Ducks Will Be The Death Of Me: The Floating Blind

Getting close portraits of birds like the male Bufflehead below is no easy task. Wild ducks are wary and cautious creatures. In the past I’ve worked from a portable blind along the shoreline. This sometimes worked well but more often resulted in frustration when the birds decided to use another area or stayed too far out. Working from shore also limited variation in backgrounds and sometimes didn’t allow me to get as low as I would like.

Enter the floating blind, a contraption that allows one to move around in two to four feet of water and put the sneak on unsuspecting waterfowl. Well, we hope. It’s a bit embarrassing that I didn’t build this thing a long time ago. It took friends and excellent photographers Al Charnley and Tim Straight to prove to me the benefits of risking my camera and lens on a few layers of plywood and styrofoam. They were very generous with lending me their blinds so I could try them out before building my own. I worked from Al’s excellent design but decided to make mine a bit wider for added stability. Below, a Forster’s Tern hitches a ride on Al’s floating blind.

So, it was time to start this project. I found a source for 1/4″ marine plywood at Michigan Lumber in Flint. Hopping down from their loading dock onto the tailgate and open cap of my pickup, I misjudged and did some serious damage to my scalp when my head hit the edge of the truck cap.

There was a lot of blood.

That’s 21 staples and I’m the proud record holder at Lapeer Regional Medical Center!      It really hurt.

Ducks: 1    Me: 0

The next day I felt good enough to get back to the project. I started by cutting out the top and bottom plywood pieces and glueing those and the two layers of 2″ pink insulation foam together. So, the “boat” measures 3′ x 8′ and is 4.5″ thick. The hole in the center is 18″ x 18″. I wanted a very stable platform for my 600mm lens. Our unusually warm spring became normal, hence boat building was moved into the dining room where drying times were shorter. The four layers are glued and bolted.


This shows where one of the five PVC sockets will be glued into the deck. These sockets will be the fastening points for the removable PEX frame.

After some debate and testing I decided to not add wood to the sides in order to reduce weight. I used fiberglass and Coat-It, a two part epoxy product that contains graphite, ceramic and Kevlar. This product is very durable and was made to coat boat hulls in order to make them more easily slide over gravel and other debris. This would be applied to the sides and bottom. The next photo shows the bottom of the blind. The hole is cut further back on the bottom piece allowing a bit more room for my legs if kneeling in shallow water or desperately treading water should I hit a deep spot!

This is the board that a Wimberley tripod head will mount on, probably a bit overkill. You may notice that the bow bolt is a bit off center; my nod to Red Green. The bolt for the Wimberley is purposely off center. This placement puts the camera and lens dead center. All connecting bolts will be cut flush with the nuts.

The camera and PEX frame in place.

Fiberglass cloth in place with a light coat of spray adhesive.

Sanding the bottom between coats of Coat-It.  The top got two coats of polyurethane.

Having no prior fiberglass experience was a big plus. If I knew what a pain in the ass this stuff is I probably would have never started the project. Erika is more patient and got the job done. The Coat-It was tricky as well. If temperatures are on the cool side of the manufacturer’s recommendations, it takes forever to cure. Below, Erika sewing the cover.

There was no real need for a camo paint job because this will all be covered when in use. I may want to sometimes leave the base out in the marsh so this will help hide it. A bow handle and tow rope were added later.

OK, but does it float?  Yup and It’s very stable. I put a 15 lb. weight on the bow just to stand in for my camera and lens. I’m pretty sure I could stand up on it but there’s already been enough injury.

Amenities include elbow pads, waterproof gear box, snacks and fancy beer.

There’s ventilation at the top of the blind, and a mesh window at the front and sides. A two-way zipper allows easy entry and exit. The material attaches to the base with Velcro. Straps will be sewn to the sides so that local vegetation can be added.

These blinds are used mostly during the spring waterfowl migration (March-April) so mild hypothermia is pretty much a way of life. High carb snacks, handwarmers, extra gloves, cell phone, towing rope and a personal floatation are good things to have. Coffee would be nice but peeing in the confines of this thing is challenging. Water depths should be known before venturing out for photography and it’s a good idea to head out with a friend and two-way radios for safety. A marine all risk insurance policy on your camera gear will give some peace of mind. These blinds do not work well in winds over 10mph as they bob around too much for sharp, well composed images. If you do get blown out into deep water a 600mm lens makes an excellent anchor!

It’s a lot of fun being almost invisible and observing waterbird behavior up close. Photographs or not, the experiences this blind has made possible was well worth the labor and blood loss.


~ by David Stimac on July 1, 2012.

12 Responses to “Ducks Will Be The Death Of Me: The Floating Blind”

  1. as howie would say: bad ass.

  2. i am pretty sure Red would have had alot more Duct Tape on it, and maybe a little bailing wire! Looks pretty cool though…nice job!

  3. David what a great looking blind!!
    Thinking of doing some sort of floating blind for myself to use in the marshes here in New England. I haven’t see one in person but online I have seen some more rounded, similar to a muskrat house. What made you decide to go more for a boat shape? Any idea on what the approx weight of yours is?

    • Thanks Neil! I wanted the base to be very stable and move through the water and vegetation easily. I wish the frame and cover was a bit more streamlined but so far, it’s worked pretty well. Straps will be added to the fabric so I can attach reeds and cattails. I haven’t weighed it but it’s probably around 40 lbs.

  4. Your blind would work good on a Kayak or Canoe I would think.

  5. Thanks for the post. I have been thinking about building a blind to shoot from and this gave me some great ideas.

  6. Awesome work David, fun to read too ! 🙂

  7. Just so much fun!!! You Da Man for the “Ducky” world!

  8. Thanks for sharing! This will be a great project this spring for me and the green wing I mentor to do. I will probably make a two-holer so he can experience the beauty of waterfowl and the hunt with the camera. Do you set out decoys and call, that’s my plan. He’s my caller. Your sense of humor is awesome. Your photos are great. I feel fortunate to have grown up with Red Green & MacGyver. Thanks again.

  9. Great idea and love your stories. I am in Manitoba and am planning to replicate your wonderful invention. Curious, what would you recommend for those cold days in March. I think we almost share the same cold weather (would like to think it might be a little colder up here). I would like to know what you would recommend in terms of neoprene diving suits. Do you have a full suit? Dry suit I imagine? How have you dealt with those nasty cold mornings, es. with the water being so close to freezing? I was thinking how nice it would be to have a large flask of hot water to drink, but then too much would mean I would need to deal with mother nature. Appreciate any advice in terms of dressing appropriately

  10. Thanks! I do not have a dry suit but that’s a good idea. They are expensive and the neck gasket make them pretty uncomfortable. I wear heavy waders and lots of layers. It’s important that the waders are high, all of the way up to your armpits. Something like a neoprene jacket could help keep your elbows dry from splashing. I recommend being very familiar with the ponds and marshes that you will be photographing in.

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