Every once in a while, I decide to use this platform for a public service announcement. Whether it’s about how much to tip your divemaster or all the things your dive instructor won’t tell you, sometimes I leverage the fact that I rank highly in Google searches about Roatan to get the word out about something that I consider important and I’m okay with that.
This time, it’s going to be in the name of safety.
If you are planning to kayak during your visit to Roatan, please read this entire post.
I read yet another story of a kayaker going missing off of Roatan today. The story posted by officials is below my opinion. The next bit is all me:
While I am incredibly proud of all my Roatan friends who selflessly executed this successful search and recovery of a missing kayaker, I am tired of this happening several times a year to tourists on the island. People have died in the past – this is not a joke! Tourists and locals alike need to step up to prevent these incidents. These incidents need to STOP.
Visitors need to respect Roatan Marine Park rules by wearing lifejackets while on the ocean, and need to take responsibility for themselves by practicing proper ocean-going protocols: finding out about currents and appropriate locations to kayak, always using the buddy system, not drinking before kayaking and knowing their physical limits + staying within them. Sunset kayaking has been a factor in nearly all of these situations. The sun sets early on Roatan (around 6pm every day of the year) and rescue operations cannot go at night. Do not kayak outside the reef any time near sunset.
Tour operators, watersports rentals, hotels and locals on Roatan also need to provide correct and honest information to tourists. I have seen too many people willing to make a buck to rent a kayak and telling people who have never kayaked before “oh, it’s fine, just go out there wherever you want, have fun”. No mention of currents, boat channels, lifejackets, not paddling over divers, etc. The currents outside the reef around the West Bay/point area are extremely strong and most people are not prepared for them. Locals have a responsibility too, to value safety over a dollar.
I hope this is the last missing kayaker story I read out of Roatan. I also hope this individual makes an attempt to compensate the Roatan Marine Park, Tradewinds Helicopters, and the US and Honduran military teams for their efforts. People, please be safe out there. There are ways to enjoy kayaking and other watersports safely on Roatan. Don’t make stupid mistakes that could cost you your life. Imagine this guy’s wife and kid watching him drift out to sea, unable to paddle back to the island – how horrible for them.
|Photo by Fernando Baron. More photos and videos by Fernando Baron of this rescue are available on this Facebook post.|
Official story from the Roatan Marine Park:
To some, this story will seem familiar. And it is. The truth is that we face incidents like this several times a year here on Roatan. This past week, an American visitor to Roatan went missing in a kayak off the point.
On Friday afternoon a man and his wife and child went out by kayak off the point, at the Roatan Meridian. The wife and child planned to snorkel and after doing so, found that the man had been pushed out much further than expected in his kayak. The man, still in the kayak, was being pushed quickly out to sea. The woman and child were able to swim back to shore.
At 5:30pm, the Roatan Marine Park received notification of the missing man. The location and description of the kayak were reported and Rangers immediately went out to search. Other boats were also searching the area off the point. Due to weather and light conditions, the search was called off at 10:00pm, the choppy waves were also making it difficult. The Roatan Marine Park notified the US Embassy along with the US Military Alpha Bravo Team as well as all Honduran authorities.
At 5:30am on Saturday, the search began again by sea accompanied by Paul Kendall of Trade Winds Helicopters SA Roatan in the air. At this point, the search took to the North coast of the Utila area. Around 6:00am, the Marine Park boats had to refuel. The search resumed, this time focusing on the North coast of Roatan moving towards Utila.
Marine Park Director, Giaco Palavicini flew in the helicopter with pilot Paul Kendall as they searched the area Saturday morning. You may remember from a previous story that it was Giacomo Palavicini who entered the water from Paul Kendall’s helicopter during the last rescue effort to save a family and baby lost at sea around Semana Santa of this year.
At around 7:00am on Saturday morning, about 10 minutes into the flight, Palavicini spotted the lost kayaker and alerted the pilot who zeroed in on the man’s location, approximately 5 miles North of West Bay. At this point, Palavicini prepared to do a rescue jump into the ocean. He was prepared with a first aid kit, inflatable life raft, water, a radio and cell phone. He jumped, approximately 28 feet into the open ocean below.
After retrieving the supplies, dropped from the helicopter after his entry, Palavicini swam to the man’s kayak and checked his condition. The man was thrilled to have been spotted but exhausted and dehydrated, having spent the night on the open ocean. Palavicini boarded the kayak in the second seat and took over paddling to keep the kayak from straying too far from their location. He continued engaging the man in conversation to keep him awake. The helicopter continued to hover over their location while they waited for a boat to arrive which took approximately 30-45 minutes.
The boat, the Wasted Seaman arrived with Captain Arthur Johnson, a deck hand and a staff member from the Meridian. They picked up the two men and the kayak and brought them back to shore. The boat arrived to the dock at Infinity Bay where Ms. Peggy Stranges of Clinica Esperanza (where the man’s visiting group was volunteering) was waiting to check the man’s condition.
Happy to be safe and reunited with his family, the man was back in time to catch his previously schedule flight home later that same day.
This story has a happy ending and the Roatan community, again has reason to be proud as individuals worked hard to locate and rescue this visitor to our island. But not all stories like this have a happy ending. Too often the current takes kayakers out further than they plan to paddle, surprised by the sudden change in the strength of the wind, the waves, the current. Often visitors are associating their outing with kayaking they have done on a river or lake and they are caught off guard by the strength of the open ocean as they move far enough out that the island is no longer blocking the wind. And while the Roatan Marine Park works hard to remind everyone that life jackets need to be worn for such activities, often they are not taken seriously. Events like this are a reminder that safety is not to be taken lightly.
The Roatan community thanks all who were involved in the search, who took time out of their days, away from jobs and family, and who used their resources to execute another successful rescue. A special thanks to helicopter pilot, Paul Kendalll, Fernando Baron, our brave Roatan Marine Park Director, Giaco Palavicini and all those who dispatched their boats and efforts.
Enough is enough. Make this the last missing kayaker story on Roatan.
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