Spring is ramping into summer this week, and with air temperatures jumping to nearly 80 degrees, you may be grabbing your kayak or stand-up paddleboard.

First, put on your personal flotation device — and dress for the water temperature, which in Lake Erie Monday was about 38 degrees.

Since 2010, 631 people have drowned in the Great Lakes, said Bob Pratt, director of education for the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. About 85 percent of them are men.

And most drownings happen during this most dangerous time of the year, when frigid water incapacitates people who accidentally fall in.

The U.S. Coast Guard on Saturday suspended the search for a man who reportedly fell off a boat in Sandusky Bay Friday night.

“If you fall into 40-degree water without a life jacket on, your survival is measured in seconds — even if you’re a really good swimmer,” Pratt said

That’s because the body’s instant response to cold water is to gasp.

“This isn’t just a little gasp, like the kind you’d experience if somebody jumped out of a closet and scared you,” says the National Center for Cold Water Safety. It’s a huge gasp that totally fills your lungs… If your head is underwater when you gasp, you will immediately drown, and without the support of a PFD, you will head straight for the bottom.”

Men are less likely to take safety precautions, Pratt said. Hence, more drownings.

He urges kayakers, boaters and paddlers to wear their lifejackets, rather than just have them aboard. He compares lifejackets to seatbelts; you don’t put them on after you’re in a crash.

A few more tips for the early season from Bill Cochrane, who owns the shop Nalu Stand-up Paddle & Surf.


  1. Paddle with a partner. There’s strength in numbers
  2. Always wear your lifejacket and leash. You may need both
  3. Wear appropriate clothes: a wetsuit.
  4. Stay close to shore; there aren’t any boats out to help you.
  5. Have a plan. Tell someone on shore when you leave, who you’re with, where you leave from, and when you plan to be back. Call them when you get back
  6. Know the direction of the wind, the strength of the current if paddling on a river, and the time of sunset. The wind and current can make a paddle pretty tough and it’s no fun paddling when you can’t see
  7. If you are planning a paddle on the Cuyahoga (or other river that has freighter traffic) know where those boats are and stay away. They can’t stop and you will lose that battle. Download a marine app to tell you when a freighter’s around.
  8. Never paddle in conditions beyond your ability . Try new things when the conditions are nice
  9. Know basic first aid and CPR

See more tips for paddling safely.