Recreational Kayakers Rescued From Lake Michigan

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:

  1. ALWAYS wear a life jacket!
  2. ALWAYS dress for the water temperature (and potential immersion)!
  3. NEVER paddle a recreational kayak out on large bodies of water!

Let’s stay safe out there.


6 thoughts on “Recreational Kayakers Rescued From Lake Michigan”

  1. This year on our club trip to Lake Superior in early August I did not see ‘rec’ boats out on the big lake. The reason was most likely the 15 to 20 kt winds and two foot plus waves. My group with sea kayaks, wet or dry suits, and good fitting spray skirts, found fatigue the greatest hazard paddling to Sand Island from Little Sand Bay.

    Last year we went to Picture Rocks National Lake Shore, and the lake was calm. We looked out of place with the ‘rec’ boat people in their little boats, with their PFDs stowed on deck or in the cockpit, and wearing bathing suits. One I noticed going the opposite direction was a large person in a very small boat with about 3 inches of free board, and no visible PFD. I did not stick around to see how she dealt with the next tour boat wake.

    These little boats should have appropriate safety information embossed on the front deck where the paddler can read.

  2. I wish the two fellows who paddled box store kayaks a mile out on Lake Michigan on Labor Day had read this site before starting out. Perhaps things would have been different. One was rescued by fishermen who heard their screams; one is still missing as the authorities have given up the search and recovery, and now seek help from the public.

    I’ve sent your link to the ACA with the request they start publicizing it.

    Thank you for all the work you’ve done here. It’s an excellent resource.

    1. I wish that the kayak manufacturers would at least give a free life jacket with each rec kayak instead of the cheap paddles. Besides the safety aspect, it would be a money maker as all kayaks need a paddle, but unfortunately, too many people buying these cheap rec kayaks apparently don’t feel the need to buy or use a life jacket.

  3. This article and your comments were quite helpful to me as I am planning a trip from Greenville to Hessel which would include lake Michigan from grand haven to the bridge. Looks like it might be next year now. I need to find a paddling club in my area I’m thinking

    1. A paddling club is one place to start. Another might be to look for an ACA-certified Coastal Kayak Instructor. The Great Lakes are sometimes referred to as the fourth coast or the fresh coast for good reason. The waters of the Great Lakes are every bit as dangerous as the oceans, albeit sometimes for different reasons. It takes a skilled paddler to safely kayak on the open waters of any of the Great Lakes. Experience on inland waters in small, recreational kayaks does not produce the kind of skills and knowledge needed. Find someone who has these skills and the ability to teach them to you. Make sure you have the appropriate equipment for the waters on which you desire to paddle. Practice in the conditions which you may encounter. Consider finding a skilled paddling partner to join you. Think about the hurt you may cause to your loved ones if you rashly attempt a trip for which you are underprepared and end up dying as a result. The places you want to paddle will wait while you attend to the necessary tasks to prepare yourself. Sherri

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