Time for a "Deep Trouble" 2nd edition?

I’ve read Deep Trouble, and there’s no doubt it’s an interesting book with lots of good lessons relevant to today’s sea kayakers. But this thing is over 20 years old now, and I’d love to see a more modern edition with analyses of accidents using more contemporary equipment. It seems that nearly all the Deep Trouble problems are related to a loss or lack of flotation in both ends of the kayak. I would guess that a much smaller proportion of today’s accidents are related to swamped sea kayaks. So has anyone seen a similar more modern Deep Trouble type book? I guess we’ve got the Safety articles in Sea Kayaker mag, but a whole book organized around the subject is so much better.


I agree
We’re traveling in more difficult water now than we did 20 years ago, too. I can remember when Class III rapids were considered unrunnable, now we do that on the 2nd day of kayak school. The deep trouble happens faster and is more serious when you get to be my age, too. Reaction time ain’t what it used to be.

On the upside, we have far better clothing, flotation, tow rigs, Z drags, wilderness first aid training, swift water rescue training, just about everything is improved several generations from what it was back then.


– Last Updated: Dec-22-08 12:13 AM EST –

I suspect the flotation issue wouldn't be any different now than 20 years ago. Boats like the Nordkapp never lacked full floatation, and there were folks doing some very serious trips in those without apparent incident. So the paddlers getting into the most trouble were probably same then as now - people who underestimate the risks of their environment and go out using poor judgement or with skills, clothing and/or boats that are not up to the use.

(Or really, myself and others I've known who do dumb things except once in a while it gets noticed.)

However, there is a huge amount of gear that is more common now - dry suits, electronics like hand-held GPS units and smaller EPIRB's. It'd be interesting to see if there are people taking undue risks because they feel they can rely on this gear over traditional skills and judgement.

write it
and then you too can charge George Gronseth prices

let’s all write it here together
Why don’t we go ahead and write it right here? I’ll pitch in and help, although I don’t even own a sea kayak, if several of you actual experts agree to help also. Are there any experienced sea kayakers out there who have time for some reading and writing?

First off, to the best of my knowledge, there isn’t even a central listing online of sea kayaker fatalities. I think that’s an obvious first step, and not very hard. George Gronseth (one of the co-authors of Deep Trouble) has a web page where he apparently intended something of the sort, but all he has on it right now is links to newspapers for 4-5 accidents in 2007.


If you google “sea kayak” and a variety of terms like accident, death, drown, etc., lots of other incidents come up.

Also, an accident doesn’t necessarily have to end in fatalities to be a worthwhile example. Some of these can be found in safety articles in Sea Kayaker and WaveLength magazines:



Note: the sea kayaker articles have the safety ones mixed with other types, and apparently only a few of the articles they print make it online, so it might be helpful for someone with a subscription to look through past print copies.

So, is anybody interested in working on this? If so, what we could do is start a table in one of the posts. Then subsequent posters could copy and paste the table into their post, and make whatever additions and corrections they have researched. Because the table will soon get kind of long (hopefully, if people cooperate), we’ll probably want to put the table in a separate post with a note that you only need to look at the last post, and we can restart that post from time to time to get rid of the history. Meanwhile, we can keep this post going to hold comments on the overall process.

The table should be something like the following. I suggest one line of short facts, followed by one or more lines for a brief commentary. (Feel free to suggest different headings and info for the facts line, I don’t really know what’s most important for grouping them – Water type? Boat type? Weather conditions?)


Date----Location----Name, Age----Number of Deaths/Group Size----Cause of Death—

Feb 2008 ---- New Zealand ---- Andrew McAuley, 40ish ---- 1/1 ---- unknown—

Comment – disappeared off coast of NZ after crossing Tasman Sea, possible capsize while sleeping, EPIRB in boat but not attached to body.

I think you summed it up well.
It’s been a while since I read the book but if memory serves me right none of those deaths would have occurred if the boaters all had (at least) 3 things:

1-A good roll or good self rescue skills

2-been dressed for immersion

3-been carrying a VHF radio

The one exception is the gentleman that went into the San Francisco Bay under very extreme conditions. But I’m not sure that story should have even be included because he was (is) a skilled storm paddler looking for some action. And even under those extreme conditions he probably wouldn’t have had any issues if he’d been with his usual group instead of solo.



I suspect the flotation issue wouldn’t be any different now than 20 years >ago. Boats like the Nordkapp never lacked full floatation, and there were >folks doing some very serious trips in those without apparent incident. So >the paddlers getting into the most trouble were probably same then as now - >people who underestimate the risks of their environment and go out using >poor judgement or with skills, clothing and/or boats that are not up to the >use.

(Or really, myself and others I’ve known who do dumb things except once in >a while it gets noticed.)

Common Thread
It seems to me that over half of the stories profiled in “Deep Trouble” all share a common element; Somewhere in the third paragraph or thereabouts is the line, “His life jacket was stowed beneath the shock cords/behind the seat/between his knees/in the car trunk, etc…”

There’s no way of knowing for certain how the outcomes may have been different, but one cannot help wondering if PFDs, properly worn, might have made for a thinner book.



I’d have said water temps. NM

you’re both right
I wouldn’t be surprised if the record showed a shift from no-PFD as the #1 reason in the 80s, to inadequate clothing for the water temps in the 00s. I think the pro-PFD propaganda campaigns have worked fairly well over the years. Also, it looks like there are a lot more people paddling cold water nowadays.

it’s a natural for Sea Kayaker magazine
every other issue has an incident story.

I’ll sure race to get a copy &
loved the first one.

deep survival
Deep Survival is a must read as it deals with the emotion and attitude that underlies all outdoor pursuits and everyday life.


Not sure what you will find …

– Last Updated: Dec-23-08 7:56 PM EST –

Fatalities that come to mind...

In PNW several months ago two guys died that were participating in a extreme sporting challenge. They were inexperinced in rough water paddling and not dressed for the cold water.

October 2007 two beginner kayaking navy guys from the midwest in rec boats tried to paddle around one of the channel islands (St. Nicolas) and blew out to wild pacific in high winds, never found.

Former president of CKF found dead in kayak near Palos Verde cove ... apparently some kind of health problem... others here knew him well and know details.

Philadelphia several months ago at the Schuykill boat house, several months ago, some one practicing rolling was found upside down dead with grab loop inside the combing under the skirt.

Not sure things change so very much.

Here’s a list
Here’s the best list I’ve come across so far, although it’s just a small sampling. It’s got a brief description of each incident, although usually it’s not enough info to draw many conclusions. It also includes some whitewater and silly-open-river deaths (under-bridge strainers, low-head dams).


I read in another place that “There are 50 million kayakers in the United States, and about 700 to 1,000 fatalities a year.” That came from a guy with WAKE, which is a big kayak club in the Pac NW. I don’t know where he got his numbers from, they sound a bit excessive to me. However, if true, that’s why there’s no list. The whitewater lists I used to see numbered only 100 or so, and they were a bear to compile. If there are 700 kayak fatalities a year, then they sure aren’t getting reported in the newspapers, as best I can tell.

A few points of interest from the list - one guy was wearing a drysuit and died after 3 hours in the water near the US-Can border. Another group had everyone in PFDs and in warm water (68F) but still lost one member. Several highly experienced paddlers died in freak cirmumstances, as well as a number of solo paddlers under unknown conditions. The usual proportion of novices bit the dust.

his numbers are based on
how many fatality threads we have to endure on p.net each year

howe sound
The incident in Howe Sound (the extreme racers) still puzzles me, even though that’s the one we have the most info on.




You say “They were inexperinced in rough water paddling and not dressed for the cold water.”

Do you have some info from another source that they were inexperienced in rough waters, or are you deducing that from the results?

I was thinking that they must be moderately experienced in big seas, given that somehow they managed to launch and travel some distance before they upset, and then it was only the unstable racing boat that went over. The 3 regular boats seemed not only able to make it all right, but even to turn around and come to the assistance of the capsized boat. One of them was able to return to the island with a dismounted paddler holding on, and another was able to finsih the crossing in search of help.

Yet even with all the info that’s available, there’s still a piece missing somewhere. The combination of expereince in many areas and utter naivete in not wearing any kind of water temp protection is just too hard to believe.

…and all other canoe/kayak boards.

Good point.

Still, you have to admit it’s better than enduring death through ignorance.

sub titled
"idiots don’t float"

leastwise that’s what i read between the lines all those years ago.

as i recall most of the incidents revolved around…

  1. not having an abundance of sense/experience
  2. no flotation
  3. no radio
  4. not dressed for immersion

    you can use that title though…always thought that summed it up nicely.

Read an incident report from witness
I don’t remember where it was, the writer described the paddlers and what their background was. I don’t remember the details but the impression I kept was they were not experienced in paddling in rough conditions. My idea of what constitutes rough water paddling on the west coast may be different than other folks that paddle bays in Seakayaks.