Deception Pass Challenge

I read on a powerboat forum that the Coast Guard had to rescue a number of boats during the race this year. Plenty of name calling and references to Darwin. One comment was that paddlers who know better don’t go out in 50 degree water. High sustained winds were cited.

It looks like this has been an event for 15 years and geared toward experienced paddlers. Does anyone know what occurred to cause the need for rescues?

Stuff happens…

Based on the website, sounds the like planners set parameters and provisions for safety in terms of equipment and safety measures. Also, had two rescue boats ready from Skagit Search and Rescue, which the proceeds of the event were to benefit.

There are all kinds of boating events where things happen. As long as you make good faith efforts to provide safety. But, sometimes it is “by the grace of…” that decides.


for more info, see:

maybe @3meterswell will chime in with more info (his backyard)

A local example of things happening in adventure oriented events. I remember reading (and hearing) about the rescues related to a pretty renown local race - The Blackburn Challenge.


Sometimes people bite off more than they can chew:

Rescues during races are often the case. I don’t show any here with bad press, but there were some. CG gets upset when they weren’t notified of race days.

I didn’t attend but here is a copy/paste from a skilled boater from NSSKA who was putting things into perspective when asked about reporting of the event:

"That’s not quite how it happened, at least from what I could tell as a participant. The coast guard was there with two cutters and a zodiac before the event started. So was Snohomish County SAR. It was an event with 80 boaters in advanced conditions so the agencies were notified of the event well in advance and they opted to be present from the outset. There were also safety boats of many types, kayaks, jet skis, sups, and motor boats. About 30 minutes after the start of the race, the conditions intensified and the race was called off. On the way back in there were a few capsizes in the substantial surf. The coast guard zodiak and the safety boats were amazing at helping people but there was plenty of support at all times. In fact, before it was called off, I was making a personal assessment of whether to keep going as the waves intensified and decided that I would not if I had less support but I had capable boaters all around me so kept paddling. There was a capsize near me at one point, but there person was immediately assisted by safety personnel, so I didn’t get to help. After everyone had retuned there were two boaters who had not checked in so a coast guard helicopter began scanning for them but then the boaters were quickly located. Many others on here were also present at the event so will be curious if there are any other perspectives, but from everything I could see and from my conversation with safety boaters and organizers, the calling off the race was decided in concert with the coast guard and sheriff and the safe return of all boats went smoothly."


Tidal rips happened. They happen every day. Deception Pass can give large power boats fits.

This sounds like everything happened the way it was supposed to - nice to hear.

I guess I’d think if it went the way it’s supposed to, the SAR would be bored for a few hours then go home. The safety protocols went the way they are supposed to, no question and that’s great. But ideally you try to plan to not need them.

I’m not being critical of the race, it’s organizers or participants. The race starts and is called a half later. What changed and why? Or, is the nature of Deception Pass so mercurial that one cannot reasonably predict conditions? If that’s the case, I certainly get it. I don’t and am sure others also don’t know if this number of in water retrievals and assists is typical of this event or others like it. Or chalk this up to slow news day?

Here is another perspective from a local:

Bullet-point answer:

- Conditions were deemed OK to race by the organizers and safety in the couple hours before the race

- CG and multiple power craft were already on site in the water (as per permits)

- 6 of us were in kayaks/ OC/ SUP on the water for safety as well

- Wind kicked up unexpectedly ~15-20 min after the race started

- Paddlers flipped in the bigger conditions, many self-rescued and others were assisted primarily by other racers

- CG and organizers called off the race at that point

- Participants and safety craft returned to shore

- 100% of people were accounted for within an hour

This was a professionally organized and run event, with incredibly experienced participants overall. Had this not been an organized race with plentiful safety and experienced paddlers the outcome would have been different.

Sorry, but the headlines of “CARNAGE” or “DOZENS OF COAST GUARD RESCUES” are incredibly misleading and a little dishonest. More accurately: "Multiple paddlers get to practice un-expected remounts and assisted rescues in Bowman Bay before a race is called off due to an unexpected change in conditions. All returned to shore safely"

One video I watched of the event showed observations where the wind didn’t so much increase as it veered from southerly to westerly. The westerly put it against the ebb so condition grew. Maybe that wind change could have been predicted with some degree of certainty and while the conditions did changed from a racing POV they are conditions that are “played” in at DP with some regularity.

No animals were harmed during the event and when the conditions did change the event was cancelled. There are usually swimmers at DP if conditions are good.

Here is a video of wind against current at Deception Pass.


Impressive talent. I can imagine an uninformed observer watching that video. Especially as the paddler screamed when passing the kayak out front. Nice eye witness reporting.

Can you really plan to not need the safety protocols in this type of event?
I organize an annual event. What do I know about the participants?
I have as much information as I can reasonably gather, as reliable of information as I can gather, and I really hope to get to know everyone quite well, and do my best. But when everyone gets on the water, we have X number of paddlers, and we’re really depending upon the coaches for support, because we do know within reason their capabilities. But we don’t know everyone’s capabilities, and don’t know for sure how each individual will handle the conditions of the day. Sure, I can know everyone will do well in placid conditions. But when “Challenge” is a part of the event - part of the draw, not even the individual participants, as illustrated in this Deception Pass event along with some other events, necessarily know their own limitations. They are using this event as a controlled challenge. The organizers may not have meant it that way organizing it, and the participant hoped they could handle it. But somewhere in the participant’s mind it was a controlled challenge with support at the ready should things go wrong. Where 99% confidence is normally exercised, people are challenging themselves, accepting 70% confidence. A controlled challenge is what it turned out to be for them. Who knows? This event could end up saving a life or two. Things learned in a controlled environment that otherwise would have been experienced in a much worse situation.
Yes, you can argue that a line could be drawn where most everyone will always do ok. But do we find ourselves limiting the challenge level to the least common denominator, thereby eliminating “challenge” for the other 95%?
And you have to ask yourself all of the tough questions. Everything turned out alright, but did this push things too far? Was it a lot of good luck, or were we really fully prepared for this to happen, and how do all of the support personnel feel about it? For what % of participants was the “challenge” piece over the top? What were the reasons? Was this acceptable?
I feel for all of the organizers of paddling events meant to incorporate challenging conditions. You don’t just second guess decisions. You third guess, and fourth guess, and seventh guess… If anything goes wrong, you are inherently subject to criticism. You know, communicate, and remind everyone that paddling involves dangers, and no one can eliminate those dangers. But you still feel responsible for everyone out there. And it’s an uphill battle to help a highly risk-averse individual understand organizing and/or participating in a “challenge” event, so criticism and blame tend to flow freely.
This sounds like a fun event that I would very much look forward to participating in were I in the vicinity. I hope everyone is able to strike a balance and continue with it.

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Thanks for reporting from your sources. It paints a different picture than has been reported and inferred by the less knowledgeable.

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And that makes sense. I’ve been out numerous times when the wind was expected to shift, and did. But often hours sooner or later than forecast. Yes, wind against current could turn ugly fast. A little later after the current turned, and with wind and current in the same direction and I bet would be completely different conditions. No experience out there but, reminds me of coming out of Cape Cod Canal into Buzzards Bay with big ugly square waves.

From the unknowing perspective, for example a reporter tasked to be dramatic, a simple capsize is a traumatic disastrous event.

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I thought that I recognized the paddler & kayak from some other videos. Impressive skills. Conditions are well above my pay grade.

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I enjoyed that video (not paddling it), along with those of the THR folks playing in that stuff with their Sterlings. :wink:


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Capefear, I know enough about tide, how constrictions intensify flow, and how changing wind can multiply issues, so I stay out of such places. On the other hand, for kayakers seeking a challenge to tackle and experience such obstacles, the organizers of theat event and people with your insight help make it as safe as possible.

Here is more. This was posted at West Coast Paddler.

Here is a post which Bill Vonnegut ( just sent to an email thread on the Bay Area Sea Kayakers list on this subject:

I actually know a few highly skilled people in the race. I have herd first hand local comments like, people getting off the water with a great story to tell. This is a quote from someone who was actually there, quoted from the local surfski group, I personally don’t know this guy but it sums up what I have heard from others:

“Okay, again- these reports are sensationalized and do not accurately portray what went on at Bowman Bay (in the Deception Pass region, but not Deception Pass proper) on Saturday. It’s blatantly obvious that nobody who is writing these reports has actually talked to any of the event participants, organizers, or other safety volunteers.
I am glad to see that the article was corrected to state that the CG was already on site, but there are other flagrant mis-statements or mis-representations still present.
To go directly through the article:
(1) Dozens of kayakers were not “rescued” by the CG. Many participants either self-recovered/ remounted, or were assisted getting back in their boats by other racers
(2) Conditions were ok to race in during the couple hours prior to race start. Conditions then changed rapidly (and unpredictably) shortly after the race began. This is normal for this part of the world. It was flat 2 hours later.
(3) Yes, many people capsized. That’s why we practice remounts. Capsizing is normal.
(4) CG already had two (not 1) boats on scene. In addition, there were multiple other power craft and 6 of us in kayaks/ OC/ SUP in the water for safety
(5) No calls to 911 were made from race organizers, participants, or safety craft that were already on the water. These calls were made by other observers on shore.
(6) “Nearly half of the reported 75 participants were in need of rescue” WTAF???
(7) Every single race participant was dressed appropriately for the conditions, with immersion gear, high-vis clothing, and PFDs.

What ACTUALLY happened is a great example of a professionally organized event, with experienced participants and abundant safety already on scene. Less than an hour after the race was called off 100% of participants and paddle safety personnel were on shore and accounted for. Maybe 1 or 2 cases of mild hypothermia, but that’s it.”