Coast Guard rescues kayaker from East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay

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TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The Coast Guard rescued a man in East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay, after his kayak became swamped by strong winds and waves, Friday morning.

A rescue aircrew aboard an MH-65C Dolphin helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City was transiting across the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay, when they spotted a man in the water clinging to his partially submerged paddlecraft at 8:50 a.m.

The man was wearing a life jacket and said he was in the water for more than one hour.

The rescue aircrew hoisted the man into the helicopter and transported him to the air station. Once there, he was evaluated by emergency medical services and released in good condition.

“This case highlights the importance of always wearing a life jacket and filing a float plan,” said Cmdr. Chris Chase, executive officer at Air Station Traverse City.

“The man had been in trouble for more than one hour and, had we not spotted him, he may still be out there waiting for help.”

The Coast Guard recommends the following safety gear for all paddlers, no matter what type, how long or short the trip, or wherever the destination:

  • Life jacket – A life jacket is one of a paddler’s primary pieces of safety gear. Any life jacket worn is better than none at all. However, the Coast Guard recommends paddlers use life jackets that are inherently buoyant rather than inflatable, which makes reentering a paddlecraft, especially a sit-inside kayak, easier in the event of a roll-over. Life jackets should be brightly colored to increase visibility to boaters in power and sail craft.
  • VHF-FM marine radio – Paddlers are encouraged to invest in a waterproof, hand-held VHF-FM marine radio as their primary means of distress alerting on the water. Communication via VHF-FM radio provides superior alerting capabilities compared to cell phones. When a mayday is sent out via VHF-FM radio, it is a broadcast and not just a one-to-one communication; any nearby boaters can hear the distress call and offer immediate assistance.
  • Personal locator beacon – A personal locator beacon is a compact device that is clipped to a boater, normally on the life jacket he is wearing. In the U.S., users are required by law to directly register their PLB in the 406 MHz Beacon Registration Database at: or by calling 1-888-212-SAVE.Other users can register beacons in their country’s national beacon registration database or, if no national database is available, in the International Beacon Registration Database at Once activated in a distress situation, the PLB transmits a 406 MHz signal to the International Cospas-Sarsat Satellite System, which provides distress alert and location data for search and rescue operations around the world. When a 406 MHz beacon signal is received, search and rescue personnel can retrieve information from a registration database. This includes the beacon owner’s contact information, emergency contact information, and vessel/aircraft identifying characteristics. Having this information allows the Coast Guard, or other rescue personnel, to respond appropriately.

Below are additional safety tips the Coast Guard recommends for all paddlers:

  • Paddlers should always check the weather forecast before paddling and should dress for the water temperature, rather than the air temperature. At times this might mean wearing wet or dry suits while paddling.
  • A float plan should be completed and left with someone who is not going with the paddlers. A float plan is a lifesaving device on paper and provides emergency responders with valuable information they would need in order to search for a distressed or overdue boater. Information on a float plan and how to obtain a blank float plan can be found at
  • Paddlers should resist the temptation to paddle alone and should instead paddle with a partner or in groups. This reduces risk to an individual in the event of an emergency. Paddling in groups increases the chances of being seen by powerboat operators and sail craft in the vicinity.
  • Paddlers need to understand their physical limitations and endurance. Paddling can be strenuous exercise, and paddlers should be physically fit and know techniques for self-rescue, as well as how to rescue fellow paddlers.
  • Paddlers need to understand the limitations of their paddlecraft. There are different types of paddlecraft design. Some kayaks are designed for touring and are capable of carrying significant amounts of gear for longer trips. These types of kayaks may cost several thousand dollars. Others, such as inexpensive, entry-level kayaks, are generally designed for protected waters, near-shore waters or water such as that found on lakes and slow moving rivers when paddling trips will be of shorter duration.


man rescued in helicopter

Petty Officer 2nd Class Erick Lieb, a rescue swimmer assigned to Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Mich., escorts a kayaker who was rescued by the MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew in the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay, July 19, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard courtesy of Air Station Traverse City

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