Nissequogue River Kayak Accident


A tragic kayak accident Friday took the life of a Smithtown man but spared the life of his 5 year old son.  According to published reports, they had launched a Sea Eagle inflatable kayak into the Nissequogue river in Kings Park at 1:30. Around 2:45 the 5 year old, who was wearing a life vest, was found drifting in Smithtown Bay by a passing boater.  Their kayak was floating about 500 yards off the beach with no sign of the father.  His body was recovered the next day over a mile  out in the bay.  What exactly happened that put them in the water is unknown.

What we do know is current in that area runs especially hard since the river level drops over seven feet on the ebb tide.  To make matters worse Friday was a full moon spring tide.  With high tide at 11 AM the current flow out of the river was probably at the maximum about the time they launched.  And according to reports the deceased was not wearing a life vest.

The various media have extensively portrayed the human side of this incident and it’s toll on the family and community. While this was a tragedy, and our sincerest condolences are extended to the family,  there are some lessons to be learned.

For one, it underscores the importance of wearing a personal floatation device (PFD).  The five year old survived only because he was wearing a PFD. From November to May NYS requires that adults in small craft wear PFDs. During the warmer months NYS law only requires adults to have a PFD but doesn’t require that it be worn.  Unfortunately, if you find yourself in the water, you will quickly discover that it is just about impossible to put it on.  And while you struggle to get it on even the slightest breeze will push your kayak away faster then you can swim.  Then what?

Paddling alone is also not a good idea.  With a partner if you encounter some difficulty at least there will be someone there to help.  You need to understand the nature of your craft to evaluate it’s sea worthiness in a variety of conditions.  And you need to understand the forces at work with wind and the rise and fall of tides.   Finally you need to ask yourself  “Is my level of skill appropriate for the conditions I may encounter?”  Which leads us to the need for proper instruction. No one is born a kayaker.  And no one knows what they don’t know.

Sea Kayaker magazine has published a book that examines a number of kayak accidents for the purpose of educating paddlers.  It is not intended to be judgmental in that it doesn’t “blame the victim” but seeks to help us understand mistakes so others avoid problems while paddling.

From the back cover:

Sea Kayaker magazine reports on accidents and near accidents so its readers might learn from the experience of others rather than having to learn the hard way. Sea Kayaker’s Deep Trouble gathers more than twenty of the most compelling and instructive of these reports, outlining the circumstances of each accident and providing detailed analyses: What did the paddlers do wrong? What did they do right? Most importantly, how might the accident have been prevented? With a comprehensive introduction to kayaking safety and three dozen sidebars on gear, skills, and techniques, this book is a must for any sea kayaker who wants to paddle safely.

Sea Kayaker Deep Trouble is vailable at many local kayak shops and the usual online sources.  At about $15 it’s well worth the investment.


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