Paddlers come to aid of child who flipped his plastic kayak

NANAIMO – Transport Canada requires minimum safety gear aboard kayaks and canoes.

Members of Nanaimo Paddlers prevented what could have been a life-threatening situation last week.

The kayakers were paddling near Jesse Island in Departure Bay at about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday when they passed a family paddling in plastic kayaks. Moments later they heard a cry for help.

“I heard, ‘Oh, there’s somebody in the water,’” said Sylvia Hazewinkel. “I hadn’t seen it, but we turned around and there was a boat upside down.”

A boy, about nine years old, was in the water. He had a life jacket on and was planning to swim to shore. Hazewinkel’s group helped the boy get to a small island, retrieved his swamped kayak and emptied the water out of it.

“This family did not have any emergency gear whatsoever,” Hazewinkel said.

She said the family was visiting from Alberta and their accommodations made plastic kayaks, commonly sold in department stores, available to guests.

Christina Sharun, coxswain with Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Station No. 27 Nanaimo, said she can recall several instances when people have gotten into trouble with plastic watercraft.

“One of the big issues with that type of boat is they don’t have either sealed bulkheads or additional inherent flotation, so if they tip over they do fill with water and it can become a dangerous situation pretty quickly,” Sharun said.

Even in summer, water temperatures around Nanaimo are cold enough to trigger hypothermia.

“You have to have a decent respect for the water and the conditions and make sure you’re prepared for any situation,” Sharun said.

Transport Canada requires minimum safety equipment for all watercraft to carry lifejackets, a bailing device, a whistle, buoyant rope and other gear.

“You can get a ticket for not having that stuff with you and [the RCMP] are out on the water checking pretty regularly,” Sharun said.

Transport Canada offers complete online boating safety guide, including section on kayak safety and lists of required safety equipment on its website at www.tc.gc.ca/publications.