December 5, 2013
Today we will continue the kayaking safety series from Clarksville Parks & Recreation Director, Mark Tummons!
Throughout each year, seemingly every few days, canoe and kayaking (and in larger context – boats in general) deaths or serious injury are in the news, shared by a friend, and through social media outlets.
The purpose of addressing this 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.
Please keep in mind the following:
Be wary of Stationary objects:
The surface of a river or creek can appear calm but moving water has far more power than most people realize. Becoming trapped between a tree and/or other immovable objects, such as rocks or piers, moving current can exert forces no human could possibly extricate themselves from.
On June 10th 2008, two female staff co-workers went kayaking on the Bad River near Fort Pierre, South Dakota with a 45-year-old male friend, 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: the kayak lodged and submerged between two trees in the river, with his lifeless body inside.
Most likely, the man saw the trees as he approached and figured he could fit between them. If not, no big deal, just back out. However, once he got in between them, the water current was simply too strong and forced his kayak under the trees in such a way he couldn't exit.
Several years ago on a canoe trip with my dad (who happened to be an extremely experienced canoeist) on the Harpeth River outside of Nashville, Tennessee, a hazardous situation arose without any notice. The River was up a little over normal, so the water was moving quicker than most times, but nothing out of the ordinary for us as we had paddled this River dozens of times. The Harpeth is mainly gentle, has mostly Class I rapids and perhaps some mild Class II and we came upon one we had crossed several times before and knew there was huge boulder in the middle of the river, and going right or left was always the key to safe passage. However, this particular day, the current being a little stronger, seemed to push our canoe toward the boulder, despite out efforts to go right or left. We hit the boulder on the upper right side of the canoe and then slide down a few feet until the boulder was centered directly in the middle of the canoe, our weight was perfectly distributed and the canoe would not go around the rock despite our hard pushes with paddles. In a matter of seconds, the 18’ Grumman steel canoe began to bend and dip to the point that water was beginning to come over the edge and at that point being younger, I decided to go ahead and flip out of the canoe into the water and allow the canoe with my dad to free itself and for him to float backwards through the rapids and then right himself on down the river. At the same time, I was wearing my PFD and floated on my back with my legs in front of me to avoid any neck or head injuries. We caught up to one another at the sandbar just below as our lunch cooler floated on by. Fortunately we able to empty the canoe of water, rest and re-gain our senses, but continued on, caught up with our lunch a little while later, and ended up having an enjoyable trip. But if I had failed to react properly (including wearing my PFD), I or my dad could have suffered the same fate as others. It only takes seconds, even what appears to be the mildest or easiest of situations.
So even in calm waters 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.
Here's another case, to help drive the point home:
September 22, 2011, Polebridge, Montana - An Idaho woman, 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.
Friday, April 17th, 2009 on the Silver River in Baraga County, Michigan, a male Professor and 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.
A good rule to follow if traveling in pairs or in groups is for the most experienced kayaker or canoeist to “take the lead”, and point out to the others surface protrusions or underwater rocks, logs, etc. and to share to stay “left” or “right” to avoid potential situations.