Kayak fisherman drowning Feb 16. in PA


Some were surprised he disappeared above a notorious dam there and not below it. He was found wearing an inflatable life jacket which was not deployed. They didn’t comment if it was an auto or manual activation type. There was no mention whether he was dressed for immersion. The Chesapeake Paddlers Assn. recommends not using inflatables in cold water.

To me, kayak fishing seems more hazardous since one has to put down the paddle to fiddle with fish and tackle thus losing bracing ability. Also while tending to catch, one is more likely to be leaning over the side, losing stability.


I can’t comment on this persons ability or setup in any way.
I can say that a dedicated fishing kayak is extremely stable when dealing with a fish or leaning way over the side. Even when putting your paddle down.
I speak from experience

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True, but that doesn’t mean you can’t capsize a fishing kayak. We’re in the middle of a kayak fishing craze with a lot of fisherman getting into it with little or no paddling experience, and many have no understanding of the safety margins, especially in cold water.

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The man in the picture appears to be sitting in a lawn chair. So some fishing kayaks have a seating position that high?

That’s typical. Nearly all fishing-specific kayaks have elevated seats now.

Truth. Many don’t have the experience and or knowledge.
I know, even elevated, I would fall out of mine before it would capsize

He was a 44 y/o black male wearing inflatable (not inflated), likely no wetsuit or drysuit, ends up in cold water, found in water (not on land).

My questions would be, did he know how to swim (probably did)?; was there attempt to inflate, pulled cord? (not answered).

Most likely scenario- he lost his balance, ended up in water, inflatable failed, cold water disabled

Less likely scenario- temporary loss of consciousness (not detectable), ended up in water

Lessons for me- never wear inflatables, dress for immersion, gear for getting warm after self rescue, don’t go alone if possible, some form of communication for help ; )

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Do most people know this?

With iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 15, or iPhone 15 Pro, you can use Emergency SOS via satellite to text emergency services when you’re off the grid with no cellular and Wi-Fi coverage.

Aside from the ‘how hard can it be’ thought process associated with unconscious incompetence - that’s not a slam, that’s the ‘don’t know what you don’t know’ phase of skill building - how available are lessons for fishing kayak types?

I don’t have any connections with kayak fishing, so I’m assuming publications and blogs publish the usual PSAs about wearing PFDs and taking a safety class but of course that only reaches people who subscribe.

A quick on-line search (I was curious) brought up some state run programs complements of Wildlife Departments.

ACA is now offering an “Angling endorsement” to ACA instructors so that’s something. ACA Fishing Endorsement Gaining Momentum, Recruiting Kayak Angling Leaders as ACA Instructors  - ACA.

Is there any attempt at kayak safety education when fishing licenses are purchased? What about states that require kayak registration?

You can’t really blame people for making poor decisions if the opportunity for education isn’t readily available or obvious. Paddlesport accidents are up however and I wonder long it will be before state governments start looking at education requirements or licensing.

Pull the rip cord to inflate, or auto inflate is not for me. I know Murphy to well. :scream:

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The USCG approves them and we like ours.

If a person has a catastrophic medical event, the others won’t keep their airway out of the water either.

I would not use an inflatable PFD in cold water. Cold shock causes involuntary gasping and you could easily drown before you can even find the manual inflation handle, which is probably what happened here. I wouldn’t use one in whitewater either. But they sure are nice on hot summer days.

I don’t know how many kayak fishermen have sought training, but I suspect not many. Here in NH, a boating education card is required to operate a motor boat over 25 hp. A fishing kayak with a trolling motor needs to be registered, but there is no required training.

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If an automatic inflatable fails to inflate or a victim is unable to deploy the manual cord, the chances of survival go way down vs conventional flotation where one still has at least a chance. Susquehanna River water temp was around 37-43° F. so gasping reflex or other cold shock incapacitation would have been distinct possibilities in which case it’s academic.

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depends on the pfd style and type. Some jackets are designed to keep you face up even if you are are not responsive- commercial rafting vests with a flap on the back and even the old bulky orange jackets are designed to do that. You would have to give up a bit of comfort though.

This is so sad, and most likely preventable.
I’ve paddled that area, and an excellent local outfitter- who offered training- just closed at the end of last year (owners retired).

I own several inflatable PFDs and they are popular on the racing circuit due to low profile and weight. I love having one for summer use…

I can’t tell you the number of people I know who just buy them and strap them on and go…, never bothering to open up and look inside and see that they don’t come “armed” you have to arm the cartridge yourself manually before it is ready to use. Just because the “jerk to inflate” rip cord is hanging out, doesn’t mean it’s ready to go

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and if you’re looking for ‘no maintenance’ (as well as low profile), think again.
I paddle in salt water (or 1/2 and 1/2). I’ve got to open up (unfold) the inflatable & remove (and maybe dry out) the cartridge after every trip (if it gets wet).

(I use one, I didn’t take care of a previous inflatable - the cartridge froze up)

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In sudden immersion into 37-42°F water without good thermal protection the last thing I’d be wanting to be doing is fumble about with a PFD manual inflation device or play with a cell phone. You’re dealing with hyperventilation, gasp reflex, and rapid loss of manual dexterity, the latter often in as little as 10 minutes.

A cell phone is particularly useless as you will probably be dead long before anyone can respond to a call unless you manage to get out of the water.

Many kayakers avoid auto-inflating vests due to the risk of the vests inflating when playing in rough water or rolling. The “pills” that dissolve to activate the vest can also degrade over time with high humidity. Manual vests can be difficult to use once you are in the water trying to hold onto your boat, paddle, and any loose gear in the conditions that put you in the water in the first place. Even worse in cold water where your time may be limited.

A friend accidentally had his manually inflating vest actuate when he snagged the release handle.

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