Kayaking has exploded in popularity across the country in recent years, particularly in Florida, where it has surpassed canoeing as the most common paddle sport. Kayaks are small, narrow boats primarily designed for use by one or two operators who manually propel the vessel with a double-bladed paddle.
The Outdoor Foundation estimates there are approximately 10.3 million Americans who participate in kayaking at least once every year. (Meanwhile, some 9.8 million Americans participate in canoeing.) The vast majority of kayakers – 8.1 million – participate in recreational kayaking, while 2.4 million are involved in sea/tour kayaking and 1.9 million are involved in whitewater kayaking. The South Atlantic region, which includes Florida, has the highest percentage of participants in the country, with 22 percent of all kayakers.
The growth of activity coincided with rising gas prices as angler sought a cheaper way to take to the water. But the growth is expected to be sustained, even amid fluctuations in fuel costs, as the vessels provide ease of accessibility, the opportunity to exercise and don’t require registration or other annual fees.
At Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, we are experienced with kayak injuries in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida and know that while kayaks aren’t cited in as many deadly boating accidents as powerboats, they are nonetheless associated with a fair share of hazards.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reports 11 reportable boat accidents in 2013 were attributed to kayaks/canoes. A reportable boat accident is one in which a person required medical treatment beyond first aid or was killed, went missing or property damage exceeded $2,000. Three of those cases were fatal.Factors in Fatal Kayaking Accidents
The Outdoor Foundation calculated kayakers made an estimated 99.9 million outings in 2012, with each kayaker averaging about eight trips throughout the year.
The U.S. Coast Guard reports 54 people died nationally in kayaking accidents, with drowning cited as the cause in 43 cases. There were a total of 113 reported kayak accidents that year, meaning roughly half of all incidents were deadly. Fifty-five kayaking accidents were classified as capsizing.
In 2007, the American Canoe Association commissioned a study by research firm Responsive Management to uncover key factors in fatal kayaking and canoeing accidents. Researchers combed through a decade of data from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Accident Report Database (BARD).
Generally, what they found was the more people involved in kayaking accidents, the less likely a fatality was to occur. They also learned the longer the kayak, the less likely the operator/occupant was to suffer a fatality. Those who wore personal floatation devices (life jackets) were far less likely to perish, as were those who abstained from alcohol and/or drug use.
While Florida did have a higher-than-average rate of reported kayaking injuries, it did not have the highest. Other states where whitewater kayaking is popular tended to have higher fatality rates. It’s worth noting, however, kayaking anglers had higher fatality rates than those who were not fishing.
Inexperience also tends to play a major role in kayaking injuries and fatalities. The Outdoor Foundation indicated nearly 10 percent of all kayakers in 2012 were under the age of 17. There is no boater safety education course required in Florida for those participating in paddle sports like kayaking.
Other risk factors identified by the advocacy group include:
- Lack of familiarity with river/water
- Insufficient skill level
- Being out-of-shape
- Paddling alone or in a group of less than three
- No spare paddle
- Poorly-maintained equipment
- Improper or inadequate dress
- High water
- Undercut rocks
- Changing weather conditions
Although reportable kayaking accidents aren’t as common as those involving motorboats, the high fatality rate when they do occur makes it imperative for kayakers to educate themselves on the dangers – and how to protect themselves.
The American Canoe Association offers the following insight:
- Before heading out, run through a safety checklist, taking care to know water and weather conditions (including fog and thunderstorms), wearing bright-colored clothing, having a whistle handy, keeping close a VHF radio and cell phone, water and snacks, sunscreen, a spare paddle, proper footwear and a first aid kit.
- Always wear a lifejacket. One should anticipate a capsize, and it a personal floatation device may be the best opportunity you have to survive. This is true regardless of whether you are a strong swimmer.
- Understand the “rules of the road” when traveling waterways frequented by other vessels. Be aware of your surroundings, don’t attempt to cross in front of motorboats and when traveling with a group of kayakers, make crossings together.
- If you do capsize, worry about yourself first, rather than trying to save your possessions.
- Above all, know your skill level and limitations. Don’t stretch yourself beyond your ability, as that could place you and others in danger.
Contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.