January 23, 2020
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Kayak deaths in 2011 inspire information effort

LAMOINE, Maine — The summer of 2011 was a deadly one for kayakers in Hancock County, where three people died while paddling in coastal bays or ponds.

A year later, their deaths have not been forgotten. Two local residents, one of them the owner of a kayak rental business, are producing information cards that will be handed out to visitors to Lamoine State Park who arrive with kayaks or canoes in tow.

The purpose of the cards, Diane Sanderson said Sunday, is to raise awareness about safety precautions paddlers should take when they venture out on the water, especially on the ocean.

She said the cards are forthright about the risks of kayaking, and even warns that people have died while paddling on the ocean.

“Wear your life jacket, No. 1,” Sanderson said, describing the information on the cards. It also cautions paddlers to take only ocean-worthy vessels out on the water and has a map of water bodies near the park. Lamoine State Park overlooks Eastern Bay, which is connected to Frenchman Bay, and has views of Mount Desert Island.

Sanderson has a personal connection to one of the fatal incidents from last summer. She was sailing out on Eastern Bay with her family when Steven Brooks of Stratham, N.H., capsized in the bay and died on July 10, 2011.

Brooks and a woman were paddling separate kayaks back to the state park from Hadley Point, across the bay on MDI, when his boat flipped. Sanderson’s group heard the woman’s screams for help, sailed to them and pulled Brooks into the boat, but he was unresponsive and could not be revived.

Brooks was not wearing a personal flotation device during the incident, but he may have suffered a medical condition that contributed to his kayak rolling over, officials said at the time.

Sanderson said she was trying to get “a few hundred” of the waterproof cards, each four inches wide and 11 inches long, printed up, hopefully in the next week or so. She said Lamoine State Park officials already have agreed to hand out the cards to visitors, once the cards are available.

Aside from Brooks’ death, two other people died in 2011 while paddling in Hancock County. Eric Hogan, 28, of Webster, Mass., who was on his honeymoon when he died, drowned June 19, 2011, while paddling a sit-on-top-style kayak in Frenchman Bay. A tourist from Korea died Aug. 9, 2011, during a kayak outing on Beech Hill Pond in Otis.

Shaun Donovan, owner of Acadia One Watersports in Lamoine, rents kayaks to people in the MDI area. He said Sunday he understands Sanderson’s motivation in trying to help educate the public, given her experience trying to rescue Brooks. He said he himself pulled a deceased person out of the water last September, when he found a Florida woman who apparently drowned after driving her car into the ocean at Lamoine Beach.

Donovan said he is helping produce the information cards to help spread the word about water safety but also to educate tourists about local waters and harbors. He has helped develop a kayak route around Frenchman Bay, he said, and wants paddlers to know where they can find public restrooms, where licensed diggers harvest clams and other shellfish and to learn about fishing and wildlife in the area.

Donovan said he stressed safety precautions to his customers, even though there will always be people who will not heed sound advice.

“I eat, breathe and preach safety,” Donovan said. “Life jackets make things a lot better for everybody.”

A state legislator from Hancock introduced a bill last year that, if passed into law, would require paddlers to wear life jackets when out on the water. Currently, state law requires boaters to have life jackets with them out on the water, but they don’t have to actually wear them.

State Rep. Richard Malaby’s bill was not accepted for consideration during the emergency session earlier this year, but he has said he hopes to resubmit the bill for the Legislature’s next regular session in 2013.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billltrotter.

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