Lake Superior paddlers rescued

MUNISING, Mich. (WLUC) - Three kayakers were rescued between Sand Point and Miners Castle at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the afternoon of September 13. All three were treated at Munising Memorial Hospital and released that evening.–393353081.html

OK, armchair QB time. The article has good detail and some good recommendations from the rangers. I’ve paddled Pictured Rocks often, always check in at the ranger station, and find they’re pretty mindful of informing people of conditions.

It sounds like these guys were all prepared in terms of outfitting but perhaps less os in terms of judgement and ability. I know if I were with two other people who ended up floating, that at least ONE of us would be back inside their boat pretty quickly.

I’ve been in the described conditions at Pictured Rocks and they can either be fun, or not so fun.

The picture of the airlift looks fun but I bet it wasn’t. And I wonder if the two boats are still down there.

Good article
The cliff face in the picture looks rather unforgiving.

It’s nice to read a story where proper gear saved the situation, rather than the usual, “no gear, no PFD” calamities.

I wonder if they had VHF’s. All communication to rescuers seemed to be by cell phone.


Glad this one has a happy ending,
but I have to wonder if they checked the marine forecast before heading out. The NWS had issued weather warnings on September 13.

Kudos to the Traverse City USCG air station. They’ve had a very busy summer, unfortunately, and not always with good outcomes. The guy from Kalkaska who paddled a box store rec boat a mile out on Lake Michigan on Labor Day still hasn’t been found.

All these incidents have made me rethink what emergency communication equipment to carry, especially now that the lakes have emptied of tourista jetskis and power boats and the summer people have retreated to their homes.

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if they checked in @ park headquarters
then I’m certain they heard a warning and were encouraged to read the forecast. But many people just put in and go. The fact that they put in at Sand Point makes me think they went to headquarters, but that’s just my assumption.

I’ve gone out after being warned by the ranger regarding small craft advisories, but I appreciated the heads-up.

They are all alive , did something right
Interesting hear how they all ended up swimming.

Better prepared than most news story kayakers, since nobody died after 4 -7 hours swimming in Lake Superior.

that struck me also
Well-prepared, but all three swam and no one got back in their boat.

Controlled environment reminder.
I think a good overall philosophy is that you should test your ability in conditions with an onshore wind and shore surf before venturing into open water on something like a Great Lake or the ocean. Just make sure the weather will put you and your boat back on shore when your own efforts seem to be failing you.

I remember a day of a planned circumnavigation of a barrier island here on the Atlantic coast. The planner was a bit worried about the abilities of some in the group. He had planned to make a landing on the ocean side, where we would have to launch again. Then at the other end of the island, paddle back into a more shallow inlet, where breaking waves would likely be unavoidable. Then there was still the question of how everyone would handle the open water environment. I suggested paddling out through the shoals where some small, more gently breaking waves would very gradually build, and we could get an idea of where abilities fell.

I barely got out into the smaller breaking stuff, and we had 3 capsizes. We were both pretty happy to learn than before leading the group out to sea, and we went back into the sound. But later I caught a little hell from one of those that capsized. He was upset that I didn’t take the deep channel out of the first inlet, as he felt he could have easily made it out to sea without capsize that way.

So focused on the original goal, or maybe a little embarrassment, that he couldn’t quite get the more serious issues that we were trying to avoid. Even after that, he still was upset that he wasn’t out at sea. Didn’t make the connection of boat handling in 1 foot spilling waves being at least somewhat indicative of ability in 4’ short-period open water, or of the much larger outer breaks we’d encounter. Just a survive/outlast/outluck only what you have to as you go sort of attitude I guess?

So I bring it up so that the controlled environment thoughts might ocassionally override human nature.

Lake Superior water temps
…was up last week on MN north shore and it is as warm as I have ever seen/felt it. That is a long way from UP. Wonder how temps were.

I have been in those conditions at Pictured Rocks. The clap was so bad I was at least a mile off shore just to stay off the trampoline so I could move forward. I was 50 something. I might not go for it now days at 60 something.

‘rescue’ from Sep of '16, recent Reader Digest article:

‘These Kayakers Fought for Survival After Big Waves Overturned Their Boats’
(saw this referenced on the WestCoastPaddler forum)

many thoughts, but my main one is:
You started paddling ‘in conditions’ with no roll?
(numerous re-entries, but no mention of roll attempts)

You don’t know nor appreciate what can happen until it does. I assume they felt “safe” within their number of three. But, the “three” doesn’t mean anything unless they have tested themselves in something challenging but with quick access to a bail out. Paddling along side miles long cliff wall is certainly not it for a “test”.

Early on in my longboating, I took up surfing specifically to figure out and develop my abilities with rough water. I even went out in midst of a number of nor’easters just get more experience and training. I felt it was reasonably safe because the conditions were of force winds and head high surf on pushing onto shore. Figured that if I come out, I and the boat would have been pushed to shore. Success was being able to beat the oncoming winds and waves out beyond the break zone two or three times. And that would take more than an hour to score that. I had good rolling and bracing (as well as way better stamina than now) and never came out of the boat. On one nor’easter occaison, I was with someone who used to pond train, paddle and surf with occaisonally on one of the nor’easter. He had a pretty good roll but did come out of his boat. In the process, his leg was still inside the cockpit when a wave hit. It blew out his knee (which he learned when he went for an examination later on). All I was able to do was to tried to stay within 20’-30’ to the side of him (for “reassurance”) as the waves and wind pushed him to shore. There was no attempt at an assisted rescue as it felt too dangerous in the break zone.

Those “practice” experiences ingrained in me the conviction that I would never want to be out in an open water paddle in those conditions if I can avoid it (and one can by taking seriously the forecasted conditions of the day).


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In fairness, a lot of folks who have a roll under moderate circumstances may not have it in much bigger waves when tired. Which was the situation these guys were in that day in 2016. I for ex even with a roll that could not fail in WW on both sides never did get the hang of coming up on the side where l did not get knocked down again in surf. I was fairly dedicated to the wrong one.

What l took from this story was a pile of errors in judgement re the weather. Which l have done, happily with consequences that were not a newspaper story due to a few pieces of dumb luck. And not unlike this one, all in dry suits. We had a pretty chilled swimmer but nothing that couldn’t be handled with a hot drink and an extra cag.

So while am a huge believer in having a solid roll for bigger stuff, even that can have its limits. No amount of knowing what you should do should be relied on to overcome being tired, chilled and feeling overwhelmed.

Granted having more skills raises the bar on how far you can push it before these things are a problem. But limits are limits and it is hubris to think they don’t exist. Especially when dealing with big, wet and pushy Ma Nature.

From a sea kayaker point of view, the first thing that caught my eye was leaving at 10:30 am. That timing put them right in the teeth of whatever would be happening once they hit an area of major fetch. Then obviously not understanding the marine forecast.

Having a roll may have helped with bracing skills so they could turn around and go home. Which granted would have been huge. But the biggest mistake happened before they ever left the beach, in understanding the conditions.

4 to 6 ft waves… I was in that area in 2ft waves going to 4ft later (forecasted) … It seemed to me different than ocean waves…the distance between waves was shorter. I swear my 17ft boat was on three waves.

The area has my respect.

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It is the norm that it is not usually one single miscalculation but a series of small ones that lead to events like this. No one should go out in conditions that they would not be able to lend assistance for rescues if the need arose, or in a group of paddlers that conditions would be too much for the group to contend with. If the conditions are too extreme or may develop to be too extreme that recues would not be manageable; you need to stay on shore. Its better to be…" On shore, wish you were out paddling …VRS… paddling, wishing you were on shore" !


When I was at Pictured Rocks the waves reflected back off the cliffs without much loss of power, unlike at a sloped shore. At any given moment and place, depending on how the reflected waves intersected with incoming waves, they would create small areas of cancellation (trough meets crest) and multiplication (crest meets crest or trough meets trough). The chaos was nasty even with one foot waves.


Lake Superior is no place for average paddlers that ignore the weather forecast.
The reflected waves off the cliffs are no joke.

That’s the difference between localized wind waves and swell from a long fetch. Swell has more water volume and power, but the more gradual swell waves are easier to manage than steep, choppy wind waves. I’ve been in 10’ swell with a long period and it was like going up and down in an elevator. It was a really odd - and fun - experience, but it never felt dangerous because we were far enough from shore that it wasn’t breaking. OTOH, I’ve gotten pounded hard by 3’ wind waves that just slammed my boat onto the beach and kept dumping on me in rapid succession.

That’s why getting experience in a variety of conditions is important. More important is doing it with strong paddlers/rescuers and having a bailout plan.

That’s the intersection of fun and disaster. Under the right conditions, playing in reflected waves can be an absolute blast, but if you’re not familiar with it or you push your luck too far, it can become really dangerous in a heartbeat. Again, being with experienced paddlers/rescuers and having an outlet is key. The best situation is when the wind and/or current will carry you away from the danger area. That allows you to gradually step outside your comfort zone and build your skills.


I remember a trip in the salt water in the San Juan islands of Washington. On the last day of a 5 day trip, the wind driven waves got to around 2.5 feet. Then the power boat and ferry wakes on the weekend started up as we approached Anacortes. Then the tide started to oppose the wind. It was a jumbled mess of waves coming from all directions. Bracing became absolutely natural and the right thing to do to stay upright. It was very much a learning experience. Much better to experience it on day 5 of a trip instead of day 1.

I believe the proper paddling term is “washing machine”.

Maytag is a term used by rafters.

Hey lets use the jargon