
• VHF Radio
• Fire extinguisher
• Cell phone
• Horn
• At least 1 12V bilge pump and one Manual bilge pump as back-up
• 2 Anchors with lines, one with a easily seen float, the other is a back-up tender anchor
• Small tool set
• Emergency phone number card
• EPIRB ( The ultimate mayday call)
• Long handled fishing net, to retrieve your dead birds, works best.
• 4 foot or longer boat hook
• Dry bag with change of clothes
• Sharp knife in easily visible and accessible location near stern of vessel
• A good pair of binoculars.

B. Layout Boat
• Two (2) anchors with line including an extra line on the back anchor with a crab pot float on the other end.
• One or Two PFD’s (depending on one or two man layout), the self-inflating horseshoe PFD’s are perfect for this application
• VHF Radio
• Flares
• Cell phone
• Hand operated bailer/pump, and sponge/cup for bailing
• Flashing light.

Layout Hunting 101 and More
The act of hunting layout hunt is by definition dangerous. In order to keep things as safe as possible I offer this refresher for newbies and veterans alike. If we layout hunt together this season I expect that you will have read the following more than once and are familiar with it. You never know when your role as guest may change to lifesaver, pay attention…

We set the boat with two anchors one anchor off the back, where the wind comes over the back of the boat, and one off the front to keep the boat from yawing back and forth. The rear anchor is the one bearing the weight of the boat. These lines angle down into the water to the anchor and due to this they are very susceptible of getting caught in the tender boat’s propeller. The decoys will then be deployed on the motherlines parallel to the layout boat. A large approach area for the tender will be left on the right side of the layout boat, as we approach it, into the wind, one person in the tender will grasp the inside cockpit edge of the layout, WITH BOTH HANDS, and hold on to the layout. At this point you will likely be on your knees in the tender for increased leverage. The importance of having both hands on the layout at this point is critical and cannot be stressed enough. One hand on the layout and this is what happens…the tender boat will pivot on your one hand in the wind and all of sudden you scream can’t hold on cause the broadside of the tender boat is caught in the wind and now it’s too late for two hands. If you’re the approach person, two hands always. One person holds onto the layout boat while another gently puts one foot in the layout boat and then swings the other in and sit’s down immediately. Someone else will hand you the items you have ALREADY set aside for use in the layout. Now is not the time for searching your backpack for shells, cig’s, gloves etc…put it in your pocket before we approach if you want it. There is little room in the layout for blind bags and the like. When we raft off the layout we want to spend as little time there as possible. Guns go in the layout cased. Empty cases go behind the backrest. Once in the layout get comfortable, your boots should go just to the end of the bottom board when laying down. Get the guns out, DO NOT load until the tender is out of range. Load up and lay down. Your gun lays on the outside of the boat. I put mine so that the butt of the stock is up at about my chest. Guns rested on the inside of the boat could shoot a foot and puts holes in the boat. Your eyes should be about water level, don’t be afraid to LAY down, get low. Work the birds, when the birds land or fly within the decoys, they are plenty close enough to be shooting at, you’ll know when. When you have shot a bird radio the tender and then if conditions will allow, talk the tender into the downed bird, tell us if it is crippled or dead. If the wind is blowing or whatever, point with whole arm where the bird went down. Whenever the tender boat approachs the layout for a person exchange all guns should be empty, ALWAYS. On the layout will be a VHF marine radio, flares and one of the hunters should have a cell phone.

Tending to the Layout - The only job of the tending crew is the safety of the layout. The lives of the layout hunters literally rests with the tending crew. Keep binoculars handy and use them to keep a really good eye on the gunner(s) from your tending area and be ready to move on a moment’s notice. Conditions can change rapidly and the tender must be able to respond. The tender will be moored off a buoy that is attached to the anchor, look for the buoy and there will be a clip that is clipped to the bow eyelet. Grab the anchor line with the hook, leaning out over the gunwale of the boat leads to falling out of the boat, use the hook. Now just watch the layout. The layout boat can be very difficult for other vessels to see in choppy conditions, so be vigilant for other vessels approaching the layout rig, and be ready to intercept them if necessary. The layout should always be approached from downwind so that the tender is running into the wind. The side of the tender that is open, the opposite side of the helm station, will be layed up against the boat. Tender crew grabs the layout with TWO HANDS and the swap begins. At the end of the hunt, before leaving the layout, pull the front anchor. Then once everyone is in the tender, it is easy to snag the crab pot float with the boat hook, pull the anchor and then pull on the anchor line to get the layout to the boat. I don't like being right next to the layout in 3' waves swiping the boat hook under the back of the layout trying to snag the anchor line. This way you can be 10' away snag the crab float and then bring the layout to you. Always go SLOW in the tender, when anywhere near the layout. The last thing you want to do in 1' waves where the spray curtain is all the way down is send a 3' wake at the layout and put 20gallons into it to start the day.

If you come hunting with us I expect that you have read this document and are thoroughly familiar with it. I understand that you may be along as a guest but one never knows when due to unforseen circumstances roles change and all of sudden the “guest” becomes the only person who can save someone or every one. The most critical items to remember are as follows:

• When tending the layout, two hands must be used at all times while swapping hunters.
• Be very cognizant of gun safety. The layout is tight, get comfortable and be safe.
• If you are uncomfortable hunting in the current conditions, SAY SOMETHING. I do not want to read the fear in your face.
• If you have questions - ASK, I can’t read your mind. We all asked the same questions at some point.
• The VHF radio emergency channel is 16, if things go bad, call “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY” duck hunters in trouble and give approximate location, wait for the US Coast Guard to respond.
• Above all listen and instantly comply with orders of the captain. If the business hits the fan I do not have time to explain things, just do it.

Lessons learned the hard way:
1. Pay attention to the marine forecast (not the TV weather report) - more often than not they will get it right. It's updated about every 8 hours, check the update while you're on the water. It can change and that change could make a huge difference. Watch the weather like a hawk, be prepared to leave your gear if it gets nasty, and have all escape routes pre-planned (bays, islands, etc). Make sure you are not picking up in seas that are too big for your tender\mother boat. We've found it becomes too difficult to control the tender boat in the approach and transfer of hunters at the layout boat if the winds get too strong. We are most comfortable with waves about 1 foot. We can and do hunt in 2 foot chop, but anything more becomes NO fun for our crew, and if it's not fun anymore, then there really isn't any point to being out there.
2. Make sure that ONLY the experienced boater/layout hunter drives the tender boat. We have many visitors hunt with us, but only 3 of us that drive the tender (and Ahartz is one of them). With a 2 man layout, we can still take turns hunting/tendering.
3. Keep a sharp knife (in a case) very close to the back of the boat - it will be needed when you get a decoy line or mother-line wrapped up in the prop, which will happen eventually. If you're lucky it will happen when it doesn't end up with waves coming over the back of the boat. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to have everyone carry a knife capable of cutting lines loose from harm’s way during the hunt. When an anchor line captures a prop, it seems it only takes seconds for a boat to be turned downwind, allowing waves to begin swamping the boat over the transom.
4. PFD's - Wear a life jacket as soon as you get out of your vehicle, and don't take it off until you get back to your vehicle. It’s a good idea for the tender boat guy to keep a PFD on while he's alone in the tender. The suspender type inflatables are comfortable, easy to put-on/take-off, and don't take up much room in the boat.
5. Have at least 1 working 12V system bilge pump and the more the better. Some guys run 2, in case one fails. Buy the Rule brand, they are the best, less prone to freezing and getting fouled with debris. Also keep a big manual pump in the tender as a final back-up option.
6. I've added a large magnet to the gear list, which hopefully I'll never need to use to grapple for a gun on the bottom. Keep your guns cased in floating cases until you’re ready to lay down in the layout boat.
7. Have a 2nd line on main anchor to be able to pull your layout in without a struggle.
8. Instead of grabbing the layout boat with your hands right off the bat from the tender, utilize a short, sturdy 4ft boat hook until the crafts are securely together and moving as one in the water. The movement between the two boats can be a pinch point for limbs until they are touching securely. Boat hooks also come in handy for line handling in the decoy pickup process too.
9. NEVER, NEVER step on the deck of the layout boat while switching. The boats can move, the layout boat can roll, and the deck will be wet and slippery!
10. Clipping a line to your gun only seems logical during the hand off. Even if you have it in a floating case and you leave it cased, it’s cheap insurance.
11. Keep a bright orange flag in the layout boat so you can wave off other boaters/fishermen. Guys going out perching may not be thinking about guys in layout rigs. Some layout boats really disappear in the waves if there is a good chop. We have had a few close calls, where the flag really paid off and alerted others to our presence.
12. Develop a system of hand signals that everyone in your party understands and can recognize immediately. In case a radio goes to the bottom, batteries die, or any other type of emergency that renders the radio(s) inoperable/fails. We use as follows as our non-verbal communication.
a. A shotgun straight up in the air vertically means, bird down on the water. No sense in running the tender in if there are missed shots.
b. Hold the shotgun in the air horizontally means, comes get me. Whether the gunner in the layout boat is ready for a switch, or there is a doesn't matter....get in there and get the gunner out of the layout boat.
13. NEVER, NEVER...leave the dock without a secondary anchor on board the tender boat.
14. Take your time.
15. Whenever possible, set up and pick up the rig while it is light out. Particularly when the weather is ugly.
16. Learn the winds, currents and locations you want to hunt. Backwash is the killer of any layout rig. A quick switch of wind direction, and a great day, becomes very bad. If the backwash starts...get the heck out of dodge.
17. Keep your tender organized, no crapola on the floors or seats in the way.
18. If you hunting during freezing conditions - keep 50 lbs. of sand in the tender to use if the boat floor becomes ice covered. I also keep 100 pounds of sand in the truck for frozen boat ramps.
19. Live to hunt another day. When the weather turns ugly, leave the decoys and layout and get to shore. Do NOT hestitate. The rig isn’t going anywhere. For gosh sakes, get the guy out of the layout first and foremost. Then go to shore, empty all your duck crap out of the tender, and go out to recover your gear with an empty boat when the conditions allow. Remember you can always replace a layout boat and decoys, buy not your hunting buddies.

Dogs and layout hunting – The dog stays home. Sorry, but they're just in the way when it's serious layout hunting time. You don't need them anyways. A four-foot long landing net would be far more efficient as the tender would have to bring the dog into the fray anyways. You can bring your dog and let him just watch, but isn’t that really more torture for the beast than anything else. Big water is too dangerous for the dog, and you. (wouldn't want to try pulling wet dog back in boat, in 10 FOW)...

A few closing thoughts -
• Layout hunting should ideally be done by boaters who like to hunt. Not duck hunters who only use boats to chase ducks. So many duck hunters are not boaters. First and foremost you are out on open deep water in November. Some days we see no one else on the water.
• Don't let sight of those birds constantly working 3 miles offshore tempt you to try and sneak out there on a day with offshore winds 15 to 25 knots and gusting to 35.
• Now for the most important piece of equipment on the boat - the personal EPIRB. Made by ACR, compact enough to fit into a pocket, it sends out the 406 radio signal and GPS coordinates. Often refered to as a PLB. Cheap - only $500- seriously think of how much the other stuff costs - $1,000 layout boat (atleast), $1,000 gun, tender boat, decoys, clothes etc.....Think about it.
• Many of the ideas/suggestions included here have been learned the hard way, by guys just like you, that ended up getting really lucky and making it back to shore when things easily could have ended up with Coast Guard Search and Rescue efforts. Each of these tips could potentially save your life or that of a fellow hunter, and help you avoid many of the close-calls that so many of us have experienced over the years. But remember, even if you used everyone of these tips, you still could find yourself in a situation for which you are not prepared. Please be safe and wise everyone. If you layout hunt, print out these tips. Bring them up for discussion now with your hunting buddies. Start preparing for the worst and make that part of the good times we bond with. You can never be too cautious or have too many backups.
Last edited by DeadEye_Dan on Sat Dec 29, 2012 3:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Layout Hunting -- Safety & Equipment

Postby Gold-N-I » Tue Jul 03, 2012 11:12 am


Not the exact thread but it has just about everything I was looking for. :bow:

Thank you so much for posting!!!!! :thumbsup:
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Re: Layout Hunting -- Safety & Equipment

Postby Benny8 » Thu Jul 05, 2012 4:12 am

Gold-N-I wrote:Dead_eye,

Not the exact thread but it has just about everything I was looking for. :bow:

Thank you so much for posting!!!!! :thumbsup:

I think I printed out what you are looking for from the Mighty Layout Boys Website :beer:
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Re: Layout Hunting -- Safety & Equipment

Postby OmegaRed » Tue Dec 04, 2012 2:06 pm

Thanks...great read!!
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Re: Layout Hunting -- Safety & Equipment

Postby Nerdwick » Fri Dec 28, 2012 9:48 pm

Good stuff here!!!
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Re: Layout Hunting -- Safety & Equipment

Postby Dep6 » Sat Dec 29, 2012 3:20 pm

Thanks for sharing!! :thumbsup: :thumbsup:
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