It can happen to you.
Sadly, two more young men have died on Lake Michigan this past week. I don’t know these men personally and I don’t know their story, but what I do know is that they both broke all three simple rules that I have written about in past blogs and have discussed in other articles on this website.
- Always wear your life jacket (PFD)!
- Always dress for the water temperature (that means a wetsuit or drysuit when the water is 43°F as it is right now)!
- Never paddle a recreational kayak on large bodies of water (like Lake Michigan)!
Had these two men followed even one of the three rules above, there is a chance that they might have been saved since they were being observed from shore and emergency help was summoned quickly.
I received a shipment of kayaks this morning for my upcoming summer programs. Attached to each one was a small pamphlet from the American Canoe Association and the US Coast Guard urging people to “Be Smart, Be Safe, Have Fun”. I don’t know where the two young men got the kayaks that they were using when they died, but there is a possibility that information about these 3 rules was attached to the boats when they were purchased. Tragically, someone wasn’t paying attention.
If you have purchased a recreational kayak, read those safety pamphlets that are attached. It won’t take much time and there is important information that you may not be aware of. Don’t assume you know it all. If you let someone else use your boat, make sure that they are aware of these rules, as well, so that they don’t put themselves at risk unknowingly.
Two families are grieving over a tragedy that didn’t have to happen.
Yesterday we had another example of why recreational kayaks do not belong on Lake Michigan (or any other large body of water), and why it can be so dangerous to buy a kayak from a home improvement store or other big box retailer where there is no safety information passed on to the customer.
These paddlers considered themselves “experienced” kayakers which shows how completely uninformed they really are about what kayaking on the Great Lakes is all about. No “experienced” kayaker would ever take a basic recreational kayak like the Menard’s “Viper 10” out on Lake Michigan, let alone 5 miles offshore. There is no inherent flotation built into these kayaks. The rear hatch cover on these boats does not cover a sealed compartment. You can reach around the sides of the seat into the rear portion of the kayak. They were obviously ignorant of how waves are formed or they would have expected to see larger waves that far offshore. They are also quite lucky that they were able to obtain emergency help quickly as it looks like neither man was dressed for prolonged immersion. Thankfully for them, this late in August the water is a little more temperate making cold shock less likely, but hypothermia is still a concern on Lake Michigan even in the summer. The “waterproof” pouch that the one man was using to protect his cell phone was pretty flimsy and could have just as easily leaked making it impossible to call for help.
An awful lot of money was spent to send out a helicopter to rescue these kayakers. Buying the correct equipment and getting appropriate instruction would have been a lot cheaper, not to mention the fact that this incident could easily have resulted in a much less “happy” ending. Once again, the 3 simple rules that everyone needs to remember are:
- ALWAYS wear a life jacket!
- ALWAYS dress for the water temperature (and potential immersion)!
- NEVER paddle a recreational kayak out on large bodies of water!
Let’s stay safe out there.
As a response to some recent kayaking accidents and fatalities on Lake Michigan, there are three very simple safety rules that I would like to emphasize to anyone considering taking a kayak, canoe, or SUP out onto the Great Lakes.
ALWAYS wear a life jacket.
Following this one rule has saved paddlers who broke just about every other safety rule. In those cases where it didn’t save the life of the paddler, it at least allowed rescuers to recover the body quickly putting giving the family of the deceased some closure with less risk to the responding emergency personnel.
ALWAYS dress for the water temperature.
No matter how stable you think your boat may be, there is always the possibility that you will end up capsizing unexpectedly. Regardless of how warm the air temperature may be, you need to be dressed for immersion in the water. If water temperatures are below 70°F, you need to be wearing clothing such as a wetsuit or drysuit in order to prevent a cold water gasp reflex (cold shock) and/or hypothermia.
NEVER paddle a recreational kayak out on large bodies of water.
Recreational kayaks are not designed to be paddled in big waves such as are found on large bodies of open water like the Great Lakes or the ocean. Despite their apparent stability on flat water, these kayaks can flip very easily in waves. Once capsized, recreational kayaks are not designed to allow the paddler to re-enter the boat from deep water. Swimming to shore is your only rescue option. DO NOT BE DECEIVED by marketing materials from manufacturers and retailers that make claims to the contrary. Too many paddlers have died after taking recreational kayaks out on large bodies of cold water like the Great Lakes not realizing the tragic mistake they were making.
While there is a lot more to learn about paddling safety, if you can just follow these three simple rules, you will likely have a long and safe paddling career.
Sherri Mertz, ACA L4 Coastal Kayaking Instructor