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Class teaches safe kayaking

Melissa Topey • Apr 21, 2014 at 7:40 PM

Tragic losses in the spring serve as a jarring reminder of the safety precautions anyone who plans recreation activity on Lake Erie needs to keep top of mind.

Two fishermen were still missing late Sunday and were presumed dead after their boat capsized near Davis-Besse. The bodies of Amy Santus, 33, of Perrysburg, and her niece, Paige Widmer, 16, were pulled from the water Thursday. They were fishing with the two missing men.

Just a couple of days earlier, five people were tossed into the water when their boat capsized. That story had a happier ending, as two boats came to their rescue. The five were pulled from the water and taken to nearby marinas. At least one of the five began experiencing symptoms of hypothermia before being rescued.

April 6 was the one-year anniversary of the death of Jonathan Francis and his daughter, Viola, 12. They set off in kayaks from the shores of Sandusky Bay but never returned home.

Those losses were on my mind when participated in kayak training program offered by Erie Metroparks at the Margaretta High School pool.

Click HERE for more photos from the class

“It is important to know everything about your kayak or canoe, how to handle them, so you know your limitations” said Bill Graves, Erie Metroparks recreation specialist and ranger. “You have to have on a wet suit and personal flotation device. You have to know all these limitations so you know how to save yourself”

Stay safe
•No. 1 safety tip: Don’t go out alone.

•It is also smart to leave a float plan with someone detailing where you will be on the water and how long you will be out.

•Know the water temperature.

•Wear layers and/or a wetsuit.

•Wear a lifejacket.

•Check weather sites, such as AccuWeather, for small craft advisories.


I was joined by experienced kayakers Steve Siesel, Tim Balduff and Ellen Weilnau. They all agreed refresher safety courses are a smart move. Teenagers Kayliegh Holliday-Davis and Kris Lyons took part in the class because it sounded fun.

It was.

The first step for me, as a novice, was learning how board the kayak. Then I had to learn basic paddle strokes and how to maneuver the kayak.

Davis hit the side of the swimming pool when she went out before me and took a little teasing for it.

I hit the sides of the pool twice when I went out right after her.

Then we worked through simulated choppy waters training. It is a maneuver called paddle bracing, and it can prevent your kayak from overturning.

I started rocking the boat, spilling water into it at times. I used the bracing technique and kept dry.

But then Graves wanted me to capsize the boat. You have to learn what it’s like when the kayak overturns and learn to be comfortable in recovering. Most importantly, you cannot panic on the water.

I rolled the kayak and was unceremoniously turned upside down before being dumped into the water.

My first thought as I went underwater, still in the kayak, was to not let my legs get stuck. They slid out automatically, and I popped up into the surface with the kayak at my side. Graves and I turned the kayak right side up and got the water out.

What I failed miserably was trying to haul my body out of the water and back into the kayak. I tried a couple of different ways to get back in, including the cowboy method, which is to grab onto the kayak and climb up its back.

Everyone else finally did it, some after several tries.

I need to continue to work to strengthen my kayaking and swimming skills if I want to take this up. But I know the maneuvers and some safety tips, thanks to Graves.

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