Small watercraft account for many distress calls

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Although a number of water rescues and searches in Lake Michigan have made headlines this year, the turbulence of the waters has been average, a weather official said.
Citing the number of small craft advisories issued this year compared to years past, Lake Michigan hasn’t been more hazardous, said Bob Dukesherer, marine program manager for the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids.
But that doesn’t mean Lake Michigan has been calm.

“I don’t think there’s any increase in bad weather,” Dukesherer said. “People get in trouble because it’s a giant lake and we deal with quite a bit of rough weather through the Midwest. We live in the mid-latitudes, which is a fairly stormy part of the globe.”
Lake Michigan lies between low- and high-pressure systems, making for more stormy, windy recreational waters, he said.
Along with the geographic position of the lake, another factor that plays into the amount of accidents and distress calls is the volume of registered boaters in Michigan.
Coming in at nearly 800,000 registered boaters, Michigan is third in watercraft enthusiasts in the U.S., Dukesherer said. The only states that top Michigan are Florida and Minnesota.
Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich said his department has seen an average number of distress calls this year and noted the size of the craft is important to keep in mind when navigating the waters.
“Wind seems to be our biggest problem, and poor judgment with the size of craft,” Borkovich said. “Kayaks are pretty dangerous out in the Great Lakes.”
The most recent incident occurred in August, when a pair of brothers went kayaking by Manitou Island and were caught off guard by a windstorm. One brother fell out, drifting a half mile from his vessel by the time rescue crews reached him, Borkovich said.
“The majority of our calls are kayakers or canoeists who get far out into Lake Michigan and caught in the wind,” Borkovich said.
Allegan County Sheriff’s  Sgt. Todd Wagner said the number of kayakers and paddle boarders has been on the rise, and it has contributed to an increase in his department’s search and rescue missions.
In 2014, the sheriff’s office conducted two search and rescue operations. In 2015, that number rose to 10. A good number of those calls were responses involving these smaller watercraft, said Wagner, who works in the office’s marine division.
Many times distress calls from kayakers are due to their getting lost, rather than being overcome by weather conditions, he said.
In Cheboygan County, just east of the Mackinac Bridge, the waters of Lake Huron have been calm, said Kelsey Kennedy, a deputy in the sheriff’s office.
“Didn’t seem to be much of a problem with Mother Nature this year,” Kennedy said. “It’s about normal, 12 calls or so — generally boaters that have run out of gas or have engine troubles.”

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