Lost Kayakers


– Last Updated: Mar-01-05 2:59 AM EST –

I'm wondering about the seemingly obvious lack of a GPS and/or compass in this tragedy, among other things.

The guide started searching at 9 pm, which is pitch black here in FL. With no land in sight to reference, he became lost. Had he had at least a compass on board, he'd only have to head east to run into the coast. With a GPS it would have been even easier to make his way back to the rafted group or land. It seems obvious that neither was aboard. And all this while while advertising the use of "state-of-the-art outdoor gear" on the guide's web site?

Also, whenever we go out in groups, there is a leader in front, and a clean-up person trailing to keep an eye on stragglers. How did these kids get away from the group? Was the guide the only person keeping on eye on the entire group?

As Shallow-Minded stated, this front had been forecast a few days prior. Anyone checking would have been aware of the predicted high winds and rain. I'm well inland, NW of Orlando. On Saturday, it was very windy. It hasn't been that windy and gusty since the hurricanes blew through.

While my heart goes out to the guide, and I'm sure he must be devastated, this just seems like an accident that could have been prevented with a little contingency planning.

For anyone who's interested, here's a map of the area. Coon Island is at the top. From the coast to the left side of the image is about 5 miles:


it’s always incredibly sad to read about things like this - especially disheartening when it involves kids/people who have placed their reliance in a guide to keep them safe. Remember that article in Sea Kayaker about the instructor who had a man drown while practicing wet exits? Who would have thought that something like that could ever happen? It’s amazing to me that, in these litigeous times, anyone is willing to take responsibility for other people in potentially dangerous situations.

From the follow-up article, apparently the canoes were not a typo. The doubles were canoes, not tandem kayaks, making my original post quite wrong since it appears they did (unfortunately) get out from shore. It flat out never occurred to me that would be the case for a trip on the ocean…at a loss.

Link to follow up:

This article brings up some information that I just hadn’t seen. It seems to clarify some of the misinformation that was in earlier reports.

My heart and prayers go out to the families and friends and to Steve Hall and his wife.

~ Arwen ~

Response to Guideboatguy
On one level, I really have to understand and agree with your criticism of the Monday morning quarterback phenomenon. On another level, I have to say that here in Florida, particularly because it is an exposed penninsula, the first thing we check, before venturing offshore, is the weather forecast. Windy conditions and small craft advisories were in fact posted for the weekend across much of Florida, starting the middle of last week.

Irrespective of any other consideration, I would not have ventured on the water last weekend for that reason. And I have been paddling canoes and more recently kayaks since Hector was a pup.

In fairness to all concerned, none of us were there, none of us knows the details, or the conditions, etc, but we can learn from this trajedy. In open sea conditions, with high winds in the forecast, even seasoned paddlers should seriously consider alternative activities. With inexperienced kids on the trip, prudence should have kept them off the water.



A more local perspective…
… from and email forwarded to me (name withheld as I don’t know him personally):


“I am familiar with this area it is fairly remote, and although the water is shallow, and there is protective cover behind islands and inside bays it can get rough during high winds. Paddling a Canoe in this environment, in even moderate weather is really a bad idea.

By Sunday wind gusts were up to 35 knots! Water temperature is the mid 60’s, Air temps probably the mid 50’s. They probably didn’t have any coldwater protective clothing.

I was attending the Sweetwater Kayak symposium about 100 miles south of where this happened this weekend and the weather was nasty. Windy and heavy rain. By Sunday the organizers had to cancel all their morning on-water programs, and this was in a sheltered area.”


A links with more info about the area (cut and paste the whole thing):




Compare/contrast those comments and the link info with the trip description :


Hey, I hate lawyers too, but can you read the trip description as advertised on the Orr-Treks site and still argue this was a well planned trip with an competent guide? The weather was not a surprise - nor that unusual - and had been in the forecast all week. Part of why I skipped Sweetwater.


Things that caught my eye:

“…we’ll camp and next morning load our gear and food onto an outboard-propelled cataraft. Because the cataraft carries all of our food and gear, our canoes and kayaks weigh next to nothing and are EASY to paddle”

Yeah, easier, and less stable, and get blown around more (and away quicker)…

“ALL SKILL LEVELS” - no comment needed.

“Clothing will be what’s in your closet”

I’m a FL kayaker and I don’t have appropriate clothes my closet! (water’s warmer down here in S FL so warmest I have are neo shorts/vest [never use] and a SS paddling jacket for wind!). Think there would be appropriate clothes in some HS kid’s closet? Not likely.

I feel bad for all involved - but 7 years of similar trips with no incidents only means he was lucky before - not properly prepared. This one should not have happened.

What A Tragedy!
Heartbreaking for all concerned. I’ll have them in my prayers.

No disagreement here
I agree with all that. I never claimed we should not recognize that certain precautions might have prevented this, in fact I didn’t talk about that aspect at all. My complaint was soley aimed at one person’s rediculous claim that he knew exactly what the guide’s personal motivation was for taking the kids out in such weather. I did not say or suggest that it is wrong to talk about what should have been done differently.

So Far No Problem With This Thread

– Last Updated: Mar-01-05 7:53 PM EST –

Threads about dead paddlers that make judgements, and especially threads with rude comments about the deceased, upset me. Maybe I am senstive, but I have lost friends on the water.

As I said back then, it is a good thing to discuss these things, if they are handled with a little sensitivity, we can learn something.

I lived in Tampa for 7-8 years and I know those waters pretty well. One big problem is most of the time the Gulf of Mexico can seem like a large saltwater pond, but it can also turn dangerous very quickly.

I can't imagine the pain those childerns' parents must be in....

Let’s not pile on, but
we should try and learn something from this tragedy. Apparently, poor cell phone coverage was an issue and a VHF radio was not available. Perhaps we rely too much on our cell phones which can let us down when emergencies happen at sea.

My prayers should go out to all who are feeling the devastation of what happened.

Events BEFORE the two were separated…
… concern me more than what transpired after. We can’t second guess what happened after the two were separated. We CAN look at what went on before. Planning, preparation, etc. From that - it’s clear this tragedy could have been avoided several ways.

Unprepared & Inexperienced
Another recap.


Something of Use?
Agree with an above post - this is a tragedy, regardless of whether it could have been avoided. Some of these posts have made me think again about what criteria I apply when deciding whether it is safe to go out on the ocean, how we tend to react to the NOAA marine and weather reports, the assumptions we (don’t) make.

Is there something that can be of use out of this, especially for newer paddlers who may just now be considering venturing out into the ocean or other big water like the Great Lakes? We’ve had some entertaining cabin-fever type threads on the other discussion board about paddler height and size, and GPS units…

Use: Yes and No…

– Last Updated: Mar-02-05 8:46 AM EST –

Hey it's there as a reminder of the dangers. Whether it benefits someone or not... Well, it's hard to say since there are different characters here with different personality traits and inclinations.

For example, I tend to study up pretty intensively on just about any activity I get into well before I may actually have any skills in it. This way I am aware if not know intimately the dangers and the skills, equipment that are necessary to cope. I then try to formulate some sort of progression plan. Then I go about with the plan to try to develop the skills and experiences to enhance my judgment.

One of the things that came clearly out of this incident is that the group was almost entirely dependent on the skills and judgment of the outfitter. Personally, I have a problem with that type of dependence. It's just not my style and inclination, and my experiences in other arenas tell me that is not the way to safety. I spent most of my first year developing my rolling and self rescue skills before I headed into the ocean. I then I put myself in challenging situations with bailouts to test and develop further my skills. It was never in my thoughts to be out on a trip where I may have to rely mostly or totally on someone else to keep me safe.

So, the incident reinforces my thinking. What the lessons are, if any for someone else, is hard to guage.


dangers of the water…
Just remember that the ocean (and other bodies of water) has been killing people for many, many centuries. It has taken the most skilled, and the least experienced. In this case, there were certainly gaps in preparation and experience, but under those rough conditions, it could have happened to any one of us.


As in any athletic or adventurous endeavour where there is an inherent possibility of personal danger, this mindset is tantamount to keeping out of trouble or being better equipped to deal with it intelligently if such a scenario takes place.

Unfortunately, our modern society no longer places a priority on natural skills any longer. Youngsters are not well versed in weather watching or understanding what they see. I know many youngsters here locally who cannot swim and have no inclination to learn. Yet they are quick to mount the jet ski and go play.

How many youngsters do you run across nowdays that have taken a certified first aid course?

I rescued a few Boy Scouts last summer in Yellowstone, Scoutmaster included. They were in tandem canoes trying to escape a storm that gave plenty of warning. A ranger and I had to force these guys off the water. This is why the rangers refer to scouts as ‘fish food’.

It is a different world these days, one which demands entertainment without personal investment.

This case is certainly a tragedy and I feel for those involved. I also fear this scenario is bound to be repeated. And not only in the world of water sports.


There are people who will ignore the most sage of advice, yes. And yes there is no ultimate safety on the ocean - it’s bigger and is willing to be much meaner than any paddler sitting in a little boat can handle, no matter how good.

Those same people would probably not believe the following stuff. All paddlers will be swimmers at some point, anyone who uses a weather radio however religiously will at some point be caught by surprise, anyone paddling long enough will be caught in something that is above their comfortable skill level, and there will be some situation where no practiced rescue skill will be entirely sufficient.

But there may be some who will, and just need to hear it a few times.


Double “Hmmm…”
“Those same people would probably not believe the following stuff. All paddlers will be swimmers at some point, anyone who uses a weather radio however religiously will at some point be caught by surprise, anyone paddling long enough will be caught in something that is above their comfortable skill level, and there will be some situation where no practiced rescue skill will be entirely sufficient.”

Of course, sometimes things will go FUBAR, no matter what the individuals, their skills and judgement. But the chances are far less with these folks than with what those who are “ignorant” and/or “innocent.” If we didn’t believe this, then the there is nothing to learn and no reason to even post on such a thread.



Makes one really wonder about the guide/client ratio on the Florida trip. It doesn’t sound like there was much backup or redundancy.

How far offshore were they when they statred having problems?

Being Prepared

– Last Updated: Mar-02-05 11:37 AM EST –

I'm pretty new to paddling, but not to hiking (I live in NH's White Mountains). It seems to me that the two recreations are not really all that different when it comes to being prepared.

You can do both with little or no experience, and with only the most basic equipment (you can hike with no equipment at all). And chances are pretty good that you won't really get into real trouble . . . most of the time, as long as the weather doesn't turn nasty, or you don't get hurt.

Being prepared is about being ready for when things do go wrong. Like when someone in your group gets hurt or sick. Or when the weather suddenly turns bad. Or when you hike or paddle takes longer than you expected.

And, no matter how prepared you are, you can still get into trouble, but you'll have a much better chance of surviving the unexpected, if you have the skills and the proper equipment.

~ Arwen ~