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June 14, 2011

Wardens: weather sites, boat registration should be part of paddle prep

BAYFIELD, Wis. -- Two recent cases of kayakers who fell victim to cold Lake Superior water have Department of Natural Resources wardens urging all who enjoy the popular sport to check weather and water conditions before pushing off shore into sudden life-threatening situations.

Wardens Amie Egstad and Dave Oginski say the deaths were similar in that each victim had good equipment, including life jackets and wetsuits, and both launched from Little Sand Bay in Bayfield County to cross Lake Superior in rough waters.

"Both cases are tragic, because lives were lost, and our condolences go out to the victims' families. The lesson is the best equipment will not save you in rough, cold conditions. Your best defense is to call and check with local authorities or online sites for the current water and wind conditions. What looks like a good day for an outing from the shore may evolve into a nightmare once you're far from shore," Egstad said. "Kayaks are little boats that are easily bounced about in the strong waves of Lake Superior."

Case in point: When four kayakers launched from Little Sand Bay to cross Lake Superior on June 7, much of Wisconsin was baking in a dangerous heat wave with real temperatures pushing 100 degrees.

The perfect day for a paddle? Hardly, says Egstad, who notes the water temperature was well under 50 degrees and big waves awaited. Authorities believe the 20-year-old kayaker died from hypothermia after his boat capsized into water about 47 degrees and he was separated from his group. Hypothermia also was suspected in the death of the kayaker in October 2010.

"There are credible, easy-to-use websites where kayakers can find current conditions, along with other information about Lake Superior," Oginski said. "Knowing how cold the water is and how strong the winds may be when they get away from shore certainly should be part of a check-before-launching routine for all."

Two sites recommended by the wardens are: [] and [] (both links exit DNR).

Both are National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration sites that feature lots of information any paddler could use to map a trip -- or use to reslate an outing to a safer day.

Egstad also suggests registering kayaks. Minnesota requires it, while Wisconsin has a voluntary registration. "Registering the vessel makes it a lot easier for wardens to figure out who belongs to a found kayak."

In addition to the weather conditions check and the boat registration, the wardens say you are best to stay with your boat should you flip. "That will keep you afloat and make it easier for you to be found," Oginski says.

However, it is most important to note the current Great Lakes water temperatures are prime for hypothermia.

Hypothermia occurs from being in cold water, causing the body's normal temperature to fall. The average normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees. So, Egstad says, any water temperatures lower than the body's temperature will cause hypothermia over time.

"The colder the water, the faster hypothermia hits the body," Oginski says. "Everyone is susceptible to it." As the body temperature falls, the person will become confused and lose feeling in the extremities, and it can eventually lead to death.

The wardens also offered these tips for safe water fun:

"Kayaking is a fun sport. However, to keep it a fun, safe sport, it is truly crucial to check those water and wind conditions and follow these safety tips," Oginski said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Conservation Warden Dave Oginski, 715-685-2929, Conservation Warden Amie Egstad, 715-779-4035, or Office of Communications Public Affairs Manager for Bureau of Enforcement and Science Joanne Haas, , 608-267-0798

Last Revised: Tuesday, June 14, 2011

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