- Thu May 09, 2019 1:16 pm
I’ll start by saying I do not wear my PFD unless conditions warrant it. The recent events have not changed my stance on the matter. This year I’ve looked up how many deaths have occurred in Texas from paddle crafts; there have been 5 that I have found.
The first was January 3rd at San Luis Pass. The kayaker’s dry bag was found washed up on shore and his kayak was later found with PFD attached. On January 12 his body was recovered. Cause of death was self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
The second was on January 21st and involved three men in two motorized canoes on Lake Belton. The three men went fishing the afternoon where it’s believed one canoe flipped and while trying to correct the swamped canoe the second one flipped in the process putting all three men in the water. One was able to swim to shore and start a fire for warmth, the two other men did not survive. None of the men were wearing PFDs. One body was recovered on the 22nd, while the second body wasn’t recovered until February 5th. The weather conditions the day of the deaths was a Low of 33, high of 63 (cold front had blown through the day before), winds were SSE 20-25 and gusting 30+ mph, and water temp was in the mid 50’s degree. Given the water temp it is reasonable to believe hypothermia could had played a role. At those water temps exhaustion/unconsciousness sets in 1-2 hours with expected time of survival 1-3 hours.
The third incident happened on Lake Ray Hubbard just east of Dallas on February 23rd. A group of 5 college age kids rented kayaks for an afternoon paddle. Rough water caused all five kayakers to enter the water. Two were able to swim back to shore, while the other three were rescued by a boater who had spotted them. Two of those kayakers were conscious but the third was unresponsive when they were pulled from the water. It’s unclear whether or not PFDs were worn. The weather conditions the day of the death was a low of 48, high of 70 (time of the incident the air temp was in the upper 60’s), winds were SW 25-30 and gusting 40+ mph, and the water temp was around 50 degrees. Again hypothermia could have played a role as I did not read how long the kayakers were in the water until their rescue.
The fourth incident we’re all aware of happened at Texas City Dike on April 30th. First time kayaker launched at is agreed upon, probably not a location a first time kayaker should be at, and without a PFD. Although I’ve never been there I’m going to base this next statement from my experience with the Corpus Christi ship channel: being adjacent to a major shipping channel there’s always the potential for large, rogue waves to be thrown by passing ships. The weather conditions the day of the death was low to mid 80s, winds were SE 15 gusting to 20 picking up in the afternoon to 20-25 and gusting to 30+, and the water temp was in the mid to upper 70’s.
My initial reaction is weather, specifically wind, was significant factor which ultimately lead to the 4 deaths. Given the unknown time the first three deaths spent in 50 degree waters it reasonable to suspect hypothermia contributing to their deaths, which may or may not have been mitigated had a PFD been worn. I do believe the most recent death could have been prevented had the paddler worn a PFD. However, all four of the deaths could have easily been prevent had they just looked at how hard the wind was blowing.
After looking back at my fishing logs my go/no-go forecast wind speed is 15-20 with gusts to 25. Even then I research and select a location which offers protection from the full force of the wind. This is where experience factors in. I’ve paddled in worse, and have put myself in situations where I felt I was not in a safe situation. My PFD gets put on when those few occurrences happen.
While on the topic of PFDs it’s important to mention most, if not all, PFDs designed and worn by paddlers are Type III. Type III PFDs will not turn an unconscious person face up if they are face down in the water. Whether you enter the water unconscious from a medical condition (heart attack, stroke) or become unconscious while in the water (hypothermia, hitting your head) your chances of death increase even if you are wearing a PFD. Those cheap orange PFDs are Type II and offer more buoyancy than a paddler’s PFD.
I know this long, and thanks for reading through my thoughts, but I’m going to end with this last argument. In Texas, between 2010 and 2016 there were 362 bicycle deaths (52 a year, which is slowing increasing). Although the numbers support helmet use Texas does not have laws for mandatory helmet use. Certain cities, such as Austin, have mandatory helmet use for those 17 and under, similar to the 13 & under PFD law. I don’t spend any time on bicycle forums or groups, so I don’t know if the pro-mandatory helmet law group is as loud as the pro-mandatory PFD law group with each death. According to average there have already been 19 bicycle deaths in Texas compared to 4 paddle craft deaths. Of course I don’t know what the percentage is compared to the overall user group population. Heck, there’s not even mandatory helmet laws for motorcyclists in Texas.
If you pass a law saying kayakers must wear PFDs while on the water. What about canoeist? SUPs? Float tubes? Surfers? Windsurfers? Kite-boarders? Inner-tubes? Pool floats in public water? Where does the line get drawn?