Natural Selection is a wonderful thing.
This was a Facebook response to a news report about a kayaker drowning on the Great Lakes (See: Search for missing kayaker continues). The news report tells us that two men in their 20s went kayaking on Lake Huron. They weren’t wearing lifejackets and both capsized. One of the men couldn’t swim. He presumably drowned. They are still searching for his body.
Natural Selection is a wonderful thing.
So, instead of expressing empathy with this man’s family, his parents and his friends, the Internet-dude responds that drownings on the Great Lake are a “wonderful thing.”
Natural Selection is a wonderful thing.
You have to read into this a bit, because it comes from a guy who claims that he has 31 years of experience in the wilderness and who claims that friends of his who were mountaineers and paddlers died while doing their respective activities. He also tells us that he is an outdoor instructor and guide and a parent. And launches into a diatribe about how he has a responsibility beyond himself and that he doesn’t do anything without the proper planning, fitness and “good judgement.”
This is the kind of response I expect among some in the outdoor community and it is a sad response. It’s one of those responses that sounds like this:
- I’m smarter than you and haven’t died in the outdoors due to natural selection because I know better and am smarter than you and have better genetics.
The problem with this type of thinking is that if the person actually understands natural selection, then they think that they are genetically superior to the people who drown. When more likely it wasn’t genetics that caused the drowning. It was often lack of knowledge or the circumstances stacking up against the person who died. We can teach for lack of knowledge and when we do people will understand the risks and probably make better decisions.
In this case, wearing a lifejacket would have likely saved this guy’s life. Had the man known this — really known this — he probably would still be alive. And while I believe in personal responsibility, I also believe that personal responsibility extends to those who make kayaks (canoes and paddleboards), those who sell kayaks (canoes and paddleboards) and those who paddle kayaks (canoes and paddleboards). Everyone in that chain has the responsibility to make sure that paddlers understand that not wearing a lifejacket when on the water significantly increases the likelihood of death during a capsize.
It has nothing to do with natural selection.
I’m going to share several incident reports from the 2015 Recreational Boat Accident Database collected and distributed by the U.S. Coast Guard. When reading these, think about the people’s families and friends. Think about what was going through the minds of the victims as they drown. Just think about the impact their deaths had. If you have a reaction that “Natural Selection is a wonderful thing” then you need to reevaluate your life and understanding of paddlesports.
According to a news article, two people drowned after their canoe flipped in Pine Mountain in Harris County. The two allegedly could not swim well, and were not wearing life jackets. They were vacationing from LA. Individuals attempted to assist them after their vessel capsized but to no avail.
Subject stood up while in the canoe causing the vessel to capsize and shortly thereafter drowned in the water.
4/23/15 Ongoing investigation. Preliminary information is that 3 young adults launched a canoe at 8:30pm in the evening in order to row out to the island on the reservoir and party with some friends. None of the occupants were wearing life jackets nor were any on board. After drinking alcohol on the island the 3 young adults got back into the canoe. An argument developed between two of the occupants the female and the surviving male who were boyfriend and girlfriend causing the female to strike out at the male subsequently causing the canoe to capsize and all occupants landed in the water. All three were hanging onto the canoe and fearing for their lives. The boyfriend and girlfriend decided to swim to shore as it was closer instead of back to the island. At one point the surviving male saw the victim standing on a rock nearby the capsized canoe. Victim yelled I can’t swim to you and that was the last time he was seen or heard from. While being interviewed in the ambulance the officer detected a strong odor of alcohol from the surviving male. A breathalyzer was administered and the reading was .09. At 9:22am divers found the body of the victim in approximately 7 feet of water 75 feet from where the canoe was found. The participants were using snow shovels as paddles.
Update 5/22/15 Investigator determined parties involved in this accident were negligent in not wearing life jackets while paddling a canoe, drinking an excessive amount of alcohol prior to operating the vessel in frigid waters with cold air temperatures that night and trespassing on a large state reservoir after hours with they had no familiarity for navigation purposes.
At approximately 1:00 P.M. Operator and Occupant were paddling a canoe down the Quiska Chitto River in Allen Parish when the canoe capsized. According to both of them, Occupant was struggling to stay afloat and Operator attempted to assist Occupant. Occupant pulled Operator under the water several times during which Operator inhaled water. When Operator was pulled from the water he began to vomit a dark colored substance appearing to be blood. Operator became lethargic and had trouble breathing and 911 was called. First Responders extracted Operator from the River and he was air lifted to Lake Charles Memorial Hospital. Neither Operator or Occupant were wearing their PFD, but they did have them in the vessel with them. Both stated that they had consumed alcoholic beverages most of the morning. Both Operator and Occupant said they had limited experience of operating canoes.
Operator inexperience is the primary cause of the canoe capsizing when they hit a submerged object. Neither Occupant or Operator could tell if the object they hit was submerged or not. Operator inattention was the secondary contributing factor. Alcohol use was the tertiary factor that the canoe capsized as well, canoes take balance to keep them afloat. The admission of alcohol use by both subjects shows that their lack of balance, caused by the alcohol consumption, was a factor in the capsizing of the canoe. Occupant knew he was not a strong swimmer, yet he did not have a personal floatation device (PFD) on. After the vessel capsized, putting both operators in the water, the fact that Occupant did not have a PFD on was contributing factor in why Operator inhaled water causing him to begin vomiting and eventually vomiting blood.
“On 5/26/15 at approximately 2209 hrs, DNR Communications Sgt. in reference to an overturned canoe on the Susquehanna River with two persons in the water. Information received stated that Cpl. was in the area attempting to retrieve the two subjects from the water.
Additional calls from DNR Communications indicated that one subject was pulled from the water and a search was being conducted for the second subject who had not been located.
Sgt. responded to the Susquehanna River in the area of Lee’s Landing Restaurant in Port Deposit where contact was made with Emergency Service personnel at 0033 hrs on 5/27/15.
Fire Department personnel as well as Natural Resources Police Units continued to search for the missing person into the early morning hours. Sgt. arrived and assisted with the investigation.
On 5/27/15 at approximately 0135 hrs, NRP Investigator from the Maryland Natural Police arrived and assumed lead investigator of the missing person incident.
See attached narratives for OFC. investigation. End of report. On 5/29/15 at 6:40 pm, I, Cpl. and Ofc was searching the area of Susquehanna river when we were flagged down by nearby boaters. They pointed out a body floating in the water.
Subject was wearing an orange shirt and brown pants, floating face up in the water. I retrieved victim and pulled him into the patrol vessel onto a body bag. We took him over to Lapidum Landing where Investigator and Medical examiner took over. GPS coordinates of where victim was found were obtained and pictures also were taken and all was given to Ofc..
“The two- seat canoe was occupied by four people. One person was sitting on the back of the canoe, two children in the middle, and the operator in the front. Operator attempted to turn the canoe with a paddle, causing the canoe to overturn. All occupants were ejected from the vessel. The adult occupant grabbed one child upon entering the water. The operator grabbed the other. The operator began struggling and instructed the other adult to take hold of the child in his possession. The operator went under water and never re-surfaced. An individual on shore heard screaming and saw the occupants in the water. He launched a canoe to rescue them. The three occupants were put into the canoe and taken to shore. The rescuer returned to the area of the overturned canoe and attempted to go into the water to locate the missing operator, but realized the water was too cold. He climbed back into the canoe and returned to shore. The fire department recovered the body of the operator.
One PFD was found floating next to the over turned canoe along with fishing equipment. No other PFDs were located. None of the three survivors was wearing a PFD nor was the operator. Operator experience and education are unknown as well as any identifying information on the canoe.
“The purpose of this report is to document the boating accident death investigation on Loon Lake.
On May 24, 2015, at approximately 7:15 PM, three subjects and a cat had gone for a canoe ride. As they traveled west on the north shoreline of the lake the cat jumped in the water. One male occupant jumped in the lake to rescue the cat. VICTIM began to struggle in the water and the female occupant rolled overboard, capsizing the canoe, in efforts to swim out and save the cat and VICTIM. The remaining male subject was ejected into the water due to the capsizing. It was reported VICTIM had gone under the water and did not surface.
*NOTE: Of the (3) PFD”s on board, (1) was not in serviceable condition, (1) was youth size, and (1) was listed as small/medium size (See Photos). VICTIM took off his PFD to jump in.”
Operator was kayaking on Nolin Lake on the evening of Sunday June 7th 2015. He was wearing a PFD and was kayaking in a Prodigy 10.00 Perception Kayak. According to Victim’s mother, who witnessed the incident, a passing boats wake rolled him over in the kayak (the State listed hazardous waters as the cause). Victim’s PFD performed as it was designed but he surfaced face down. The two who were operating a pontoon boat (KY 0550 UK), pulled Victim out of the water and proceeded to give him rescue breaths and CPR. The subjects transported Victim to Moutardier Marina where professional rescuers continued to try and save his life. They stopped when he was pronounced dead on the scene by the Edmonson County Coroner at 17:15:13 HRS.
The postmortem examination was performed by the state medical examiner. Her opinion is “”Death in this 33-year-old white male, is attributed to drowning while kayaking on Nolin Lake”” and Victim had a “”Left temporoparietal subgaleal hemorrhage without evidence of intracranial injury. 2. Finding consistent with recent diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. Toxicology reports showed no ethanol. Toxicology tests only showed Gabapentin which is a prescription drug taken for Multiple Sclerosis.
“Vessel one, a 16 foot, three person sit on top Crescent Kayak, was traveling in a northeast direction in the Loxahatchee River at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Martin County, Florida.
Vessel one, capsized ejecting two passengers into the water. Due to the capsizing of the vessel, ultimately one person drowned.
On March 15, 2015, I responded to a single vessel accident at 16450 US Highway 1, Hobe Sound, Florida. The location of the incident took place at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, in the Loxahatchee River, approximately 100 feet southwest of the boat rental area.
Vessel one was identified as a green, 16 foot, sit on top Crescent Kayak, H.I.N. SXR212571210. Through witness statements, it appeared vessel one was traveling in a northeast direction towards the Jonathan Dickinson boat rental dock.
During the operation of the kayak, the kayak capsized and ejected the two operators into the water. Both subjects were wearing a personal floatation device. It was reported, during this time, Operator had began to swim to shore, however he could not swim while wearing the personal floatation device. Operator voluntarily removed the personal floatation device and ultimately drowned.
Conflicting statements were received, indicating another vessel had passed by at approximately 10 to 15 mph, causing the kayak to capsize, however the witnesses could not give any description of the vessel or persons on board.
Operator was brought to shore by onlookers, where CPR was provided to Operator before being transported to Jupiter Medical Center where Operator was pronounced deceased.
An initial inspection of the kayak showed no signs of obvious damage. There was an exposed drain port at the top rear of the kayak. The operators did possess all required safety gear and two single ended paddles.
Awaiting the official medical examiners report from toxicology. See investigative incident report.; A preliminary medical examiners report has ruled the cause of death due to accidental drowning. Subject showed no signs of injury”
Subject had just got his kayak a few days before the accident. He and survivor put in at Brook Ave. They floated down the creek about 50 yrds when Subject went over the low head dam. He capsized and went under. He came back up and Survivor tried to save him but could not. Survivor then went up to the road and flagged down a motorist. They called 911. Subject was found two days later by Gadsden Fire Dept. One rescue worker died in the attempted recovery.
Operator was using a sit on top style kayak in heavy wind to try to retrieve a PWC that had floated away from shore. Operator was swamped and capsized the vessel. He was found floating with a PFD after being in the water for over 45 minutes. No vessel in sight. Vessel was later recovered. Improper sized/ type of vessel for the weather conditions and size of the operator.
Operator of Vessel 1 entered Lake Erie from Sturgeon Point Marina to go fishing several miles off shore. Other kayakers in the area reported rolling waves making it difficult to kayak in. The vessel the victim was in capsized sending the operator overboard. The operator was recovered sometime latter wearing a PFD but had died due to extended cold water exposure.
Local police received a call concerning three subjects in distress. All three subjects had left in kayaks from local boat launch. Two individuals ended up capsizing due to the turbulent water around a low head dam. One was able to grab a hold of the kayak of the third individual and make it to shore. The other individual was able to grab hold of a tree until rescuers were able to reach her. The individuals in the water were transported to the hospital. All three subjects had PFDs on.
Victim and a friend were traveling to the victim’s camp with his two kayaks in the back of the truck. The friend suggested that they stop at the Donald G Hill Water Works on the way a place she used to spend time at as a kid. They trespassed onto the reservoir and launched the two kayaks without PFDs or paddles which were still stored at the camp. Makeshift paddles had been made out of tree branches. Shortly after launching the victim struggled to operate his kayak and ended up capsizing. The friend was unable to get him safely to shore. The victim was recovered with line from a fishing pole that was in the kayak wrapped around his legs preventing movement.
On 05-15-2015 at approx 1400 hrs, 6 juveniles attempted to float down west cache creek on two kayaks and one canoe. Vessel #1 was s/b on west cache creek when it overturned, causing both passengers to fall overboard. Both passengers floated and swam along side overturned kayak for approx 1 mile. The passengers, along with friends, attempted to put kayak on top of the canoe to drain water from kayak. While placing kayak on top of canoe, the canoe began to take on water. Witnesses stated victim tried to hold canoe up to prevent it from sinking. Witnesses stated victim didn’t seem in distress. Witnesses all floated around bend in creek due to swift current. Witnesses all were able to get out of water, but could not locate victim. Victim #1 was wearing a pfd. It is unknown what caused the victim to submerge and drown but he may have gotten entangled in lines on the sinking vessels or entrapped by debris in the creek. Recovery of victim #1 was made at approx 0850 hrs on 05-16-15 , approx 5 miles south of where victim was last seen. Recovery was made by lawton fire dept swift water rescue team.
The Victim was fishing from an anchored kayak; somehow (now known) the Victim entered the water. The Victim was last heard (not seen) at 2:10 p.m. in the water, yelling for help. Witnesses called 911 and the Victim was recovered in 9 feet of water at 7:15 p.m. on the same day. No PFD was found or located near the incident.
“Henry County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch received a call at 1829 hours at the 911 Center in reference to two subjects. They were canoeing on the Smith River when their canoe overturned. According to Survivor, he and Victim launched the canoe into Smith River behind Rivermont Heights, in Martinsville, VA, near a yellow building at approximately 1750 hours on 10/06/15. The canoe was a Coleman RAM-X 15 with Identification number xxxxxxxxxxxx and belonged to Survivor. Survivor said that the canoe turned sideways then capsized, throwing both of them in the water about 50 yards above the train trestle. Neither of them had personal flotation devices with them. They were both fighting to get to the river bank. Survivor said he finally made it to the bank but never saw Victim after they went under. He explained that neither of them had been drinking and that they lost a fishing pole and two paddles when the canoe overturned.
Victim was said to be wearing a black hoodie with a John Deere logo, blue jeans, and camouflage boots. A Henry County Deputy located a camouflage boot on the bank near the train trestle at 2031 hours. There were three rescue boats launched with two man crews in the area Victim was last seen. They were launched at 2035 hours, 2040 hours, and 2050 hours. Then one of the canoe paddles was found on the island below the train trestle at 2035 hours. Another canoe paddle was seen floating by the Smith River Sports Complex at 2215 hours. There was a fourth boat launched with a four man search and rescue crew at 2220 hours. There was also a seven man team combing the island below the train trestle for any signs of Victim at 2228 hours. The canoe was later found at the water treatment plant about a mile and a half downstream from the scene of the accident at 2330 hours. It was decided at the command center to temporarily call off the search at 2400 hours and continue it at 0700 hours. Officials at the Corps of Engineer and Martinsville Hydro-Electric Dam agreed to reduce the flow of the water they were releasing to aid in the search.
The following morning, October 7, 2015, at 0700 hours preparations for the search for Victim began again. There were three boats launched into the Smith River. CPO and I assisted the Franklin County Swift Water Rescue Team recover the canoe at the water treatment plant at 0948 hours. At 1021 hours the canoe was transported back to the command center by Franklin County Public Safety, where its information was recorded and photographs taken. There was another camouflage boot found at 1045 hours by another Franklin County Swift Water Rescue Team. CPO and I each launched a kayak at approximately 1330 hours. We searched from the scene of the accident to the Smith River Sports Complex with no success. The last item that was found was the other paddle at 1400 hours below Eggleston Falls near Marrowbone kayak/canoe launch.
Further search and recovery efforts have been, and will continue to be made until Victim is found as coordinated by Conservation Police Sgt..
On October 24, 2015, at approximately 0900 hours, the decomposed body of Victim was found near the confluence of Marrowbone Creek and Smith River by two Collinsville, VA residents that were camping near the site. At approximately 1130 hours the body was removed and taken to Roanoke, VA for an autopsy. The results of the autopsy will be complete within three weeks.
Charges have placed against Survivor, the survivor of the canoe incident, for failure to have required lifesaving equipment on the canoe (PFD). At this point in the investigation foul play is not suspected.
On april 6, 2015 subject was pushed away from shore by his son in his newly purchased kayak. Within minutes the kayak had capsized in water about 15 feet deep. Operator was heard yelling for his son and was observed struggling in the water. Victim was stuck in kayak unable to get out. Operator’s struggling slowed and eventually stopped as rescue attempts were ongoing on the shore and eventually in the water. Operator was unconscious by the time his son was able to reach him in another kayak and was pulled into shore by bystanders. Cpr was started by bystanders and continued by spotsylvania county ems. Operator was pronounced dead at mary washington hospital.
On the morning of 9/13/2015 WDNR Warden received an email from another WDNR Warden stating that he had received a voice mail message from the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department from 9/12/2015 advising there had been a fatality on Lake Michigan involving a kayaker. WDNR Warden contacted USCG (who had responded and found the victim and kayak) and retrieved reports from them. Warden also contacted the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department for additional reports, which were not available at the time of the request.
Through Warden’s investigation and USCG reports and Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department investigator comments, the victim was involved in a kayak fishing tournament on Lake Michigan and failed to return after weigh-in time. At approximately 2:40 pm the family of the victim contacted the USCG station at Two Rivers and requested assistance locating the victim as he was over due. USCG TR launched a vessel to patrol and look for the victim and also requested a USCG helicopter from Michigan to search. At approximately 4:37 pm the USCG Helo located a person in the water approximately .5 mile south of Manitowoc. USCG Helo deployed a rescue swimmer who contacted the victim, who was face down in the water (wearing a PFD). The USCG rescue swimmer determined that CPR would not be needed. USCG vessel 45735 arrived on scene and picked up the victim and rescue swimmer.
USCG 45735 transported the victim back to the Manitowoc Marina, where Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department and emergency personnel were on scene to assist with the body. USCG Helo then located the kayak and radioed the coordinates to USCG TR and USCG 45735 recovered the kayak.
When found the victim was holding a personal hand-held EPIRB that had not gone off. This unit was secured and kept by USCG TR and they will be having the unit analyzed to determine if it was operable or not.
Manitowoc County SO took possession of the kayak from USCG 45735 which had two GOPRO cameras mounted on the kayak. Manitowoc County SO viewed the footage on the GOPROs and WDNR Warden requested copies of any footage on the GOPROs. No footage of the incident was found on either of the two GOPRO cameras.
No analysis of the EPIRB was available from USCG at the time of report submission on 12/19/2015.
“Witness 1 and Witness 2 were in a two-person kayak a short distance from the Victim, who was in a one-person kayak. Witness 1 stated that at one point she looked back to check on the Victim and everything appeared normal. A brief period later Witness 1 looked back again and observed the Victim floating in the water. Witness 1 and Witness 2 went to the Victim as quickly as possible. Witness 1 jumped in the river and grabbed the Victim. At this time the Victim was non-responsive. Witness 2 paddled to shore while Witness 1 held on to the kayak and the Victim.
The Investigating Officer entered the primary cause of the incident as Unknown, Possible Medical Condition.
“On the 22nd of February 2015 at approximately 1245 hours, victim told his wife, Wife, he was going kayaking on the Mississippi River near Mud Island River Park. Wife stated that Victim had told her, he would only be gone a few hours because he wanted to get back home before it started to sleet/snow. At approximatey 1735 wife called 911 because Victim had not returned home. Officer of the Memphis Police Department(MPD) received the call to locate Victim. Officer was met by U.S. Coast Guard Officer to aid in the search. The officers spotted a capsized orange kayak near the bank surrounded by debris. When the officers had control of the kayak, they could see that Victim was still inside the kayak submerged under the water. The officers secured the kayak and the body was removed from the kayak and placed into MPD”s Harbor Patrol Boat
Shelby Co Medical Examiners Office took control of the body
“On 9/20/15, there was a call that came in of a possible drowning at Cutler Recreation Area. I started that direction. It was reported a male was floating face down in the water. When I arrived on scene a private boat was heading out into the water along with some medical personnel and search and rescue personnel, to go and pick up the victim. A few minutes later I heard on the radio they were doing CPR on the victim as they were bringing him back to the dock. At 12:04 they announced on the radio that CPR was stopped, and that the victim has a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order.
The boat came back to the dock, and the unloaded the victim. They put him on the stretcher from the ambulance, and loaded him into the ambulance. His wife, who was the reporting party, got out of the boat, and I spoke with her about the incident. She told me they were in their kayaks, and he had stood up due to the fact he has poor circulation in his lower body when he sits for a while, because of an aneurysm. She said he stands up to get circulation back to his legs. After that, she said he stood up, and grabbed the bar that is attached to his kayak, and she held on to his kayak to steady him.
She also told me he does not have very good balance, because of a gun shot wound he sustained many years ago. She said he lost his balance, causing both of them to fall into the water and the kayaks capsized. She said she grabbed her life jacket out of her kayak, and he said he was just going to swim to shore. He did not have his life jacket on, and it was still in his kayak. She said she saw him start swimming, so she was going to get the kayaks and go over to him. She said she kept trying to talk to him, and would have to yell his name because he had started to swim.
She said she yelled his name a few times, and he would answer her, and then she yelled his name and he didn’t answer her. She said she looked the direction he had started to swim and saw him floating face down in the water, not moving. At that point, she let the kayaks go and swam over to him. She said he was not breathing and she could not hear, or feel a heartbeat. She drug him to shore and tried to do CPR on him, with no success, so she swam back to the kayaks and got her cell phone out of a compartment and called 911, because she knew she needed help. She swam the kayaks back to shore and tried CPR again, with no success.
Wife said when she was giving her husband rescue breaths, and chest compression, there was not a lot of water coming out of his mouth. Cache County Search and Rescue took two boats out and retrieved the kayaks where she had left them, and brought them back to the dock. The medical examiner was notified and responded to the scene, where he did his investigation, and then the mortuary took the body and will transport it to the State Medical Examiner’s Office for further investigation. The ME’s case number is: 201502014. The Cache County case number is: 15-C7641. No further action taken by me.”