Kayaker survives 17 hours in Long Island Sound

Mike Diaz, a kayak fisherman, describes spending 17 hours treading water and fighting the tides of Long Island Sound after his kayak capsized in October of 2017. Diaz credits his life jacket with his survival. (U.S. Coast Guard video by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi)

Story and video by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi

For 12 years, Mike Diaz fished the waters of Long Island Sound from his kayak. He ventured out, escaping the bustle of Long Island to explore and maybe catch a fluke, porgy, striped bass, or sea robin.

Throwing on his life jacket was part of his routine. Just as he wouldn’t forget his fishing pole or bait, he never forgot his life jacket.

On Oct. 7, 2017, Diaz set out on a late season trip, launching from his usual spot at Lloyd Neck Beach. The weather was mild through the early autumn and Diaz wanted to squeeze in another outing before winter.

After spending most of the day near shore, he eventually ventured farther – hoping to land a big fish to round out his season.

The weather forecast had a storm coming in the next day, but as Diaz made his way back to the boat launch, he found the weather had already shifted.

The winds and seas picked up, and water crashed over and into his kayak. He tried to bale the water out but couldn’t keep up. Unable to dewater, he worked to get to the nearest beach.

As he headed for the beach, the kayak became unstable and capsized. He leashed the kayak to himself to swim the last 100 yards to shore, but now he was swimming against the tide.

Knowing he was in trouble, he went into his dry box to get his phone and call for help, but the dry box had failed and his phone was shorted out.

It wouldn’t be until the next morning, when his roommate reported him missing, that anyone would begin searching for him.

Diaz spent all night treading water and fighting tides. Through the night the tide crisscrossed him between the Connecticut and New York sides of the sound.

“I knew there was a clock ticking,” said Diaz. “Your thoughts do start running into hypothermia – ‘am I going to be found on a beach someplace?’ ”

But Diaz shook those thoughts.

“As long as my PFD is keeping me above water – I’ll cross those bridges when they occur,” he said.

Determined, he remained focused on looking for any opportunity to rescue himself.

Finally he spotted a lighthouse off Connecticut’s coast.

He put his head down and swam. After over an hour of swimming, and more than 17 hours in the water, he put his hand on the ladder leading to the lighthouse.

Once Diaz was out of the water, he signaled to a passing fishing boat crew and was quickly rescued.

Diaz attributes his survival to wearing his life jacket and the fact that other more experienced kayakers stressed safety measures when he first began kayaking.

In the Northeast, there were 54 recreational boating deaths in 2017. Thirty-nine of the 54 people who died were not wearing a life jacket and 19 out of the 54 deaths involved a paddle craft.

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