Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of boating season in Ohio and following the death of three local people this year on local waterways, officials are pushing water safety.
West Carrollton Fire Capt. Adam Blake, who heads up the fast water rescue team, said people should think about safety first before they ever get near the water.
Blake has seen some people with little or no experience who go to a sporting goods store, buy a canoe or kayak and cannot wait to get started.
“You got the individual that purchase these things and go right from the store to the river. We have had that happen. People go out there (with a brand new boat) and find themselves getting into trouble,” Blake said.
Already this year the Miami Valley has seen three cases where people drowned on local lakes.
The first was at Acton Lake at Hueston Woods State Park, where a 65 year old boater fell into the water. Authorities believe he may have had a medical emergency.
The second was a teenager who was wading at Eastwood MetroPark in Dayton when he stepped off a ledge and slipped into deep water. He could not swim and efforts by family members to reach him were unsuccessful.
And in April, an 18-year-old died in a pond at Lakeside Park after failing to reach the shoreline after jumping into frigid water.
At the start of the boating season, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has again reminded people to wear a life jacket. State records show that drowning was the reported cause of death in 50 percent of the boating fatalities in 2018. Also last year, 75 percent of the people who died were not wearing a life jacket.
ODNR Director Mary Mertz, in a written statement, said “Don’t just have your life jacket close by, wear it.”
Blake said the need for caution is increased on moving water. “With a lot of spring rains there is a lot of debris in the river and obstructions. It is what we call strainers. That is usually where we see problems,” Blake said. “Where there’s a bend in the river that can turn over kayaks and canoes and swamp them pretty easily. “
Local outdoor advocates are quick to say that with the right gear and preparation there is no better time than getting out on Dayton area lakes and rivers with friends. Andrew Schlegel, manager of Great Miami Outfitters in Centerville, said the best way to ensure a good time is to keep safety in mind.
“Know before you go. If you are going on moving water, know what you ability is. And then be aware of the conditions that are going to compound that, including air temperature, water temperature, being dressed correctly for that,” Schlegel said.
Schlegel suggests having someone know where you are and when you plan to get off the water. He said when people come in to his shop to buy a boat they often ask “What else do I need?” The answer is safety equipment, including a life jacket.
“When people have the opportunity to talk with someone who knows what they are doing, to know why there is other gear out there, they make the right decision,” Schlegel said.
Over his many years in the business of selling boats and other gear, Schlegel has seen increased interest in kayaking, SUP (standup paddleboards) and canoes.
Records obtained by this newspaper from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources indicate a steady growth in the number of canoes and kayaks in the state over the last 10 years.
In 2008, there were 75,261 canoes and kayaks licensed in the state. That figure grew to 245,269 by 2018. The state does not keep separate statistics for standup paddleboards.
Much of that growth, for a time, was fueled by interest in kayaks, which became mainstream and could be found for sale everywhere from outdoor outfitters to big box sporting good stores.
But Cliff Jacobson, a nationally known author, educator and outdoorsman, said canoes may be making a comeback.
“I think one of things driving it, the paddleboard people are in a sense driving it. They get a little older, they gain a little weight, they are not sure they want to paddleboard any more but they can get into a canoe. They can paddle a canoe because they have actually learned how to do that on a paddle board,“ Jacobson said.
Whatever people are paddling, canoe, kayak or SUP, the sport continues to grow. Christina Scheuermann, a Canadian video blogger known on YouTube as Camper Christina, said the goal is to get out on the water and do it.
“People are out there talking about the sport and talking about paddling. There are so many great boats out there, people just want to get outside, get on the water and enjoy it like everyone else. They want to see what it is all about,” Scheuermann said. “I think its growing massively, I really do.”
Scheuermann urges people to learn the basics of water safety before they paddle on their own. “Get training. Training is huge. I paddled for fifteen years before I went to my first course. I learned I was doing things wrong for fifteen years and had to retrain myself,” Scheuermann said.
Andrew Schlegel can relate to the “itch” people have to get back on the water after such rainy and dreary early months of the year. He sees people who are often “extremely anxious to do anything but be locked inside.”
For people interested in getting into canoeing or kayaking for the first time, Schlegel offers some practical advice. “What do they want to get out of their paddling? Do they want to go out and bird watch? Do they want to get in shape? Do they want to go out and sightsee and relax, take their mind off of things? What they want would be defining what kind of boat and what areas would be best for them and intrigue them the most,” Schlegel said.
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