high wind paddling -> CG rescue

My daughter sent me a report written by a WW club member at the University of Michigan. He and two of his buddies got into some trouble last week when we had some very high winds here in Michigan. We had steady 30-40 mph winds with gusts in the 50’s. The formating is ugly since it is copied from an email-but it is worth the read. Just a side note, I think paddling in high winds is great fun but you have to be in the right size body of water for your skill level. Here goes…


hi, peter

this is my report: to sea kayaker and rsck

we started our trip at erie metro park, @ 12:30 pm saturday

with a southern wind @10-20 mph, i knew we would have bad

weather from the predictions , and you told me what to

expect. {gales and 3-5 ft waves.} i had experience ww

kayaking. with a good roll, i tested your 17 ft valley acovet

in the marina for @ 20 minutes and got used to the feel of

the boat, it was @65 and sunny. a great day. we discussed

safety on shore. you had a cell phone in a dry bag, a

waterproof 2 way radio, and flares. we dicussed our options

to paddle in the area for the day, we decided to be

conservative and paddle the shore route. @ 1:00pm we headed

out the 3 of us me you and kurt. for @ 1 hour the paddling

was great, 1-2 ft waves with a southern wind to paddle into.

as we paddled south along the shore. @200 yards from shore,

the wind had changed and was from the west, and gusty. waves

picked up. 5-6 ft. and kurt missed a roll, and swam. you

helped him with a wet entry. and at that point.

the weather got worse. a minute or 2 later kurt was swiming

again. you told me to paddle to shore fast, at this point was

the last i seen you.

i was battling the wind and waves. and had no expierince in

bad weather sea kayaking, i was out of control, trying to

paddle into the wind. and getting blown off course. sideways

into waves. i would brace on the wrong side and roll. away

from the waves. i had @ 3-4 sucessful rolls. i was getting

worked. i bailed out of the boat. thing were going so fast, i

didnt hold onto the boat as i exited. as i got my head out of

the water. the boat was 10 ft away. i could not get to it.it

was a bad mistake. it was gone in a matter of seconds. i had

my drytop and drypants on. lifejacket and a paddle, i

started to swim to the mainland. i was making no progress

getting worked in the waves. i changed plans and tried to

swim to celrom island. i notinced the grosse isle smoke

stacks and noted they were to the left of a island, {possibly

grosse isle} i gave up as i was making no progress. and i was

getting cold. i decided, i was not getting out of this

predicament. on my own. i swam for 2hours in 50 degree water.

and watched the smoke stacks go futher away and on the right

side of grosse isle. i was going downstream , as i hoisted my

body over the waves with the paddle to avoid water ingestion.

i noticed a fishing boat, near celeron island he was having a

hard enough time battling to get in to the marina, a waved my

paddle, i doubt if he seen it. then i seen a jet skier ,

looked like he was having fun with the waves. near celeron

island. i thought to my self i will never do anything like

this again in my life. getting cold!

very cold. think warm stuff. kick your feet. then i seen the

coast guard helicopter, he was @ 200 yards, away i waved my

paddle, he must not have seen me, as he turned away back to

celeron island, then i seen the helicopter go low, hopefully

he was picking up someone, 2 more passes and then a coast

guard boat was coming right at my, i waved my paddle, and

dragged my weak body in. from there i got winched up into the

helicopter. and landed at grosse isle airport. paramedics

were there to treat me , i heard that everyone was rescued

kurt checked into the hospital for hipothermia, and i met

peter, who luckily made it to shore , to call 911 , which was

already called in by possible the jetskier. peter had

repostioned the coast guard search to tell them our position

where we were. as the boats made it to grosse isle. and the

search started there. kurt swam like me without his boat.

floating downstream. but without proper paddling clothing. in closing:

i owe my life to the people involved in saving me. {coast

guard, grosse isle paramedics and police.

i will never go on the detroit river again! respect the water!

sea kayaking is alot diferent that ww kayaking,

i wish i would have paid closer atention to the weather forcast.

the weather can turn on you fast!

take sea kayaking lessons and learn in a safe enviroment

see you on land ! jim

p.s. we are having troubles with a grosse isle resident who

is claming salvage rights on 2 of peter’s boats. maybe we can

get a gang of us to beat this guy up silly. it was only a

matter of 1-2 hours this lowlife reeled these boats in and

claimed them. off his beach.

Way Over Their Heads…
no familiarity with the venue and the difficulty that these conditions can create. No experience with the equipment. Obviously no experience with group rescue techniques. Primary narrator went his own separate way. If nothing else, should have rafted up. Hopefully, would have had his cell phone accessible use it to call for help.

He deserves credit for sharing the story and knowing that much more needs to be learnt before the next time in such conditions.


it is really good that he shared this story-it helps remind people or inform them about the danger of high winds. Keep in mind these were college students (and typically don’t have the same fear factor that some of older paddlers have gained from more experience).


There has been some commentary
on the email list of the U of M club. A central theme seems to be that just because you are a skilled WW paddler does not mean you know how to handle a touring boat. One responder likened being in the the conditions described as the equivalent of class IV or higher white water. Takes knowledge, practice, and skill.

Made me think about something new
"i didnt hold onto the boat as i exited. as i got my head out of the water. the boat was 10 ft away. i could not get to it.it was a bad mistake. it was gone in a matter of seconds."

The many, many times I’ve practiced wet exits/re-entries, I have grabbed the boat immediately upon coming up, but for the life of me I cannot recall whether I hang onto the coaming AS I AM EXITING (still upside-down). No doubt if the wind is blowing hard enough, even grabbing the boat as soon as head is out of water just isn’t fast enough.

Thanks for posting the story. Next time, I will make sure to conscientiously hold onto the coaming starting before I let up on the footpeg pressure. I have literally fallen out of the kayak if I simply let the pressure off the pegs, so I am guessing this is the point at which the boat can be blown away if I don’t keep holding onto it.

I hold onto my boat, upon exiting, with my foot.

I leave it in the cockpit and wedge it into the boat holding on with the hook of my toes. long as the boat stays upside down I have a killer grip on her. then a little reach and the cockpit’s in-hand.

With one foot in the boat it’s EZ to get in position for a re-enter/roll or gives me a firm grip while I deploy a paddlefloat.


Difficulties of being a novice

– Last Updated: Nov-02-04 12:50 PM EST –

I was surprised recently when a friend showed some research suggesting that adults males underestimate risks relatively on par with adolescent males. I don't know if this is really so, but got me to thinking why it is so hard for any of us as novices to learn from more experienced folks rather than just head out there like these folks. Of course always easier to see other's errors and in hindsight.

That said, some time ago I saw another piece of research, (pardon me, don't have the source, it was in the organizational pyschololgy journals) that showed that genuinely competent individuals are markedly better able to accurately assess both their limits and strengths and are in general also better able to assess other people'e limits and strengths.

Where the problem comes in is that when we are novices, we are much more likely to overestimate our own abilities and amazingly, at least to me, significantly underestimate competent people's abilities. This explains, in part, the frequency of situations that are given in this and other posts. The people involved really thought they were OK, and they may also have discounted books, experienced friends, other paddler's etc. falsely thinking that they knew better. This also may explain how hard it can be guiding groups that have both novices and advanced paddlers, as the novices may fail to know how litttle they know and NOT see the usefulness of listening to the advanced folks.

This is not to say that many many other reasons may contribute to the above situation, just thought folks might find this interesting in assessing how hard it is both personally and in helping others to be accurate about the balance of adventure and acceptable risks.

…but it looked so easy!
“Whattaya mean, that’s a tough rapid? How hard can it be? That old guy, there, barely used his paddle going down through there, and he’s in a big ol’ canoe! Should be a piece of cake in this kayak!”

Of course, you can’t see that the “old guy” has 20 years of whitewater experience under his belt…

My boat got away once
Last year, I was in 45+ MPH winds in a 450 acre lake, doing lots of rolls and having a blast. After an hour or so of paddling I missed a brace and went for an unplanned roll instead. It should have been easy rolling up. I’ve rolled up in surf and was rolling up no problem in the winds that day. But, I had some trouble getting into position for the roll. The wind and waves seemed to be working against me. When I switched sides to roll up on the other side, my kayak rolled back toward the side I wanted to roll up on originally-putting me out of position again. I was running out of air and ended up getting confused on where I was in relation to the surface. So, I wet exited and not knowing where the surface was still (it was like being in white water in a way) I let go of my kayak in a panic. As soon as I popped up my kayak was gone-rolling over and over across the water. I had my drysuit on and while it took a long time for my paddling partner to get me to shore I finally got back to my kayak, I was cold but not hypothermic. We took the opportunity to practice an assisted rescue in the high winds and that went really well. A wind surfer had stopped my kayak from hitting shore. One thing I learned from this 1) if you wet exit in a crazy situation, if your hand is on the cockpit coaming then that is where the surface is. If your kayak has flotation it will be on the surface of the water. 2) always carry a tow belt or similar device so you can help get a runaway kayak back to a paddler. There is no way to bring a kayak back to a paddler unless you have a tow belt or similar (in high winds anyway).


Thanks For Sharing That

Losing one’s boat in wind
I’ve wondered many times why a person can’t rig up a life line of some sort to prevent boat loss in situations like this. Has anyone tried this? I’m no kayaker, but it seems to me that a rope connecting a person to his boat would be good insurance in high wind in open-water situations. Seems like if you made the rope plenty long, you’d have enough time to “get situated” in the water before the boat drifted far enough to yank on you in an unpredictable way. You’d just need a way to compactly store that length of rope while paddling, and you’d need a quick release on the paddler’s end, “just in case.” Are there any reasons why this can’t/shouldn’t be done? I’m sure some will say the rope would get in the way, but I can imagine a few ways to rig it that would be a lot less intrusive than a paddle leash, and lots of people use those.

Just wondering…

Glad these guys only had a bad day
6’ waves on the Detroit River … wow! This must have been intense.

… what about the jerk on Grosse Isle waylaing the boats … can we find out his name to provide some harrasment to give the boats back?

I went out that afternoon
They were lucky to be seen and rescued. A small group of us went out for a paddle on some interconnected ponds at around noon. We chose our paddling location based on the forecasted winds. We were off the water by 2pm and by then my wife had almost gotten blown over by a gust on a ten acre pond and was having problems turning. When a friend got out of her boat to visit the shore we joked that we were going to make her swim after her boat if it got away because we knew ther was no way you could catch a boat in that wind.

Later that afternoon I couldn’t resist going back out to practice turning and rolling. Looking out across the 40 acre lake we live on I could see the wind ripping spray off of the surface. There were 1 foot whitecaps with only 1/2 mile of fetch. It was work to turn the boat into the wind, but I surfed wind waves on our little lake for the first time.

I can’t imagine how nasty it was at the mouth of the Detroit River then. It’s good to get a sobering reminder that things can turn bad unexpectantly.


David, Thanks for sharing this report.
I’m glad everything ended alright. They were fortunate that they only “lost” a couple of boats. Hope they get them back.

Guideboatguy - some people use body/boat leashes, but they can be hazardous - one wrap around the neck in the confusion of being upside down in rough water and things could go very wrong.

Jack Cramer and I
paddled alot earlier than what you did and we were in Muskamoot Bay around Lake St.Clair. I could feel the wind pick up and know that it means limitations on a paddle instantly. When gusts appear you can’t predict how bad it’s going to get sometimes and I always favour the safety of the shoreline and return to the takeout. We didn’t have to worry about rolling there as it never goes over 3 feet in depth, but I still get leary when the wind whips up! I’d rather wimp out than challenge any piece of water under gale force conditions!I was able to again feel the smoothness of my QCC’s ride! Love that yak! I had one heck of a ride back to Canada on the freeway and wisely used my extra ratchet tiedown!Glad you guys made out okay and I’m sure there was alot learned by all that day…

Chris Duff

– Last Updated: Nov-03-04 9:09 AM EST –

First, I don't believe the average sea kayaker should be out in such conditions even if they are "well equipped" with safety gear. If they found themselves in this sort of high wind situation the use of a life-line could pose entanglement hazard rather than providing a benefit. One would need to train with a tether under controlled conditions in advance of a mishap, like any other piece of gear. However, there are those who do use such a set-up. According to his books, "On Celtic Tides" and "Southern Exposure", Chris Duff has rigged up some sort of tether from his person to his kayak. Please keep in mind that Mr. Duff has completed several major circumnavigations, usually paddling solo (i.e Iceland, NZ south island, Ireland, UK). He is also considered to be one of the premier sea kayakers in the world. In other words, we are not in his league. ; - )

For a diagram showing this tether see "Southern Exposure", pp 22-23.

Safe Paddling,

Salvage Rights
Do some reading on maritime law.

The guy does have salvage rights on the boats. These guys lost them. He salvaged them.

This does not mean he owns them or holds clear title to them now. He can place the equivalent of a lien on the title for the costs incurred in the salvage operation.

If you raise a sunken freighter, the salvage costs may exceed the value of the vessel, and the owner would probably turn over the ownership of the vessel rather than paying for the salvage.

If the guy pulled them up on his beach, good for him. Give him $50 an hour, buy him dinner, and give him your gratitude…and they should be on your way home with their boats. Feel free to forward this to the lucky rescuees. You guys are damn lucky to be alive. Island homeowners are not “cool” like the guys in the next eddy down on a whitewater river.

Again, he doesn’t now legally own the kayaks, but he is entitled to salvage rights. Beating him up won’t legally get the boats back.


I have a small boat fender rigged with 50’ of 1/4" line wrapped around it. I have never needed it but if you are caught in bad weather it could be a life saver. The float can be thrown over the side to unroll and trail behind the kayak similar to the safety lines on sail boats. It can be used as a tow line, safety line, sea anchor line or throwline.

There is a difference
between Legal and Ethical behavior.

Paddle Leash
I use a paddle leash, but after reading these posts I wonder if that makes sense. Two issues could arise: 1) risk of entanglement (I don’t use the leash in surf, though), and 2) There is the issue of losing both boat and paddle if the leash is intact.