How to Kill Yourself in a Kayak

Kayaking Can Be Fun, But Only if You Avoid Death!!

I'm an avid kayaker and follow news feeds, local news reports and such on the topic. Every few days throughout each year, kayaking deaths are brought to my attention, some of which I'll share here. Consider yourself forewarned, many of these accounts are heartbreaking.

The purpose of this article is not to scare you, but rather, to alert you so that you can make good decisions both while planning a kayaking trip and while you're out on the water. And if you do really want to end it all in a kayak, multiple templates will be provided.

I've decided not to post links to articles mentioned because they usually quit working as the news ages, if you want more information, a Google search may uncover the original article if it's still available.

Killer Trees

Let's start with incidents where kayakers have become victims of stationary objects.

The surface of a river or creek can appear calm but moving water has far more power than most people realize. An excellent way to kill yourself is to get trapped between a tree or other immovable object, and moving current that can exert forces no human could possibly extricate themselves from. Here's one way it happens. This is based on a piece discovered in the Rapid City Journal, June 10th 2008:

Two female co-workers went kayaking on the Bad River near Fort Pierre, South Dakota with 45-year-old Kevin Honness, a senior field biologist at the Ted Turner Bad River Ranch. They were a bit ahead of him when they noticed his paddles floating past. Reversing course they soon discovered a grisly sight: Kevin's kayak lodged and submerged between two trees in the river, his dead body inside.

Kevin surely saw the trees as he approached the hazard and probably figured he could fit between them. If not, no big deal, just back out. Surprise! The current was simply too strong and forced his kayak under the trees in such a way he couldn't exit.

On my own very first kayak trip, on a gently flowing creek with a few mild Class I rapids, I had a similar experience. At a right angle bend in the creek the current forced my borrowed kayak under a pile of brush and logs that had accumulated in the corner of the bend. I responded by climbing up onto the brush, but had I failed to react properly I would likely have suffered the same fate as Kevin.

These days, even in calm waters I give objects sticking up above the surface plenty of space because you never know if what you're seeing is the "tip of the iceberg" so to speak. The object may have a much wider footprint just under the surface and cutting a hole in the bottom of your boat can't be a positive move. There could be a rusty, discarded shopping cart down there resting against a branch, or something that could just as easily do the trick. .. Does the word "Titanic" ring a bell?

Here's another case, just one of hundreds of "kayaking tree deaths" in my files:

September 22, 2011, Polebridge, MT. An Idaho woman, Shawna Thomas, 51, died Wednesday afternoon after the two-person inflatable sea kayak she was riding in with her husband in The North Fork River became wrapped around a tree. Her husband was able to extricate himself but water pressure held her under the water causing her to drown. Both were wearing life jackets.

And another:

April 17th, 2009. On the Silver River in Baraga County, Michigan, Professor Richard Honrath, a leader of Michigan Tech's atmospheric sciences program and recipient of the 2006 Research Award, died in a kayaking incident. Separating from his boat after it rolled over in rapids, he became pinned under a tree in the fast-moving current and drowned.

It's possible Richard was knocked out by hitting his head on a rock in the spill, but that's something we'll never know for sure; he may well have been fully conscious. In heavy rapids, the water flow, not your attempts to swim, usually controls your route. The report also didn't mention if he was wearing a life jacket or not. As noted in the previous example, in this type of incident a jacket may not help anyway.

Storms Can Hurt You

Johnny Harder, 8, and his brother Joseph, 4, died on August 30, 2011 while kayaking with their family on Big Horn Lake near Billings, Montanna. All eight family members were experienced kayakers, had been on the lake several times before, and were wearing personal flotation devices.

The family headed out in calm waters to visit an island. A storm blew up on their way back creating heavy waves and separating the kayaks. The father and two sisters reached shore. Unable to launch a rescue effort due to the extreme conditions, the father summoned help, but the initial rescuers found conditions too rough and had to call for larger, heavier craft. Two more sisters and the mother were rescued, clinging to their capsized kayaks. The boys, whose kayaks also capsized, were later found floating dead in the water.

Several things are brought to mind by this horrible tragedy. Any time water temperature is below 98.6, you begin to lose body heat to the water. If your body temperature drops to about 85 you're basically done for, and the colder the water, the faster that happens. So even though "cold water" isn't cited specifically, I'm thinking it played a factor considering the length of time the rescue must have taken.

Primarily, though, this is a simple case of kayaks being inherently vulnerable to waves swamping them. Most boat wakes aren't high enough to enter a kayak and most rough-water waves won't, the kayak rides up over them. But a series of large waves, or a rogue wave big enough to overwhelm the boat, can. Once the initial wave drops water in the kayak it then sits even lower in the water making it easier for the next wave to add more. You can capsize in seconds, and there's about zero time to put on that life vest you keep "handy"...WEAR THE DANG THING!

Kayaking At Night Without Lights

It Could Mean Lights Out for Good

On July 4th of this year a friend and I launched our kayaks to enjoy a loal town's fireworks display easily visible from the lake. As we were waiting for the fun to begin we watched other folks launch, including entire families of kayakers with kids. It was already dusk, yet not a single kayak was equipped with lights for night running; this into waters chock full of motorized boats filled with partiers waiting for the show. No doubt at least a few of the motorized boat operators were operating impaired by alcohol.

What were these kayakers thinking?

Not a single adult kayaker was wearing a life vest. And one little girl, about four years old, was observed wearing a vest made for an adult ... completely useless if she needed it to save her life. It could slip off, entangle her, and actually contribute to her demise.

Fortunately, although they were doing their very best to make it happen, no one died that night.

Things didn't go quite so well for a Roswell, Georgia man kayaking in Texas that same evening. 53-year-old Craig Landoli's body was recovered after a Fourth of July night collision with a motorboat on Eagle Mountain Lake near Dallas Texas. Craig's kayak was struck as he floated near a dock. The kayak lacked the required lighting.

Cold Water Is a Viable Option

On May 16th of 2010, two young women, Irina McEntee, 18, a summer resident of Peaks Island and her close friend from college, Carissa Ireland, 20 were found floating dead in the rough waters of Casco Bay in Portland Oregon. Both were wearing life jackets. Although the kayaks apparently capsized due to the choppy waters, cold temperatures were cited as the biggest contributing factor in their deaths. "Forty-eight degrees is very, very cold," said Coast Guard Cmdr. Brian Downey. "Survivability is very short in that type of water condition."

Water conducts away heat 25 to 30 times faster than air. Think about a hot frying pan you need to cool fast. Should you leave it sit in 40-degree air or submerge it in 40-degree water? It will cool 30 times faster in water, and so will you!

To drive home the point that cold water will hasten your demise, here's a detailed report of water temperature vs. survivability:

Water Temperature Versus Survivability

Water Temperature
Time to Unconsciousness
Survival Time
70-80° F
3-12 hours
3 hours to indefinitely
60-70° F
2-7 hours
2-40 hours
50-60° F
1-2 hours
1-6 hours
40-50° F
30-60 minutes
1-3 hours
32.5-40° F
15-30 minutes
30-90 minutes
32° F
under 15 minutes
less than 15-45 minutes

A little-known fact: Almost all reported water temperatures are taken at the surface where the temperatures are warmer (because heat rises). The temperature at the bottom may be as much as 5° F - 20° F colder than at the surface. In a drowning situation, the victim often descends into colder and colder water. A life jacket keeps the victim at the surface where the temperatures are warmest.

Air Temperature vs. Hypothermia Risk: Rule Of Thumb

The general rule of thumb regarding kayak safety is unless you're wearing either a wetsuit or dry-immersion clothing, there is a significant risk of hypothermia if the sum of the water temperature and air temperature is less than 120 degrees. So given a water temperature of 58 you'd want the air temperature to be at least 62 to kayak safely. Even then, you'd eventually succumb to water temperatures that cold—in no more than two hours—so stay near shore, verify winds aren't strong enough to blow you farther out or capsize you, and carry a dry bag with extra clothing, matches and firestarting materials.

Sonik Blast CMG, Black with lanyard
Sonik Blast CMG, Black with lanyard

If you don't have a whistle order this one NOW! A whistle is required by law when kayaking, simply tie this on your boat permanently. If you ever need it you'll want one this loud.


Big Waves on Big Lakes Are Another Deadly Combination

Sept. 17, 2011. Eighteen-year-old Mitchell Fajman and two buddies decided to go kayaking near the Cook Nuclear Plant in Bridgman, Indiana in spite of waves later reported to be cresting as high as seven to ten feet. Although all three men were wearing life jackets, wetsuits and helmets, they had to be saved by the Coast Guard. Unfortunately, Fajman's high-quality flotation device came off in the water.

Mitchell's friends were pulled onboard the Coast Guard craft successfully but the waves had become too rough to effect a rescue of Mitchell. After two days of attempting to re-locate him the Coast Guard changed the operation focus from water search to shoreline sweeps via ATV for body recovery.

Crocodiles Might Be the Ticket

Or Maybe Killer Geese?

Semi-famous kayaker Hendrik Coetzee, 35, who billed himself as "The Great White Explorer" probably didn't intend to explore the stomach of a crocodile from the inside but that's where his career path ended up.

Leading an expedition sponsored by Eddie Bauer down the Lukaga River in the Congo, Hendrik ignored pointed warnings regarding huge and extremely hostile crocs. One member of his party even sent this dispatch to Outside magazine: "There is a crocodile at the river's mouth named Gustav that is an ancient, well-fed man eater".

Later, the other expedition members, Americans Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic, could only watch in horror as a crocodile, which may or may not have been old Gustav, snatched Hendrik from his kayak and presumably enjoyed him for lunch.

December 3rd, 2013. Maui, Hawaii. A man dangling his foot over the side of his kayak was attacked by an unknown species of shark, losing his foot. He died from blood loss and shock before rescuers could get him to shore.

If you kayak regularly, sooner or later you'll likely be attacked by a wild animal. Depending on where you float your boat it may be something large that can easily de-float it such as a moose, a seal, a polar bear, hippo, alligator or shark. Or it may be something smaller like a snake or a beaver, where the principal danger is they'll scare you and knock you off balance enough to capsize your boat.

There's a video available of pro kayak fisherman Drew Gregory being attacked by a goose that had previously been peacefully following him for quite some time as he fished. Once the attack began it was only seconds before he was flipped into the water. Near shore, and in relatively warm water, the highly experienced kayaker's life was not in danger. He swam a bit then walked onto terra firma, no problem and the episode is funny to watch. But imagine that same event happening farther from shore, in far colder water, to a less experienced kayaker... the episode might not end in such a pleasant fashion.

Update: Sadly, this validation of the warning in the above paragraph came in just months after I wrote it:

April 15th, 2012 Chicago, Illinois. The caretaker of nesting swans being used to keep geese away from an apartment complex was in his kayak checking the animals when he ventured too close to a nest and a swan attacked him. Anthony Hensley, 37, father of two little girls, drowned after the swan caused him to fall out of the boat.

April 15th in Chicago? That water would be somewhere in the 45- to 55-degree range, far too cold to kayak without a wetsuit and life jacket, even near shore. Witnesses say the animal continued to attack mercilessly when he surfaced for a second and final time. In an interview, his father reported him to be a "very good swimmer" (who apparently felt no need for a life jacket).

Most animals attack only if you encroach on their territory or if they believe you're a threat to their offspring so keep as much distance as possible. But a few—sharks, crocs and the like—are interested in you the same way you are interested in Kroger's or Piggly Wiggly: you're groceries, and delivered too! I'm thinking it would be very difficult to fend off a large, wild animal intent on killing you when you're in a boat in which you must remain seated, with only a plastic paddle and a ham-and-cheese sandwich for defense.

Fortunately I live and kayak in an area where there are no known large animals on land or in the water capable of killing and eating a human. To the rest of you, good luck and hopefully it will be over in a matter of seconds!

Running Rapids Can Mean Rapid Permanent Expiration

In my opinion rapids above Class II are interesting to observe but not so good for sticking your kayak in. And certainly not a recreational kayak, unless you really do have a death wish. Regarding "expert" whitewater kayakers? We live in a time when people do something twelve times, declare themselves "experts" and start giving seminars or do TV shows. There are a few, but extremely few, true experts in this entire world. My files are chock full of reports of "lucky up-till-now" whitewater kayakers who mistook luck for expertise until one day their luck ran out as water filled their lungs while they were hopelessly stuck under a submerged tree. Or they were caught in a hydraulic that wouldn't let them out until it drained the last measure of life from their body. Or they ended up submerged with their kayak vertically pinned under a waterfall. Or some other equally horrific, fatal whitewater event.

Filled with potential death traps such as strainers, sweepers, hydraulics (a.k.a. holes), pillows, undercut rocks and sieves, whitewater is simply too unpredictable to "read" properly every time. Don't do it.

On August 7th, 2011, an Oregon man, 28-year-old Allen Michael Satcher of Portland, known as an expert kayaker, died while paddling "Waterfall Alley" in the Stanislaus National Forest. Satcher was kayaking with several other people on Cherry Creek when the group encountered a whirlpool. According to several witnesses, Satcher's kayak started spinning uncontrollably. He then jumped out and tried to grab ropes tossed out by others but he couldn't reach them, and was slowly sucked into the whirlpool which later ejected his body. A member of the group performed CPR on him but could not revive him.

Just a month ago Tammy Paczewski was riding whitewater on a paid expedition through what turned out to be the aptly named Pillow Rock Rapids, about three miles below the Summersville Dam in West Virginia. Hitting a particularly rough stretch, Paczewksi was tossed from the boat, floated about 70 yards downstream and became fatally pinned under the water by a rock.

Perhaps this is most telling: Between 1975 and 1995, no more than five expert kayakers died each year. However, since 1995, according to stats on this kept by the American Whitewater Association, as they began pushing the envelope by testing their skills in more challenging whitewater, as many as 15 expert kayakers have died each year. In many cases the deaths occurred in waters the expert "knew"...waters they'd kayaked previously multiple times and claimed they could "read" easily. Guess not.

There is a video available online of about twelve kayakers watching another expert take his final breath in Class IV or V rapids. He knew the "safe" route and attempted to take it. But the water, apparently not realizing he was an expert, had other plans, forcing him toward the more dangerous area. After watching their fearless leader, entrapped in a hydraulic and repeatedly attempting and failing to right himself, die upside down in his kayak, the others suddenly lost their false bravado ... several later went on record saying they would never run severe whitewater again. Be them, don't be the dead expert.

And this: It's October 1st, 2012, and the search for 19-year-old expert kayaker Peter Thompson has been called off, he is presumed dead. Thompson had kayaked throughout the world, won numerous awards and had several corporate sponsors when he decided to have a friend videotape a run over a waterfall on the Cheakamus River in British Columbia, Canada. He had kayaked the Cheakamus multiple times and felt he "knew" it thoroughly. He was mistaken.

"He went down into the whitewater and never came up," RCMP Captain, Sgt. Rob Knapton, said. "We don't know for sure, but we think his body is somewhere under the falls."

I'm sure someone will e-mail me, "Shame on you, he died doing what he loved." But I'll stick to my belief it was a preventable tragedy. There's a lot more to this life than running a rapid in a kayak and Peter had most of it ahead of him.

I frequently receive mail from kayaking experts, whitewater kayak instructors, and owners of kayak rentals (located near whitewater) who attempt to dissuade me from dissing whitewater kayaking in this article. My goal has nothing to do with either supporting or destroying their sport or their business and I'm not out to diss anything or anyone. I'm simply providing the truth and allowing the reader to make their choice whether to pursue this sport based on the full knowledge of things they'll never hear from someone with a conflict of interest. Don't worry, whitewater lovers, knowing something is potentially deadly barely slows most folks down. People have full knowledge that others die in car wrecks every day. Yet they still purchase vehicles and drive like maniacs.

If you do whitewater kayaking, just be sure you have sufficient knowledge and be as safe as possible, okay?

Woops, I forgot why you're reading this! By all means then, forget safety, go run those Class V rapids!

A Possible Case of Suicide By Kayak

Oct. 2nd, 2011. A kayak belonging to Dr. William Coltharp was found floating upside down in Center Hill Lake near Nashville, Tennessee. His disappearance is being treated as a missing persons case but evidence pointing to suicide is strong. A witness saw Dr. Coltharp loading a concrete block into the kayak before paddling off alone downstream, and a worker changing out garbage bags at the launch area discovered an empty handgun case that was later traced to the Nashville surgeon.

Large Bodies of Water Present a Unique Danger

I kayak on lakes that are extremely long—about 30 to 40 miles—but narrow enough that fifteen minutes of paddling from the center in either direction puts me solidly on shore. But if you are kayaking on any large, open body of water or in a bay or cove attached to one, beware. Sadly, my files have far too many "washed out to sea and never seen again" incidents.

The biggest risk is kayakers who launch in relatively calm waters in a cove or bay just prior to a storm arriving, and get blown into deep water and conditions they're not prepared for.

In January of 2011, Wes Powe and Jerry Knight, both from Lakeland, FL, decided to kayak in Tampa Bay in spite of knowing a small craft advisory was in effect. They discussed the advisory and concluded they'd be fine as long as they stayed very close to shore. Their conclusion was incorrect.

Shortly after launching the storm arrived. To their great surprise, they were sucked out into the bay at least a mile from shore. They resisted continuously but the wind and waves were too strong. Two hours later, in worsening conditions, they separated, with the exhausted Powe lashing himself to a buoy and Knight continuing on in an attempt to get help for Powe. Clearly, their kayaking adventure was not going well.

Powe was soon observed and rescued. An all-out search was then mounted for Knight. Much later Knight's empty kayak was discovered on Beer Can Island followed by his lifeless body floating in Tampa Bay. Because water temperatures were in the upper 50's and the body was still wearing a life vest, the cause of death was suspected to be hypothermia.

"Be safe, swim with a buddy" is an old adage that doesn't apply to kayaking and applies to swimming only if the buddy happens to be a trained lifeguard. Untrained buds may enter the water with heroic intentions, but usually end up fighting for their life as hard as the person they had hoped to save. The only good a buddy can usually do in a "man in water and going down" situation is to tell the divers where the body is located.

Patrick's Law: Inspired by a Preventable Tragic Accident

August 12th, 2011 wasn't the first time Patrick Luca, a 21 year veteran of the New York Police Department took his son Caden, kayaking; unfortunately, it was the last. The 41-year old father died saving his son's life after capsizing in Smithtown Bay. Miraculously, 5-year-old Caden was spotted nearly a mile from shore floating alone in his life jacket by a boater and rescued. The father's body was discovered the next day. He had not been wearing a life jacket, the one thing that could have avoided such a sad ending to this story.

According to Luca's wife, Stephanie, "Caden kept saying, 'Daddy was hitting me in the face' and we think he just kept picking up his head. saying 'stay up, stay up, stay up'. Caden had on an emergency whistle and safety light and Patrick said, 'Just blow that whistle somebody is going to find you.' Then he said, 'Daddy is going to go under the water and he's not going to come back up.' He said he was going to go to heaven."

Now Stephanie's mother is pushing for "Patrick's Law," which would require anyone on watercraft under 21 feet in length to wear a life jacket at all times.

Kayaking in High Winds...

Windy Day
Windy Day | Source

... Can Blow You Away

On April 1st, 2012 Christopher Gromley launched his kayak into Rock Lake in Spokane Washington. With an advisory in effect warning of sustained 25-30 m.p.h winds and gusts of up to 50, the trip was as ill-advised for him as it was for the six other kayakers who had signed up.

Organized by the Spokane Parks Department and Gonzaga University where Gromley was a student it was a predictable disaster for anyone with knowledge of kayaking in wind and cold water.

Thirty minutes into the event three of the kayaks capsized, including Gromley's. Unlike at least one of the others fighting for survival in the forty-degree water, Gromley wore no wetsuit. Within seconds he was unable to swim, paralyzed by the frigid water, and drowned.

Docks, Tugboats and Other Things Can Earn You...

... A Quick Trip To Davey Jones's Locker

October 23rd, 2011. 55-year-old Thomas Gregoire's kayak overturned near San Francisco's Pier 80 due to getting too close to a tugboat that was re-positioning a barge. Caught in the wash, he fell from his kayak into the water. The search for his body was eventually called off and there have been no updates so I believe he's still officially listed as missing, presumed dead.

My own sole experience to date with accidentally flipping my kayak occurred late last fall, when I approached a stationary dock at a local park faster than was apparently safe. The front point of the boat hit the dock causing the kayak to flip, and I found myself submerged upside down and disoriented. My life vest righted me and luckily popped me up near the dock rather than under it.

Accidents happen in seconds or fractions of seconds, and when they do you'll go from happily padding to fighting for your life. You'll have no time or hands to spare fiddling with straps and buckles. It's worth repeating: there's simply zero time to put on that life vest you keep "handy"...WEAR THE DANG THING!

Now considering the title of this article, it's absolutely perfect that you're a "strong swimmer who doesn't need to wear a life jacket". Strong swimmers are always the first ones to die.

A Life Jacket Is Too Bulky? Not This One! Problem Solved!

Stearns Sospenders Auto/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket
Stearns Sospenders Auto/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket

You wear this life jacket in an uninflated state, so you won't even notice you have it on. It inflates only if you make contact with water.


The Verdict

To Kill Yourself Kayaking:

  • By far the best advice for anyone wishing to do suicide by kayak: Forget the life vest! They prevent most drowning situations and exponentially reduce your chances of dying.
  • Another great way to go: Paddle toward objects such as tree stumps, rocks, discarded appliances, piers and such so you can become hopelessly trapped and take your last breath looking at a cast off old refrigerator that may even then become the headstone of your watery grave!
  • Perhaps "flailing about" works for ya? Simply kayak when water temperatures are under 45 degrees or so. If your kayak capsizes you can enjoy a lingering death as your extremities slowly fail to function normally and you flail about until you sink under the water for the last time.
  • 31% of boating fatalities are alcohol related. So mix a good dose of spirited drink with kayaking rapids and the phrase "I'll have mine on the rocks" will claim a whole new meaning.
  • Don't bother with scanning updated weather reports and radar just prior to kayaking and definitely don't check those things on your cell phone while on the water. If you do accidentally see or hear about bad weather coming, don't head for shore, stay out there and expire gloriously in a blaze of overwhelming waves, lightning and thunder!
  • Consider wearing dark clothing on your even darker kayak. You'll be hard to spot, making it more likely a motorized boat will run you over and less likely you'll be found afterwards.
  • Definitely goof off! Maybe crash your kayak into someone else's just for fun as that usually rolls one or both boats and sometimes results in death! (Ummm...death is kinda permanent by the way so be sure that's what you want, it's about irreversible. If you're stupid enough to goof off, I thought I should point that out).
  • If all else fails you can always poke a hole in your boat, remain seated and slowly go under. Glub...glub....glub

Do you intend to wear a lifejacket every time you kayak?

  • Yes; I'd rather be safe than sorry
  • Get real dude; I'd rather be sorry than have safety concerns cut into my fun. By the way, which way to the keg? Cowabunga!
  • No. I really do intend to die in a kayak "accident" so why would I wear a lifejacket?
  • This article scared me so bad I'm now terrified at the very thought of water
See results without voting

So How Safe is Kayaking, Statistically?

Do you copy? This is Kayak One. Do you copy, over?

I've got an emergency situation.

I'm in a kayak about 30 kilometres from Milford Sound.

I need a rescue.

My kayak's sinking.

Fell off into the sea and I'm going down.

That was the last transmission from Andrew McAuley, a man who quit a cushy job in IT to pursue a 1600-km attempted crossing of the Tasman Sea, one of the most brutal stretches of ocean in the world. During the adventure, which lasted from early January through early February of 2007, he encountered gale-force storms, great white sharks, and 12-foot waves. He capsized several times and endured body sores from living and sleeping in a cockpit so tight it permitted zero body movement ... well, I guess everyone has their own idea of fun. It's believed a rogue wave got him about 30 miles short of landing in New Zealand. The kayak was found in a capsized state but Andrew's body was never recovered. Officially he's missing, presumed drowned.

As long as you don't do anything as crazy as Andrew did and you avoid the most common mistakes noted in the above modules, your chances of surviving a paddle are quite good. When deaths each year per hours spent on an activity are calculated, scuba diving, skydiving, lion taming and rock climbing are statistically more dangerous than whitewater kayaking. In fact, driving your car is statistically about four times more dangerous. And calm-water kayaking is even safer than that, not much more dangerous than bicycling.

But how useful is knowing that kayaking is relatively safe if, due directly to your lack of knowledge, you blindly go out and put yourself in a potentially deadly situation?

And that, friend, is the reason I took the time to make this article for you.

2013 Preventable Kayak Deaths

Even though I only post about a small fraction of kayak deaths, this article has become bulky. And most deaths come down to the basics of ignoring the weather conditions; launching in cold water; messing with wildlife, doing something stupid; etc.

Just yesterday I saw a story about a man (walking in the woods, not kayaking) who noticed a beaver so cute, he just had to get a pic. The beaver attacked, chomped through an artery in his leg and the dude bled to death before he could get help. I mention this because I've seen beavers on banks as I paddled close by. Don't ever mess with wildlife, even relatively little critters, especially if they have teeth, and especially when sitting in a kayak where you are at a huge disadvantage.

So to keep this article to a manageable size I'll post just a few kayaking deaths in this module over the coming months, deaths I feel were preventable.

April 10th, 2013. 45-year-old Elizabeth Gould, an experienced kayaker, drowned in the Green River near Tacoma, WA. She was wearing both a helmet and a safety jacket when she accidentally fell in the water. The King County Medical Examiner's Office has ruled the cause of death as "freshwater drowning." I'm writing this on April 13th and just checked the local lake temperature online—59 degrees. And since I'm far south of Washington, I'm assuming the temps on lakes and rivers in Tacoma are considerably below that.

Wow, I understand why people are heading out already, but in my opinion it's a little too early yet. Just because it feels like spring, water temperatures are still too cold in most of the U.S. to kayak safely without a wetsuit and it must be one suited to the temperature.

April 12th, 2013: The search has been called off for Jonathan Francis and his 12-year-old daughter, Viola. They were headed onto Lake Erie for a "quick trip across Sandusky Bay, just out to a bridge and back, maybe a few hours max." No need for life jackets, right? Jonathan was a recreational kayaker, not greatly experienced, but he'd been out before. With choppy waters, no life jackets, and 40-degree water temperatures it's easy to imagine what likely happened. At this point they are both missing, presumed dead.

Someone posted a comment on one of the articles regarding this tragedy, "How could a father take a daughter out onto such cold water without even a life jacket?" My reply would be he was likely thinking no deeper than, "Hey, it's sunny and warm, let's have some fun," totally unaware of the cold-water danger he was placing his daughter into.

May 6, 2013: Due to recent spring rains, the Buffalo National River river was running at 588 cubic feet of water per second when 79-year-old Sally Sairs' kayak flipped after her head struck a tree, trapping Sairs in the upside down kayak.

Nearby boaters as well as one of Sairs' friends failed in attempts to turn the kayak upright.

"It's not that the kayak was heavy," Caven Clark, a spokesperson for the Buffalo River Park said. "It's the pressure of the water. Once that kayak is under water, you have all the pressure of the river up against it."

Several things come to mind here: Be aware of potential hazards and steer clear. A sit-on-top kayak that eliminates the entrapment potential is a better choice for a 79-year-old. Don't kayak in rain-swollen waters.

May 11, 2013. Milton Craig was pronounced dead at the scene of his final kayaking adventure across a dam near Marion, Ohio. According to his brother, who pulled out his body, Milton had kayaked the same waters about thirty times prior, but this time, while was trying to cross a dam, the kayak rolled in the undertow. In spite of wearing a safety vest, he did not surface.

Anytime you try to cross a dam, regardless of how many times you've done it successfully prior, the result can be a rollover. Once you're under the water a number of things can keep you under. A safety jacket is no match for undertow or for heavy objects you become entangled in.

June 16, 2013 (Father's Day). Richard Minteer was in a remote part of Burlington County, PA kayaking with his son and friends, when he ran into an overhanging tree limb. His kayak flipped over, dropping him into the water where he became entangled in tree roots, pinned by the swift current of the Oswego River. His son helped others free him but sadly Richard was pronounced dead at the scene, this on Father's Day weekend.

When kayaking, don't assume you can get by obstacles; avoid them. Rivers, lakes and creeks aren't swimming pools; if you go in there's stuff down there that can entrap you. There's no mention of a life jacket being worn, so I'm going to guess this was a situation where the vest either "wasn't necessary" or was kept "handy" and there simply wasn't time to put it on.

Welcome to Kayak Heaven! Don't Forget Your Paddle!

If you do die in your kayak, what's next? Mary C. Neal, M.D. claims to know.

She died submerged in her kayak after being pinned by a waterfall she attempted to navigate.

What happened next possibly gave us a glimpse of what happens to all kayakers who make the big mistake.

It's an interesting read, but if you're not Christian, beware, it might start you thinking there could be an afterlife, a loving God and all manner of absolute craziness. Before you know it you might actually read the Bible or something, reject the so-called wisdom of the world and think for yourself. Even checking it out might be the first step to becoming one of those crazy Christians!

Man, could that ruin your life!

If you are Christian, beware, there are a few points that don't line up perfectly with some conservative Christian concepts taught by some preachers, or possibly even with your interpretation of the Bible. If you don't buy into the atheist's explanation that "it's just pre-programmed neurons firing in the brain as we die," and think this author is truthful, you may be forced to re-think that exclusive club you're planning in Heaven to include homeless people and maybe even some Methodists!

Wow, could that ruin your eternity!

Any Comments on Kayak Safety? 25 comments

Writingmystory1 profile image

Writingmystory1 5 years ago

I don't think you can ever be too cautious when it comes to kayaking or other water sports. I hope this article will help to save someone's life.

Maria-Zuzeena profile image

Maria-Zuzeena 5 years ago

How about take your precautions, breath deeply ...and relax and enjoy! If you are only thinking of what could go wrong how can you enjoy your trip? I loved the title you used for your lense! very witty!

flycatcherrr profile image

flycatcherrr 4 years ago

I live on the east coast where sea kayaking has gotten very popular, and cringe to see some obviously inexperienced people setting out on the wrong tide - very scary indeed.

ClassyGals profile image

ClassyGals 4 years ago from Pittsburgh

I love to kayak and don't plan on killing myself anytime soon. Great read. Angel Blessings**

anonymous 4 years ago

Good lens! I think all safety measures are worth while implementing and none is one too many! Always be on the safe side, but then, the best safety measure is to use the proper kayak for the tipe of water you´re navigating, besides including floaters inside (empty pvc bottles or such). Thanks for sharing!

junecampbell profile image

junecampbell 4 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

i do sea kayaking around Vancouver, Canada. It's a wonderful sport but you are so correct. One has to be careful. There are hazards out there and you need to be aware of them

anonymous 4 years ago

i almost died while kayaking but it was my ignorance that was the cause. i was in the ocean and the lifegaurd warned me not to go to far or to the other side of the rocks where there was an abandoned beach because the waves were too big. the water looked so beautifuly turquoise and the waves looked so fun i coudnt resist. so i headed there and i didn't intend to go far and the next thing I knew a giant wave dragged me to the shore and i was surfing them fine but when i reached the shoreline the waves curled over and i was thrown onto the rocks/sand with an immense force the kayak landing on top of me. every time i tried to get up another wave would hit me and the kayak hit my this moment all i could hear was the waves and i was sure that i was going to die. i was undearneayth it and i had a split second before another wave would come and god knows what would happen if this wavehit me. i pushed up with all my strength the heavy kayak and ran to the shore just before a wave hit the kayak. i was at an abandoned beach, my top was thrown off and my leg was bleeding immensely. adrenaline was pumping through my viens and i felt was numb. after standing there dumbly for 5 minutes i regained my sences and tried found the paddle . then the lifegaurd came to get me after the waves had calmed down. i was sacred to ride the waves but he told me to keep paddling forward so the wave coudnt throw me off. i did it and i paddled with great eneergy until i got into the warm waters. when i reached shore he yelled at me and told me to never return to the beach again and i walked to my chalet stnubmly. i felt nothging. it was a lifechanging experience. when my mom asked me my i looked so dishelved and my i was bleeding i told her i tripped so i woudntworry her. the realization hit me after and i started freaking out. to this day i rmeber every detail of that incident and every time i see a wave i get anxxiety. i never told anyone excpet for this post.

Staar_C 4 years ago

Great post! Very sobering for sure! So sad that more people don't respect the laws of nature, there are so many variables but just a little caution, common sense and preparation and your set for a good time.

anonymous 4 years ago

Don't kayak between islands when the tide is going out or coming in. It's too easy to get caught in the current and not be able to kayak to safety.

geosum profile image

geosum 3 years ago

I lived on Marsh Creek in Gettysburg PA for a number of years. In the spring the Kayakers would go by when the water was highest. Not for me.

anonymous 3 years ago

Too painful and too soon.

Joan Haines profile image

Joan Haines 3 years ago

Holy cautionary tales! My inflatable kayak will be delivered shortly. Along with it, I ordered a life vest, the whistle you recommend, a dry bag, a throw bag, and a book for beginner kayakers that is supposed to include a big chapter on safety. I plan to go on calm waters, and also have a guide book about those. I'm not a danger seeker. Your warnings are well heeded. (I'll be looking at swans and geese with greater respect now.)

anonymous 3 years ago

I recently flipped my kayak by getting pushed into some fallen trees which created a strong currant and my vehicle instantly filled with water. Somehow I got out and was pushed toward some others branches again in the water. The grace of God allowed me to somehow jump up on that branch, where I sat for 2 hours waiting for 911. The water force around me sang songs of death, so I just prayed, and waited, watching those branches which I could have been under. Note the water was not very forceful that day, it was simply an accident. BEWARE.

anonymous 3 years ago

Kayak is inherently flawed in its design. and is the worst ever vessel invented..It is too unstable and traps the user when capsizing,,giving him only split seconds to escape from underwater.One of my son's friends who was a novice kayaker recently perished while kayaking in supposedly safe waters in Europe.I did not know anything about kayaking until this happened,but after doing extensive research into it following his death, I realized what a deadly trap it is. It should be banned,but there are too many fools out there who think it's a lot of fun and choose to take their chances.

usa123 2 years ago

Are you from Ohio or something? Statistically, more people die on their way to the put in for on whitewater rivers than on them. Passenger vehicle fatality rates range around 15-20 per 100,000 participants while Whitewater paddling deaths hover around 2.5 per 100,000 participants. A fat inexperienced rec boater on class I is in more danger than a praticed intermediate whitewater kayaker on class III. Live in your own box if you want but don't scare others out of what has been a rewarding and life changing opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people.

MagicMan007 profile image

MagicMan007 2 years ago Author

@usa123: I say exactly that in the article- that statistically kayaking is relatively safe, that I'm not trying to scare anyone away from a great sport and you'd have seen that had you taken time to read it.

Regardless of how safe it is statistically, there are kayaking deaths weekly almost year round.. Nearly every case listed would have been preventable had the people involved had any clue that what they were doing had hidden hazards. They simply didn't know because they went and bought a kayak and used it without training. No one told them that there are dangers to avoid and a small percentage encountered those dangers and died..

I get many thousands of readers every year and I'd like to think I've saved a life or two. Or would you rather not make people aware and let children and adults die needlessly? This article has been up for years now and rescue workers have congratulated me for doing it. You're the only person who has objected except for pro rental whitewater company owners.and others who obviously care only about profit, not people's lives..

I'm guessing you have an agenda also.

God bless you. May you stay safe and live long. If you kayak in serious whitewater much that may not be the case.regardless of your knowledge or skill. Just a fact.

rihannsu profile image

rihannsu 2 years ago

The day I learned how to kayak there was a storm moving through the Caribbean. Luckily, we were in tandem kayaks and my skipper was experienced. We tried our absolute hardest to row in the wind, but as soon as we would reach the rest of the group, the wind would push us away from them.

I'm really shocked I didn't pull something in both of my shoulders. Kayaking should be a breeze after that.

Whitewaterguy 2 years ago

I am an avid Whitewater kayaker. I see and understand what you have written. I know there are freak accidents that happen all the time but almost all of these deaths you spoke of could have and should have been prevented. I run Class V rivers and creeks and love it. I have 5 children that i am encouraging to take up the sport too. I preach safety to them and everyone I boat with. I always weigh the risk to reward factor when scouting a drop or rapid. My kids are always the first thought. I have walked around many rapids just thinking of them. Life is short enough. so I say lets live life to its fullest potential and live to talk about it and share my experience with others. I don't care how good of a swimmer someone clame to be. They should always have a PFD on while in a kayak of any type and size. I wear a drysuit till the water is in the 60's. The water will freeze you to the point that you can't swim. The initial shock of the cold takes your breath away. Trust me I have swam in 35 deg rivers with chunks of ice floating around me. Its brutally cold. even with a drysuit on. Always prepare for the worst case scenario and hope for the best case. Be prepared!!!!

DawnRae64 profile image

DawnRae64 2 years ago from Maryland, USA

My kids took me kayaking for my first time, in Florida, in a tiny canal or river complete with baby 'gators. I was both terrified and thrilled. I just now bought my own kayak so I'm thrilled to stumble upon this lens. thank you. In fact, I like it so much, I'm thinking how to include it in my blog post Monday. Awesome (and scary) information here.

Sylvestermouse profile image

Sylvestermouse 2 years ago from United States

Any water sport or water activity has a certain element of danger and people should always learn before they leap into something new. As you point out, even with experience the unexpected, unprepared for eventuality can still happen. Thank you for sharing the many stories here. Perhaps it will help some of us to think carefully and prepare, before we just jump in for the ride.

WW 19 months ago

Yeah, this is a ridiculous article.

You have no business on moving water unless you can roll your boat and you have no business in a boat at all unless you have mastered the wet exit.

If you are doing things like rolling your boat by hitting a dock, you probably aren't any sort of expert and probably shouldn't offer advice.

Michelle 18 months ago

This is an amazingly accurate and informative lens. I'd like to mention another precautionary experience. A couple of years ago while going out to the tidal races in the Long Island Sound, I was nudged into a metal buoy by another kayaker. Not wanting to slam my fiberglass kayak nose first into the buoy, I rolled it. I was very familiar with wet exits but I had a new neoprene seal sprayskirt and couldn't get the damn thing off. I was under water but kept calm and made myself use every ounce of strength and tried again and got it off - not one more second to spare! Word of wisdom, if you purchase a new neoprene sprayskirt, soak it in preferably salt water, stretch it and pull it over your kayak cockpit and leave it to stretch out there. Even re-wetting it periodically. Then, test it before you end up needing to use it!!!

James 17 months ago

A few months ago I went on a solo expedition in the Andaman sea for 4 days, covering over 60 kms and camping on different islands. It was actually my first time ever in a sea kayak but I tried to read as much as I could and prepare. On the longest stretch of open water kayaking (7 hours straight) I met a couple of light rain storms that made the sea very very choppy and I feared capsizing for every moment of it. Needless to say I made it safely with my kayak half filled with water. But after watching Andrew McAuley's documentary and how he died in the end, this hit right home and now I realize how extremely lucky and stupid I was being a complete beginner and going on such an expedition alone without proper training, a wetsuit, a proper gps device (I used only a map+compass), and at least some type of radio or sat phone.

Sean McNierney 6 months ago

I think all of this information helps everyone to be aware and take a proactive approach to any high risk sport. I almost drown in 50 degree weather 25 years ago goofing around on a canoe without flotation device. I am an avid kayaker but my respect for water runs very high. Thank you for a great article.

Pat 43 hours ago

The U.S. Coast Guard released its 2015 Recreational Boating Statistics last week, revealing that boating fatalities last year totaled 626 - an increase from 2014 but still the third lowest number of boating fatalities on record.

One hundred and forty-six(146) of those fatalities were in canoes(68), kayaks(71) and SUPs(7). This is an increase from the 135 reported in 2014

***Source :USCG Recreational Boating Accident Statistics 2015

In 2014, 21.7 million

Americans — 7.4 percent of the

population — enjoyed paddling.

This represents an increase of more

than 3 million participants since the

study began in 2010.

Paddlers averaged 7 annual

outings in 2014, up from 6.8 the

year before. Collectively, paddling

participants made nearly 216

million outings.

***Source : Outdoor Foundation Special Report on Paddle Sports 2015


146 deaths out of 21.7 million paddlers = 1 in 148,630 paddlers

146 deaths out of 216 million trips = 1 in 1,479,452 paddling trips

What other activities render comparable statistics ?

Legal Execution : 1 in 111,439

Being Bitten or Struck by a dog : 1 in 114,622

Lightning Strike : 1 in 174,426

What other activities are far more likely to result in death ?

Pedacyclist Incident : 1 in 4,337

Pedestrian Incident : 1 in 672

Assault by firearm : 1 in 358

Motor Vehicle Crash : 1 in 113

***Source: National Safety Council Odds of Dying Chart (2013 data)

This article is an anecdotal sham, dripping with the author's obvious thirst for attention at the expense of the recently deceased.

There will always be accidents and people who don't follow the rules. If we let the fact that you can die by walking down the street or by having an airplane fall out of the sky, or any other myriad of things that can in fact happen to you at any given time- if we let those fears rule our lives, then we should probably just give up on living all together. I personally reject this line of thought. After all, lets not forget our odds of dying are 1 in 1, so until then I'll take mine in a kayak- in the flat, rough, and white and, yes, with a life jacket.

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