Ultimately, it was a happy ending for the three kayakers who were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard after spending the night in Lake Michigan, hanging onto two kayaks lashed together, but it could easily have been a tragedy.
The trio left Nicolet Bay at Peninsula State Park in two rental kayaks mid-afternoon on the 10th and were expected back at about 4 pm, but a southerly wind carried them out into the bay.
After an all-night search that began the evening of July 10, Alison Alter, 43, of Austin, Texas, her 9-year-old son Zach Suri, and Thomas Alter, 9, a cousin from Highland Park, Ill., were found floating in the water approximately 10 miles northeast of Chambers Island just after 6 am on July 11. The Coast Guard brought them to Marinette for treatment of mild hypothermia.
Todd Haleen of Lakeshore Adventures in Baileys Harbor, which rents a variety of watercraft, including kayaks, said it was “a miracle” that the kayakers were rescued.
“They are a lucky group and I hope everyone learns something from this,” he said.
Haleen had a few tips to share before anyone goes out on the water:
Check the Weather. “That should be the first thing you do,” Haleen said. Weather on the Great Lakes can change quickly, and high winds and accompanying waves can easily swamp small watercraft.
Have a plan. Make a plan and give it to someone who is staying onshore. Be sure to include the names of the people in your party, time and location of departure, anticipated route and time you expect to get back. Don’t forget to check in once back so people know you have arrived home safely.
Safety Gear is a Must! Always wear a properly fitting U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device. Wear protective footwear and clothing that can get wet. Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. Expect to be in the water at some point on your trip. Pack personal gear in a waterproof bag, and secure it to your boat to avoid losing items if capsizing occurs. Bring at least two signaling devices, such as whistles, waterproof flashlights and cell phones in waterproof containers. Haleen said Lakeshore Adventures provides zip-lock plastic bags for kayak renters so they can take their cell phones with them.
Land Ho! Paddling far from shore can result in getting lost. Many people do not realize how large the Great Lakes are. Keep the shoreline in sight at all times.
Here are a couple of other things to consider:
Improve Your Skills. Consider taking a paddler safety course. Many local outfitters and paddling groups offer classes. Look for classes to enhance your canoeing and kayaking skill level.
Know the Limits. Not all boats are created equal and not all paddlers should venture out onto the Great Lakes. Good swimming skills and experience on smaller water bodies are recommended before paddling in the Great Lakes.