Death of Lake Superior paddler serves as stark reminder of paddlesport, cold-water dangers

9th Coast Guard District News
CLEVELAND – The tragic death of a 19-year-old kayaker Tuesday night near the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior, is a reminder to paddlesport enthusiasts of the importance of life-saving equipment and safe boating practices.

The man, whose name and hometown are not being released, was paddling with three other people when his kayak reportedly capsized, sending him into the 49-degree water of Little Sand Bay.

The other three men went to shore and used a cell phone to call for help at 5:33 p.m. CST and reported they had lost sight of the fourth man.

A rescue boatcrew aboard a 25-foot Response Boat-Small from Coast Guard Station Bayfield, Wisc., immediately launched to search the area and found the missing man unresponsive in Little Sand Bay at about 8 p.m., with a blue life jacket and the bottom half of a wetsuit on. His friends reported that, when they last saw him, he was wearing the life jacket, swim trunks and a t-shirt and carrying the wetsuit when he got underway.

The fact that he was found with his wetsuit only halfway on leads responders to believe he was attempting to don the wetsuit after he entered the water, said Chief Petty Officer James Robertson, officer-in-charge of Station Bayfield. Robertson added that the boatcrew only saw him once they were relatively close, because his blue life jacket made him blend in with the color of the water.

The boatcrew pulled the man out of the water and performed CPR on him while they transported him to shore where emergency medical technicians were waiting.

A medical examiner later pronounced him deceased.

The cause of the accident remains under investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.  For more information about the status of the investigation, contact Mark Little at 715-635-4112.

“As part of our search and rescue philosophy, we treat every person who is potentially in distress as we would a member of our own family,” said Jerry Popiel, assistant chief of incident management for the Ninth Coast Guard District. “So we also grieve the loss of any boater and express our sincere condolences to the family. Our hope is that the visibility of this incident will serve to remind other waterway users, particularly paddlers, to take all reasonable safety precautions to guard against the dangers inherent with our Great Lakes.”

The Coast Guard urges all paddlers to dress for the water temperature, as opposed to the air temperature at all times while underway, and to always wear a brightly-colored life jacket to increase the chance of being found quickly following an accident. Although air temperatures across the Great Lakes region have risen significantly during the past few weeks, the water is still dangerously cold in many areas, including Lake Superior. Proper attire greatly increases survivability in the event of an accident.

Paddlers are also encouraged to take boating safety courses each year before going out onto the water. Many boating safety courses are offered throughout the country for all types of recreational boaters and for boaters of all ages. Qualified volunteer organizations, such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadron, and state boating agencies sponsor many courses and provide classes.  Many of the courses are free.

Click here for a resource to help you find boating safety courses put on by the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Click here for help in finding other boating safety course resources, including those offered by state boating agencies.

Additional paddlesport safety tips are available here.

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