Accident Reports

As many of you know, for many years I (George Gronseth) wrote the safety column for Sea Kayaker magazine and co-authored the safety book, "Sea Kayaker Deep Trouble". These articles contained reports on a sea kayaking accidents that I investigated, the lessons learned by those involved, and my analysis along with suggestions for avoiding such trouble. I write these articles with the hope that those who read them will learn from the mistakes of others and so avoid repeating them.

You can help in this effort by sending information on accidents you hear about or have been part of. If info is on the Internet, send website url address.

My address is:

George Gronseth
11801 188th Ave. SE
Issaquah, WA 98027



April 20, 2024

Two separate sea kayaking accidents on the same day less than a hundred miles apart here in the NW resulted in three fatalities. Both accidents involved tandem kayaks paddled "solo" (two people in one boat and no other kayaks).

There were strong winds throughout the area that Saturday. Here in Issaquah it started out calm but the wind started to gust strongly around 3:30pm. We had a beginning kayak class on Lake Sammamish that day but fortunately the class ended just before the wind came. A friend had planned to kayak on Puget Sound with a local club but the trip got cancelled due to the marine weather forecast for 35kt winds. Another friend was visiting her parents on Lopez Island (in the San Juan Island, US) and said it was windy in the morning and then in the afternoon the storm came in.

One accident apparently occurred Saturday afternoon between D'Arcy Island (in the Gulf Islands, BC) and Island View Beach on Vancouver Island (about 5nm west). Winds were from the SW 17 - 27kt. The crossing near Haro Straight is exposed to south winds. The double kayak that two brothers were paddling (Nicolas West, 26, left, and Daniel MacAlpine, 36) was found on Henry I. (about 5nm away in the San Juan Islands, US) and their bodies were found on San Juan Island and Lopez I. According to a kayak guide on San Juan Island neither were wearing immersion wear.

Information gleaned from report in Vancouver Sun and several acquaintances.

The other kayak accident occurred in Deep Cove, BC the same afternoon. Deep Cove is a popular spot for kayak day trips located just north of the city of Vancouver, BC. A 70yr father and his son were paddling a double kayak that capsized. The son was rescued but the father died.

Information from City News

Anyone who's paddled a typical tandem sea kayak gets the impression that they are so stable they can hardly be typed over, but as these two accidents and many others involving two person kayaks attest, if the wind is strong enough even tandem kayaks will capsize unless the paddlers have the skills needed to keep them upright. And two people alone in double kayak are basically paddling solo in terms of safety and back-up support.

The water temperature in the Salish Sea doesn't fluctuate much throughout the seasons. In the winter it gets down to low 50's F and in the summer it's only in the high 50's F. So immersion wear (and a PFD) is a significant piece of safety equipment all year round for most saltwater paddling trips here in the NW.


Dec. 11, 2021

High winds and rough seas during the Deception Pass Challenge (WA state) paddling race lead to multiple capsizes of contestants. A nearby Coast Guard cutter and another C.G. cutter from Bellingham C.G. Station responded to calls for help. The C.G. rescued seven racers, some in kayaks possibly other paddle craft too.The race is open to sea kayaks, surf skis, canoes, rowers, and Stand Up Paddleboards (SUP).

The race course of this annual event goes through Deception Pass and Canoe Pass both of which are infamous for their eight knot plus tidal currents, significant eddy-lines, boils, whirlpools, etc. The currents in the passes plus the time of year of the race, early December, tends to make for a self selected elite group of contestants which know the risks of paddling in this area and the winter weather. Yet events like races will draw paddlers whose enthusiasm is greater than their skill, and it is almost a given that some paddlers will capsize in this event. So volunteer safety kayakers are staged throughout the race at the most likely places for capsizes, and the event rules even allow for deducting the time a racer spends rescuing a fellow competitor so there is no reason for a racer not to help out if someone capsizes near them. Some years' personal water craft ("Jetskis") have also been employed as safety boats to assisted paddlers who weren't able to get to shore on their own.

Read story


Aug. 13, 2019

A near miss with a landslide for group of sea kayakers paddling in L. Superior by cliffs at Pictured Rocks, MI

Footage captured by: Jon Smithers



Feb. 13th, 2021

David Schink of Champlin, MN went kayaking in the ocean near Destin, Florida and didn't return. C.G. search for 50 hours and found only his kayak. Son described his dad, 61, as "a seasoned water sportsman who loved skiing and was a collegiate swimmer".

Read story


Nov. 27th, 2020

Kayak fatality in Narragansett, RI. The victim and another woman put-in at the Sprague Bridge area in kayaks and headed to the mouth of the Narrow River. One kayaker capsized while turning around in surf at the mouth of the river. Both were wearing PFDs. Water temperature was 51F.

Read story


May 3rd, 2020

Kayak fatality at Netarts Bay on the Oregon coast. Kayaker apparently capsized inside the protected bay and got caught in the ebb current taking her out to sea.

Read story


Jan. 5th, 2019

Turbulence from outflow below Red Rock Dam on the Des Moines River near Pella, IA catches two kayakers. One fatality, Timothy Chicoine was an American Canoe Association Level 2 Instructor. His friend was rescued and treated for hypothermia.

For more info click the link below

The Chronicle, Pella Iowa


Sept. 3, 2018

Report from Gazette, Cedar Rapids, IA

One fatality, one rescued on Indian Creek. Apparently the man and woman had been in one kayak. "kayak overturned around 4:15 p.m. after hitting logs in the water". Woman rescued at 5:04 p.m. by Cedar Rapids firefighters. "The victims were not wearing life vests." target="blank"


Sept. 2nd, 2018

Family of five in a 13.5' kayak capsized due to strong winds off Apostle Islands (L. Superior). The mother was rescued and survived after spending about six hours in 60F water; the bodies of the father and three children (ages 3, 6, and 9) were recovered hours later. All were wearing PFDs.

For more info click the link below

NBC News



Jan. 22nd, 2017

Experienced flat water kayak racer drowns in Des Moines, IA




Sept. 13th, 2016

Coast Guard rescue three sea kayakers who survived hours of swimming in L. Superior at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI. From article on

"Officials said cold-water gear [wet suits] and life jackets may be part of the reason for the kayakers' safe return.

[C.G. Officer] Koscielny said a combination of four to six foot waves and 20-knot winds were contributing factors in the kayakers' distress."

WLUC TV6  Rescue At Pictured Rocks



Nov. 11, 2016

Woman killed in kayak accident in Bow L., Strafford, NH

Woman was wearing life jacket and apparently paddling solo.

"The weather conditions included 20-25 mph winds, with gusts up to 50 mph, 2.5-foot swells and a water temperature of just 53 degrees." 



Feb. 14th, 2016

Hope I. North, 2 Kayakers Rescued by Coast Guard

From Coast Guard News 20160214

Saturday evening (Feb. 13, 2016), two kayakers were stranded between Hope Island and Whidbey Island, Washington when their kayaks capsized and required assistance.

At approximately 5 p.m., Saturday, a watchstander at Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound received a report from 911 dispatch of a male and female kayaker who capsized on the northeast side of Whidbey Island between Whidbey and Hope Islands. Rescue crews from Coast Guard Station Bellingham and Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles and a local marine fire unit responded to assist the stranded kayakers, who swam to the shore of the uninhabited Hope Island.

The Port Angeles aircrew aboard an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter arrived on scene and located the kayakers and retrieved them from Hope Island. The kayakers later reported being in the water for more than an hour before making it to shore. The water and air temperatures were both in the mid 40s with winds up to 30 knots.



Dec. 8, 2015

Article published Dec 13, 2015 by Doug Tompkins died on General Carrera Lake, Chili

Notes by George Gronseth based on ref. article: Started as a calm clear day then suddenly got windy and group separated while rounding a point. Rudder problems on the double kayak Doug was in lead to capsize. Group reconnected and saved the other swimmer by towing him to shore with another double kayak. Rescuer is single kayak attempted to tow Doug to shore but it took too long to save him. Died from hypothermia -- 38F water in mountain lake in southern Chili. Doug was wearing a PFD, but apparently not any immersion wear. 



Sep. 15, 2015

Man Airlifted to Hospital After Reporting Shark Attack Off Malibu Coast

Posted 6:44 PM, September 5, 2015, by John A. Moreno, Updated at 12:08am, September 6, 2015

A man was airlifted to a hospital with severe lacerations Saturday after being bitten by a hammerhead shark while kayaking in waters off the Malibu coast, officials said.

A kayaker said his foot was bitten by a hammerhead shark in waters off the Malibu coast on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. He is seen here on a gurney before being airlifted to a hospital. (Credit: Brandon Godina)

The patient, whose name was not released, was in stable condition at Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, according to a nursing supervisor.

Two men, each in a kayak, had been fishing about a mile from the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Deer Creek Road when one of them dangled his feet in the water, a spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department said.

The man told rescuers he was bitten by a shark measuring about 10 feet long. He and his companion then flagged down a nearby fishing boat, whose occupants were able to stanch the bleeding from the injured foot.

The boat transported the kayakers to an area closer to shore, where they were met by lifeguards who swam out to them, the Fire Department said. The victim, a man in his thirties, then reentered his kayak and paddled back to the beach.

He was met by firefighters, who placed him on a gurney and loaded him into a helicopter that had landed on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway).



Sep. 12, 2015

54 Kayakers rescued in Tomales Bay on Saturday Night

By Shannon Adams, KRON Published: September 13, 2015, 11:52 am

Tomales (BCN) —  Firefighters rescued 54 kayakers paddling around in Tomales Bay Saturday night as part of a guided tour after the winds increased and conditions became hazardous, according to a Marin County fire chief.

Dispatchers were notified of a capsized boat in the vicinity of Hog Island just after 10 p.m.

The kayakers were in Tomales Bay after dark as part of a professionally guided tour out to view bioluminescent light emitted by organisms in the water, according to Fire Chief Jason Weber.

After conditions got hazardous the kayakers paddled to Hog Island and Pelican Point, where they were picked up by rescue boats.

It took multiple trips to get all 54 kayakers, but rescuers had them all out of the water by 1 a.m., Saturday, Weber said in a statement.

They were dropped off at Nicks Cove, near Marshall, in unincorporated Marin County, for medical assessment. Two of them were treated for mild hypothermia, according to Weber.

The kayakers were all wearing life jackets, Weber said, and all but two of them were part of the tour.



April 11, 2015

Dungeness Bay Fatalities

Article published Apr 12, 2015

5th UPDATE: Two dead, another hospitalized, after their kayaks overturn in stormy waters of Dungeness Bay
By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM — A man and woman died and a second man is hospitalized in serious condition after high winds and seas overturned their kayaks and plunged them into the cold waters of Dungeness Bay.

The three were part of a kayak trip Saturday organized by an Olympia-area church group. Four others managed to paddle safely back to shore.

Despite Coast Guard and Navy rescue efforts, Mandi Walkley, 39, of Chehalis died Saturday night after being airlifted from Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham.

Jacob Austin, 52, of Lacey died Saturday at OMC.

William D. Kelley, 50, also of Lacey was taken from OMC to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where his condition was upgraded from critical to serious Sunday night, according to a Harborview spokesman.

Apparently unaware that forecasters had predicted stormy weather, the kayakers, on an excursion from Mountain View Church of the Nazarene in Tumwater, took their sea kayaks onto Dungeness Bay, north of Sequim, on Saturday morning.

The group had paddled along Dungeness Spit about a mile to the New Dungeness Lighthouse.

After having lunch on the Spit, they were paddling back when they encountered severe conditions, with 35 mph winds and swells as high as 3-feet, the Coast Guard said.

Clallam County Sheriff Sgt. Lyman Moores, who responded to an emergency call at 2:19 p.m., said the kayaks with Walkley, Austin and Kelley capsized in the wind-whipped waves.

The other four kayakers were able to reach shore uninjured.

“I spoke to two of them. They were OK, but emotionally shook-up. They didn't think they would make it to shore alive,” Moores said.

Moores said all seven kayakers were wearing life vests, but were not wearing wet or dry suits, which could have protected them from the 44 to 49 degree water temperatures.

The cause of death for Walkley and Austin has not been released.

St. Joseph and Olympic Medical Center spokeswomen cited hospital policy in not releasing additional information about individual cases.

Rescue boat and helicopter

A lighthouse attendant spotted the struggling kayakers with binoculars and called for help.

The Port Angeles Coast Guard station launched a response boat crew and an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter to the scene.

The Dolphin helicopter crew arrived to find Kelley alone in the water, said Petty Officer Amanda Norcross.

A rescue swimmer hoisted Kelley into the helicopter and transported him to Olympic Medical Center, then he was transferred to Harborview in Seattle, Norcross said.

The response boat crew located Austin, took him on board, and transferred him to Clallam County emergency medical personnel at the John Wayne Marina for transport to Olympic Medical Center, where he later died.

The Coast Guard requested assistance from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, which launched an HH-60 Seahawk helicopter crew, Norcross said.

The Navy crew located Walkley in the water, and transported her to OMC, she said.

She was transported by helicopter to St. Joseph, where medical personnel declared her dead.

Storm warning

Moores noted that the weather system that caused the rough conditions in Dungeness Bay and the surrounding Strait of Juan de Fuca had been predicted for Saturday up to a week earlier, and an advisory was issued Friday.

“They were not prepared for these conditions. If you are going to be out on the water, be prepared for the worst,” he said.

Spring often brings high winds in the afternoon, he said, and wearing proper clothing for the conditions is a must.

“It was just a tragic accident. I am thankful we had five survivors,” he said.



Nov. 23, 2014

Kayakers Blown Out to Sea Rescued by Squid-Fishing Boats

High winds blew six kayakers out to sea, where squid-fishing boats and lifeguards on Jetskis rescued them

By City News Service and Asher Klein

Six kayakers were blown a mile out to sea, and rescued by squid fishing boat crews, as 50-mile-per-hour Santa Ana winds cropped up suddenly in Malibu Sunday.

Sustained winds of 47 miles per hour, and a gust of 81 mph, were recorded in the hills above Malibu Sunday, as the six kayakers were blown south.

A large fleet of squid-fishing boats from Port Hueneme had been clustered near Point Mugu, taking advantage of ocean currents that concentrate squid there.

At least two of the kayaks were snared by the squid fleet to prevent them from being blown further out to sea. Lifeguards then used "Jetski"-type watercraft to tow the kayaks back to shore at about 9 a.m.

The rescue was a joint operation of lifeguards from Ventura and Los Angeles counties, and California State Parks.

Paramedics examined the kayakers at Countyline Beach and pronounced them fine. Lifeguards said the people had been fishing just west of the Los Angeles-Ventura county line.

Winds had been calm in western Malibu at 7 a.m., but were blowing at up to 50 miles per hour at Leo Carrillo Beach, straight out to sea, when the rescue occurred.

In Malibu, power lines were reported down on Latigo Canyon Road, one mile uphill from Pacific Coast Highway.

"When the winds are blowing offshore, it's a bad time to kayak," observed LA County Lifeguards Capt. Dan Murphy. "Make sure to have a signal device, and a personal flotation device."

Earlier in the day, four paddleboarders were reported in distress to LA County lifeguards at around 11:30 a.m.

Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at

All materials Copyright © 2015 Black Press Ltd./Sound Publishing Inc.


Dec. 29, 2013

Two Capsized Kayakers Rescued

Posted by Eunice Kim on Jan 1, 2014 - 2:13:14 PM

MALIBU — Two capsized kayakers who were stranded one mile from Coral Beach were spotted and rescued by Baywatch crews on Sunday, December 29 at around 4 p.m.

Winds were blowing at about 20 miles per hour. The kayakers were blown out of their kayaks by the strong winds and spent close to 30 minutes to an hour floating offshore without lifejackets.

A beach bystander spotted them and informed the lifeguards. After being rescued, the victims were sent by boat to the Malibu Pier for treated. They were later transported to a local hospital.



Dec. 3, 2013

Shark Attack Kills Kayak Fisherman in HI (between Maui and Molokini Is.)
Dangling foot was bitten off



Nov. 22, 2013

Rec Kayaker Found Dead On Palouse R., Whitman Co. WA
No immersion wear, her life apparently claimed by hypothermia after capsizing in the cold water



October 31, 2013

Kayak accident in Bellingham Bay, WA

Boaters rescue overturned kayaker in Bellingham Bay

Posted by SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL on October 31, 2013 Bellingham Herald 

BELLINGHAM — A 35-year-old Nebraska man was pulled from the chilly waters of Bellingham Bay and taken to St. Joseph hospital with hypothermia Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 30, after he overturned his kayak and clung to the boat for nearly a half-hour, according to police. The man, who told deputies he had been drinking before he went out on the water, said he stood up in the kayak around 2 p.m. to take off a sweatshirt, lost his balance, and fell in, said Whatcom County Undersheriff Jeff Parks. He was wearing a long sleeve shirt and pants, and had a life preserver on, said Bellingham Police Sgt. Jason Monson. After the man was in the water for 20 to 30 minutes, a couple men out in a boat near Boulevard Park saw what they thought was a log, Monson said. When they got closer, they saw it was the overturned kayak and pulled the man from the water, Monson said. They called paramedics, who met them at Squalicum Harbor. At that point, the man was so cold he couldn't even say his name, Monson said. Though deputies didn't have probable cause to arrest the man for drinking and boating, Parks said, he was cited for not having a signaling device, like a whistle. There was light wind and calm seas at the time, Parks said.