It’s Safe Boating week. I knew it was coming so in the weeks leading up to this I looked for a recent event which could serve as a real life anecdote showing how boaters can easily adopt certain practices and have a safe, enjoyable day on the water.
I get informational messages on a regular basis from the U.S. Coast Guard to report recent activities in which the USCG has been involved. Sometimes these reports as local as the Great Lakes. The latest event actually originated in Alaska, decidedly far from the Midwest, but it highlights a number of absolutely stupid mistakes made by a pair of kayakers.
I only re-report it here because when someone does something epic — whether epically good, as in catching near record fish or bagging an exceptional wild turkey, it’s a worthy accomplishment. In this case, this is a candidate to be the most epically dumb boating stunt ever perpetrated. People can often learn as much by highlighting success as describing failures. Here’s what happened.
The Coast Guard rescued two kayakers recently when they became stranded after paddling from Juneau to Couverden Island. A Coast Guard 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crew from Station Juneau picked up the kayakers from the northern tip of Couverden Island at approximately 10 p.m., then brought them to where they started earlier that day. There were no injuries reported.
Watchstanders in the USCG Sector Juneau command center received the initial phone call from one of the kayakers at approximately 9:15 p.m. requesting assistance. The kayaker indicated that he and another friend had become exhausted after an approximate 9-hour, 23-mile paddle in their 10-foot kayaks. He expressed concerns about running out of daylight, having no lifejackets, no exposure suits, no warm clothing, no food, water, survival equipment, nor means of communication aside from a cell phone running low on battery.
It sounds to me they had little more when they left than a stupid idea. I have no idea of what the wind and wave conditions were and I’m sure kayaks can handle conditions more rugged than most would attempt to test. After all, kayaks were “invented” by indigenous Alaskan people eons ago to ply the nearshore waters. Still, I doubt Inuit kayakers didn’t cast off without proper clothes and other gear.
These kayakers made several all-too-common mistakes before heading out on the water yesterday. The biggest rule they ignored was having and wearing lifejackets. I’m sure it’s the law in Alaska as it is in other states. Regardless of the law, plain common sense says kayakers, canoeists — any boater anywhere — should not leave the shore or dock without lifejackets.
The next rule they ignored which all boaters should follow is to “file” a float plan before getting underway. This can be as simple as telling someone where you are going and when you plan to return. Include details about your trip to aid rescuers in the event you end up being overdue. A float plan is a good idea whether boating in remote Alaska or a nearby farm pond.
Especially in Alaska, but closer to home on the Great Lakes and even in rural areas here in the Midwest, boaters should take multiple forms of communication devices and extra batteries or battery extenders. Don’t count on having cell service everywhere. A VHF marine band radio is the primary communications network for the maritime boating community. Consider a personal emergency beacon, and ensure it is registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at http://www.sarsat.noaa.gov/beacon.html. These guys were lucky to have cell service when they finally reached the island and enough cell phone battery left to call for help.
In Alaska all the time and closer to home much of the time boaters need to dress for the water temperature as much as the air temperature. Though the air may be warming up, the water is still cold and once away from land, the air temperature is often closer to the water temperature than what it will be on land — even at the height of summer.
Check the weather, both the near term as well as the extended forecast. Especially in the spring and fall, weather-systems can speed up or slow down unexpectedly. Be prepared for it.
While these Alaskan kayakers may be the dumbest boaters ever, they may also be the luckiest. As we celebrate Safe Boating Week 2020, keep them in mind as the perfect bad example. With just a tiny bit of common sense and effort, boating can be a wonderfully safe activity.