VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- More people are currently taking up kayaking for the first time as people look for social distancing activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Wayne Bradby, a local expert kayaker.
"They're driving around the HRBT,” Bradby said, “and they see people bobbing in the water in these kayaks on a bright, sunny day and think, 'Oh ,that looks like fun - I can do that, too.'"
He said, however, that is also bringing on more concerns.
“I was in a lake recently, and there were two people pulling out kayaks,” Bradby explained. “They told me they just got them - not a PFD to be seen and there they go, off into a lake."
A PFD, a personal flotation device, better known as a life jacket, is something he said people neglect.
"You're not required to wear it,” Bradby said, “but common sense tells you that you should."
The U.S. Coast Guard reported in 2019, there were a total of 125 deaths related to kayaking, although that figure also included canoeing. Bradby also mentioned of a kayaking accident that involved someone experienced with the water.
"There was a gentleman, a year or so ago on the Eastern Shore, who fell out of his kayak and inside or other boats, he did didn't have a PFD,” Bradby explained. “It was inside his boat, doing absolutely nothing and that person was a Navy Seal."
One local maritime officer said incidents like these could have been prevented if people wore their life jackets.
"It's hard on the officers; it's hard on anybody that's got to go over and tell somebody that their loved one has passed, and it's even harder to tell them why,” Sgt. Ron Cagle said.
Cagle is with the Virginia Marine Resources Commissions and said he responded to kayaking accidents where he found the bodies of kayakers, but no life vests. He said he has seen life vests that were not worn or would be placed in another location such as on the side of the boat.
"Lots of excuses: Too hot, too bulky, this and that,” Cagle said. “I always hear this one: They go over and say, 'A life jacket is too expensive.' Well, yeah, but what's your life worth?"
Bradby says the sturdiness and soundness of the equipment can also play a role, as well as weather. Seasons such as fall, winter and spring can be dangerous when the water is colder, as hypothermia is a risk.
"Get with some people that are experienced, and see what they're doing right and also see what they're doing wrong and learn from their mistakes,” Cagle said. “And the other thing is: Practice, practice, practice."