Lost Kayakers

Rescuers searched the Gulf of Mexico on Monday for two teenage boys who became separated from their companions when the weather turned bad during a kayaking trip, authorities said.

The boys, Sean Wilkinson and Clay McKemie, both 14, were among 10 people on a kayaking and camping trip sponsored by Darlington High School of Rome, Ga.

They were last seen Saturday in the Gulf of Mexico, a short distance off Suwannee, a town about 100 miles north of Tampa. The group had planned to skirt the coastline by boat for a few miles and then camp overnight, said Capt. John Burton of the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

However, the water became choppy and the kayakers’ inexperience led some boats to get separated from the group, Burton said.

A chaperone on board a motorized catamaran leading the group began circling back to try to round up the lagging boats, but the motor quit. All the kayaks except the one with Wilkinson and McKemie were rounded up and secured to the raft as 2- to 3-foot waves developed amid high wind and rain, Burton said.

A chaperone accompanied by a teenager began searching for the missing kayak Saturday night because they thought they saw a light in the distance. However, they, too, became lost. The chaperone was eventually able to use his cell phone and call his wife in Georgia, who then called the Coast Guard.

A Coast Guard helicopter located the eight kayakers early Sunday and brought them to shore.

Once again the ocean surprised
some inexperienced people in kayaks , not ‘kayakers’.I have had 2 people send me the article already today.I ride in airplanes, but I am not a pilot. Someone made a bad call and these children , who didn’t know any better, have apparently paid the price.

Many Lessons
Even in this short article there are so many things that jump off the page - maybe an argument for an updated edition “Deep Trouble”. Unfortunately those two missing teens may pay the hard way.

It all sounds like leaders of the trip were no better qualified than the youngsters. As much as you want to invite people into this sport, an article like this seems to argue that a little more fear is desirable.

This is one area where I (my own opinion) feel that kayaks become very dangerous, because they are so capable. I would guess that a good number of these paddlers wouldn’t have even been on the water in those conditions had they been in canoes - they’d have dumped before they ever got 10 feet away from shore. Unfortunately basic touring and rental kayaks are better at staying upright and going from point A to B without much help from the paddler, thus giving a false sense of security.

lost children
We were out there in it too. The Fish and Wildlife Officers woke us up Sunday morning at 3:30 am to ask us if we were the missing kayakers or, if we were not, had we seen them. They were searching in the rain, wind, cold and pitch black darkness island by island. The area is very shoal and is one big oyster bar…very dangerous. They were clearly putting themselves in harms way. We were camping on Butler Island and had paddled over from Sink Creek, 15 miles away. We paddled down the coast several miles off shore. The wind was strong and blowing off shore, but the waves were only one to one and one half feet hitting us on the beam. It was in my opinion neither extreme or dangerous. But this story is very sad. I am praying that the children would be found safe. I hope you will too.

The Fish and Wildlife Officers had been up for two days! They revisited us later that same morning. The Officers were out all night in an air boat, in terrible weather doing their job! The Officers were very professional, very concerned and our group was impressed. The Coast Guard helicopter was also out all night, you could hear it. It is good knowing these guys are there.

With proper planning, training and equipment (in my opinion),these conditions were not dangerous. This story drives home the fact that nature is in charge, not us. We should never drop our guard or take our surroundings lightly or for granted. Franklin

Sorry, but…
It is too easy to judge someone else while typing in a computer hundreds of miles aways and with only a couples of weeks of experience a year in/on the ocean…



More over, there’s no telling no accurate the newspaper reports are.

Having been unfortunate enough to be at the scence of TWO accidents, I know how little the “report” resembles reality.

bodies were found
The bodies were found. Just heard on msnbc.

Pray for the families and all involved.

Bad News Link:


Lack of details
The lack of details in reports on kayaking accidents is very frustrating - and does nothing to promote safety. I suppose details are withheld as minor are involved - but see the same thing when adults are recovered.

“Believed to be wearing PFDs” ??? What kind of reporting is that? “Kayak”? I assume a tandem (food for another thread there), but tandem what? SINK? SOT?

I think most of us can piece together a likely enough series of events - and have a good idea what went wrong - but no excuse for loss of life in a school outing like this. Many lessons of use to beginners and outfitters - too bad that won’t happen and there will be no positive to help balance be the tragic result. It will simply go down as two more “kayak” deaths.

Two dead boys

– Last Updated: Mar-01-05 2:56 PM EST –

They were paddling a tandem. The group was led by Steve Hall, his English teacher. He is a licensed outdoor guide and seems experienced. The trip was run by Orr-Treks, a company run by Hall and his wife Christina.
I can imagine perfectly several situations where fatal accidents could happen without negligence, but I tell you that this case will be lawyered all over.
Here the motorized catamaran raft managed to circle the kayaks to round up the lagging boats, but one. Hall cited in the news agency reports as a chaperon, paddled with one of the boys in pursue of the lost tandem. He set off at 09:00 p.m. They got lost as well and after 3 to 4 hours, Hall could make a phone call to his wife who called the Coast Guard.
There is a brief report with all the links at my site:


Story, Details
Sometimes the detail doesn’t exist because things happen so quickly on the water. This last October a kayaker flipped over and drowned in the Potomac, upriver a good way from the mouth where my husband and I were kayaking at almost exactly the same time. His companion didn’t see him go over, but a nearby fishing boat had him out of the water within at most five minutes of the event. Similarities to this story - the conditions weren’t great but overall they were manageable if properly prepared, and the water temps weren’t bad. There was no medical explanation found for what happened.

Stuff happens that couldn’t have been avoided and can never be fully understood, especially on the water.

That said, this kind of tragedy is more difficult. There were adults in charge and some readiness for problems. Otherwise there would have been worse news - if I read this correctly someone managed to keep 8 probably very scared and tired teenagers upright and warm enough while spending overnight getting splashed around in unexpectedly difficult water. It is just hard not to feel that it could have been better too.

There was an article in Sea Kayaker within (I think) from two people who were camping in extreme Southern California, or maybe northern Mexico. They passed a group of college age men (kayakers) going out on their way in to the campground, and later learned that two of the group had drowned a few hours later. It was an interesting article. The author talked about how aggressive, or not, they should have been as they passed the group these two men were in regarding the group’s apparent readiness for problems. It did not seem that this group was equipped to handle significant problems.

I am not stating a position, and don’t mean to offend. The parents, the chaperones and maybe whatever outfitter supplied the boats are going through a horrible time. If I seemed overly harsh to anyone reading this I apologize.

for the info. It sounds like the weather did them wrong… everyone has to feel awful and the outfitter probably just had his life pretty much ruined too. I assume the canoe/kayak switch between the linked stories is a typo and they were all in a single or double kayak. I found the outfitter’s statement interesting re the ratio of guide to participant.

Accident liabilities.

– Last Updated: Mar-01-05 9:25 AM EST –

Certainly, Ceila. Hall succeeded in taking care of five of the boats while he failed to circle the tandem due to the motor failure of the raft. I can relate to him when realizing that the tandem was out of sight and something had gone terrible wrong. Then after securing the group, paddling on after some vague light in pursue of the two wandering boys. I would not considering it of course, criminal negligence, but civil liabilities are so very ample. Anyhow, the sea is the sea and is by nature impredictible. So, I foresee that this case will be judged on his expert reliance capabilities.

It is at this point when law practice can so easily turn itself into perversity as any coach knows before the assessment, liabilities will increase in any journey whether or not he is leading the group. Weather forecasts will be critical in the case. The standards of practice that Orr-Treks announced in its site will be seen as minimum set of rules. Unforeseen events will be asked for by people that never launched in a boat and never took care of a beginner. Tariffs will be appraised. And so on as if Hall would be a careless entrepreneur taking advantage of a pool resource of users from his Darglinton job.

Of course, not every guide can stand to the skills of some of the Pnet users, but who is free in such an enquiry, of presumpted recklessness when introducing sea kayak to beginners? Sure, a coach can rescue any on a capsize, but what if when doing so, a lagging boat is lost? Even with a 7:1 participant to guide ratio?

As an English Magistrate once remarked, the main requirement to office should be plain common sense and when a little knowledge of law would happened -he added- that would be welcomed.

There is some updated comments at St Petersburg Times:


Kayaking is so easy
espeically on the ocean. You don’t need lessons or to think much about it. The weather forecasts will always be right.

All True.

– Last Updated: Feb-28-05 9:01 PM EST –

"Kayaking is so easy espeically on the ocean."

Yup. Provided you got the equipment, skills and judgement.

"You don't need lessons or to think much about it."

Some folks have lessons and still have questionable skills. Every one should think about their skills. Better yet test these out in a controlled situation and then make a decision about what you prepared to handle.

"The weather forecasts will always be right."

Sure it is, if it is what you are prepared for.

As I read it, the folks were out with an outfitter of 25 years. Perhaps exploration and skills building. I have no clue. Weather changed. Folks fell behind. Something went south mighty quick. For better or worse, these folks were relying on the outfitter.


Tough Job…
There is a wide range of strength and maturity in teenagers and it’s not always easy to totaly control their activities when in a group and still let them enjoy themselves… They haven’t seen enough of “Murphy’s Law” to be wary of a worsening situation… Heck I see it in young adults…

I feel for the guide…

Of course …
my prayers go out to the family. But the trip leader with “professional” experience will not have my sympathy at all. I live in the Tampa Bay area & we started to get serious weather reports on Wednesday that our coast was going to be in for a bad weekend of weather. By Friday it was clear that the weather was going to be severe (Sunday Sarasota had between 5"-8" of rainfall recorded, with gusts over 35mph). The reports said that they got underway later in the afternoon. So, I gather that the group most likely drove down from school late Friday/Saturday morning. I don’t believe they didn’t catch any of the severe weather forecasts.

Of course, it’s easy to be “armchair quaterback”, I know these same types of “accidents” happen to our backpacking friends. But to me it’s clear that the group leader let his ego somehow get in the way by getting on the water under these conditions with this group. Within 20-30 minutes of their launch site were shore-bound campsite they could have spent the weekend at. And I am not impressed that this guide took along another student in an attempt to located the missing others in what appears to have been a canoe, not a yak. He put that student at risk and they both had to be rescued by the C.G. There are just so many levels that this is wrong that it goes beyond common mistakes.

that’s right…
we weren’t there and so we don’t know what really happend. peter’s sarcastic posting aside, we understand as a community the variables better than most…and now it’s going to be examined by folks who may not have that background.

the weather and checking the forecast is going to be a huge part of this…so’s the ratio and experience/qualifications of the guide/chaperone as well as the float plan and emergency plan…why is it they mention a cell phone and NOT a vhf in the story?

all the families have is the pain of their loss and the lawyers will rack up fee’s with insurance companies and for no one, does this end well. it’s very sad.

I usually stay out of these threads, but

– Last Updated: Mar-01-05 12:02 AM EST –

...here I go. I'm reminded of what Barracuda said a year or two ago about these dead-paddler threads. I can't remember his exact words, but the the gist of it was that it is SO troubling to see people put thoughts into the heads of others, and that's what you just did.

You say it's obvious the trip leader let his ego get in the way of good judgement. Really! How do you know he didn't just screw up, letting "bad judgement" get in the way? Lots of things might have gone wrong in his decision-making process which have nothing to do with ego. Making mistakes that lead to such things is tragic enough, but for you to say that it is "obvious" the leader did this on account of his own ego is just plain cruel and short-sighted. Introducing this by pointing out that it's easy to be an armchair quarterback does nothing for your credibility as a mind reader, and maybe you could have taken that statement to heart before spouting off.

Pray and learn.

– Last Updated: Mar-01-05 1:26 AM EST –