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Police identify kayaker who died off MDI

Posted July 11, 2011, at 12:31 p.m.
Last modified July 11, 2011, at 7:21 p.m.
Police, paramedics and firefighters carry the body of Steven M. Brooks, 43, of Stratham, N.H., up a ramp at Lamoine State Park on Sunday afternoon, July 10, 2011, after it was recovered from Eastern Bay, between Lamoine and Mount Desert Island. The man was kayaking with other relatives Sunday afternoon in Eastern Bay when his boat capsized, according to Marine Patrol. A decision about whether an autopsy will be performed has not been made, according to Maine Marine Patrol.
Police, paramedics and firefighters carry the body of Steven M. Brooks, 43, of Stratham, N.H., up a ramp at Lamoine State Park on Sunday afternoon, July 10, 2011, after it was recovered from Eastern Bay, between Lamoine and Mount Desert Island. The man was kayaking with other relatives Sunday afternoon in Eastern Bay when his boat capsized, according to Marine Patrol. A decision about whether an autopsy will be performed has not been made, according to Maine Marine Patrol.
Robert Shaw, vice president of the Maine Association of Sea Kayak Guides and Instructors.
Robert Shaw, vice president of the Maine Association of Sea Kayak Guides and Instructors.

LAMOINE, Maine — Officials have released the name of a man who died Sunday while kayaking in Eastern Bay, but a decision about whether an autopsy will be performed has not been made, according to Maine Marine Patrol.

The man is Steven M. Brooks, 43, of Stratham, N.H., Marine Patrol Officer Colin MacDonald said Monday morning.

Officials have not determined if Brooks died from drowning or from a possible medical problem that may have contributed to him capsizing while kayaking with a woman in Eastern Bay, police have said. The woman he was paddling with was in her own kayak but got out and swam to Brooks’ kayak when she realized he had flipped over.

Both Brooks and the woman had life jackets in their kayaks but neither was wearing one at the time of the incident, which was reported to emergency response personnel at around 3 p.m. Sunday. Some people in a sailboat in the bay responded to the woman’s screams for help, MacDonald said. They were able to get Brooks and the woman on board, but by then Brooks was unresponsive, he said.

It will be up to the State Medical Examiner’s Office to decide whether an autopsy should be done on Brooks to determine how he died, according to MacDonald. The officer said he spoke Monday morning to officials with the medical examiner’s office but that a decision had not yet been made.

Brooks and the woman had been camping with others at Lamoine State Park and had kayaked earlier Sunday from the park across the bay to Hadley Point in Bar Harbor to have a picnic lunch, according to Marine Patrol. The sit-inside style of kayak that Brooks was paddling, made by Perception, was owned by one of the members of the camping group, MacDonald said.

Brooks is the second tourist visiting the area to die while kayaking off Mount Desert Island in the past three weeks.

On June 19,Eric Hogan, 28, of Webster, Mass. drowned when strong winds pushed his sit-on-top kayak out into Frenchman Bay from Hancock Point. On the final day of his honeymoon, Hogan had gone out paddling that morning by himself wearing only a life jacket and shorts, Maine Marine Patrol officials said at the time of that incident. Police believe Hogan used a kayak that came with a house he and his wife were renting at Hancock Point.

Water temperatures were between 55 and 60 degrees and wind gusts blew harder than 30 mph in Frenchman Bay on the day of Hogan’s death.

Robert Shaw, who owns and operates two kayak guide services on MDI and who is vice president of the Maine Association of Sea Kayak Guides and Instructors, said Monday there should be more public awareness about the dangers of kayaking. Shaw, whose companies do not rent out kayaks for unsupervised use, said people need to be more cautious about heading out on the water.

Even though neither Brooks nor Hogan died while using rented boats they had obtained through kayak rental companies, Shaw said such outfits should do a better job of screening their customers for experience. Police described Brooks and his paddling companion as “inexperienced.” It was unclear how much kayaking experience Hogan had.

Shaw said novice kayakers often venture out without enough safety equipment, even though they are required to have life jackets within easy access, and with insufficient knowledge of the weather or local geography.

“They don’t realize the seriousness of the Atlantic Ocean,” Shaw said. “It’s a big body of water and it’s unforgiving.”

Besides the potential for hypothermia posed by the ocean’s relatively cold temperatures, Shaw said, the chilly water can aggravate pre-existing medical problems.

Shaw said people should not take small lake kayaks out on the ocean, he said, but should have an ocean-worthy kayak 16 feet or longer. They should have bilge pumps, spray skirts to keep water out of their boats, added flotation in their boats, and communications devices such as a cell phone or two-way radio. They should let someone on land know where they are going and when they are expected back, preferably have a paddling companion, and above all wear a life jacket at all times.

Shaun Donovan, whose Acadia One kayak rental company is located next to Lamoine State Park, said Monday he tries to provide as much safety equipment as possible to his customers, who he said aren’t always that honest about their level of kayaking experience.

He said he is insured but he does not rent out radios because they are too expensive to maintain.

But technology and mandated safety requirements will offer only so much protection, Donovan said.

“Common sense is not dictated by law,” he said.

Donovan said he tells his customers they are required to wear life jackets. He said he tries to make sure they have a healthy respect for the ocean before they push off from the beach.

“I try to scare the [heck] out of them,” Donovan said.

If a customer changes his or her mind and decides not to rent his kayaks, he said, he’s okay with it.

“I support them 100 percent,” Donovan said. “Anyone who is not confident shouldn’t be out there.”

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