Friday, February 27, 2009

Why the ACA is Relevant Every Day, Part I

Every few days I receive a sobering email from Chief John Malatak of the United States Coast Guard. It’s not the kind of thing you usually expect to find in your inbox. The emails list the numerous paddlesport “incidents” that the Coast Guard and other rescue workers respond to on an almost daily basis around the country.

The incident descriptions are usually accidents culled from news reports: missing boaters, dramatic rescues, and all too often, fatalities. As I said, these are sobering reminders that put into stark context why the safety mission of the American Canoe Association is so critical.

Here’s one example, taken verbatim from Chief Malatak’s email:

“02-14-09 INDIANAPOLIS, IN Indy man still missing a day after canoe capsized in White River []  (02-16-09) After searching for parts of 2 days, emergency responders Sun.(02-15) still had not found a man whose canoe capsized in the frigid White River. Ethan Runnels, 25, and Sara Pugh, 30, both of Indianapolis, were paddling on White River on Sat.(02-14) when the nearly 14 mph current trapped their canoe against an obstacle, said Indianapolis FD Division Chief Dave Owens. The strong current caused the canoe to go sideways and tip over about 6 p.m. Pugh managed to swim to shore but saw Runnels floating downstream near the canoe. IFD spokeswoman Rita Reith said Pugh was a little hypothermic after exiting the water but otherwise OK. The two had lifejackets in their boat, although they weren't wearing them." All indications are they were very outdoorsy people who got in above their heads," Owens said.

According to the Nat'l. Weather Service, White River was nearly 2 ft. above flood stage about the time of the mishap. The water temperature was estimated to be 40 degrees. IFD and other agencies searched several hours on Sat. night, then resumed the search at 8 a.m. Sun. Rescue personnel used sonar equipment to scan the river. The search was called off at 3 p.m. because firefighters had not located Runnels' body using sonar technology and the current still was too fast, about 7 mph, to safely send in divers even if they had. Scuba divers are expected to resume their efforts at 9 a.m. Mon.(02-16) if the current slows to about 3.5 mph or less.”

There’s a common theme in many of the incident reports. All too often, even experienced paddlers are caught off-guard, and often fail to wear lifejackets. So here’s a reminder: Wear it!

The U.S. Coast Guard provides the ACA significant funding each year to produce paddlesport safety programs and literature designed to reduce these statistics. And the effort does work. Still, we face an enormous challenge: As canoe and kayak sales remain the fastest-growing segment of the overall boating sales, more and more people take to the waterways and are sometimes under-prepared for the challenges they may face.

We’ll continue to work every day to distribute these safety messages. They’re no less important in an economic recession—in fact, some statistics suggest people are more likely to take part in paddlesport activities because they’re relatively inexpensive and can be done close to home. So if you haven’t joined the ACA yet, or are waiting to renew your membership, or if you would just like to donate, please do.

I’d love to have a week without an incident email.

Martin A. Bartels
ACA Executive Director

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