Safety always should be first when kayaking

Earlier this month, a man drowned and another had to be rescued after their kayak overturned in rough waters on Lake Michigan near the Schoolcraft County mainland.

According to a Michigan Department of Natural Resources, a DNR conservation officer was able to use a personal watercraft to rescue one of the kayakers, who was from Oxford, Michigan, from the 50-degree water, but his companion perished. Neither wore life jackets.

In light of this accident — and given how popular kayaking has become — it’s worth passing along some U.S. Coast Guard tips on proper safety when kayaking, especially on larger bodies of water, from an interview done with canoekayak.com:

— A personal flotation device, or life jacket, should be worn at all times. On the off chance you end up in the water, a PFD may save your life. Make sure your PFD fits comfortably; Type III is generally recommended for paddle sports.

— Wear bright and noticeable clothing to be visible to other boaters.

— The tides and currents change throughout the day and depending on the weather may be stronger at certain times. Even if you are familiar with a particular waterway, it is still important to make sure tides, currents, and weather are checked shortly before departing on a trip.

— Be aware of the air and water temperature. If either is less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, wearing fleece layers or possibly a drysuit is recommended. Being immersed in water as warm as 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit still can initiate cold-water shock.

— If there is low visibility due to fog or darkness, it is best to stay off the water. This is especially critical for smaller, non-self-propelled craft.

— If you capsize in cold water it is best to huddle rather than swim to shore unless the depth is shallow enough to walk ashore. The body’s first reflex is to gasp for air, increase heart rate and blood pressure, all of which may lead to cardiac arrest. Chances are the water will not be calm and the exhaustion of swimming will increase your heat loss more swiftly.

— Another article from paddling.com suggests practicing re-entering your kayak from the water before you ever need to do it for real. If you can’t confidently get back in the kayak from the water, then it only makes sense to stay close enough to shore that you can comfortably swim if needed.

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