Near Drowning At Dickinson Dike And A Warning About Kayaks In North Dakota

Today I read a Dickinson Press newspaper article titled “Three DPD officers rescue man from near-drowning kayak incident”. I was very angry and upset to see this article and read what had happened.

This newspaper article didn’t say it, but I could tell that the first two Dickinson Police Officers who responded to the 911 call, arrived at the Dickinson Dike, and swam out to the drowning man who was completely overcome with exhaustion, cramping, and hypothermia, these two Police Officers almost drowned too.

It’s probably true without a doubt that if Police Officers Alex Schroeder and Aaron Bates had not immediately swum out to the drowning man, he would have died. He was already drowning when the 911 call was made, and when Police Officers arrived he was repeatedly sinking beneath the water.

However, the same conditions that overcame this young man in his mid-twenties, being 150 feet from shore in 50 degree Fahrenheit water, physically unable to swim to shore, Police Officers Schroeder and Bates had to not only swim the 150 feet that the young man had been unable to make, struggle to get him into a life jacket, but SWIM BACK the 150 feet without drowning themselves. I think that they probably barely, barely made it on the way back.

This same exact thing, same exact situation happened to me on Patterson Lake in Dickinson, North Dakota several years ago. I was very angry about what happened then, and I am still very angry about it to this day.

Please, Please Read This Re-Print Of The Warning That I Gave About Kayaking In North Dakota.  If You Can’t Take The Time To Read It, At Least Watch The Short Video:

In November of 2014, there was a sale at Menards in Dickinson, where the 11 ft. kayak canoes were only $160.  I bought two of them, one for me, and one for a friend to use.  I call them kayak canoes, because they are half kayak, and half canoe.  They are more enclosed than a canoe, but not completely enclosed like a kayak.

From the waterproof rubber hatch on both the bow, and the rear, I thought that there was a water tight sealed compartment in both the bow and the rear, but there wasn’t.  The interior of the kayak canoe had no sealed compartments, and no flotation foam installed anywhere.

I knew that because there was no flotation foam installed, and no sealed compartments, that if you got enough water in these kayak canoes, they would sink.  I think that I would advise and warn everyone, to not ever try to paddle one of these cheap kayak canoes across Lake Sakakaweja, because if something happens, like you get tipped over, or hit by a power boat, these kayak canoes can sink.

I have been rowing boats and paddling canoes by myself since I was 8 years old.  I have never tipped a canoe over, because I was scared, of both drowning and getting hypothermia in the water.  I knew many times while crossing wide, deep rivers, with fast currents, alligators, water moccasins, and sharks when I was a small kid, that if I tipped over, I would probably die from drowning, hypothermia, or something getting me.

This was kind of the same thing for trappers and outdoorsmen in Alaska.  The only means of transportation in some very remote areas of Alaska was by canoe.  A person might have all of their gear and supplies packed in their canoe in the Alaska wilderness, and due to their distance from the shore, the coldness of the water, and being alone, they knew that if they tipped over, they were dead.

When I first tried out my $160 kayak canoe on Patterson Lake in the Spring of 2015, I stayed within 100 ft of shore to see how stable or how tippy this kayak canoe was.  It was O.K., but on the first day, I just paddled along the shoreline around the lake, I didn’t try to cross in the middle of the lake, which is about 1/2 mile wide.

In the Spring of 2016, a person that I know from the Coeur D’Alene area of Idaho came to stay at the house where I was living in Dickinson, his name was Mike.  I had met Mike in Dickinson in the Spring of 2013, and he was an acquaintance of mine in Dickinson in 2014 and 2015.

After Mike had been staying at the house where I was living in Dickinson for a couple of weeks, I asked him if he wanted to go kayaking with me.  I asked Mike if he could swim, and he said that he had been going to a recreation center in Idaho where he had been swimming a mile in the pool, a couple of time each week.  I said to him, you can swim a mile, and he said that yes he could.

I then warned Mike about the water in Patterson Lake being cold, that he did not want to tip over.  Mike told me that he had been swimming in Patterson Lake last weekend.  When we got to Patterson Lake, I told Mike that he should not go too far from shore, until he got used to the kayak canoe.

The very first thing that Mike did when he got in the kayak canoe, was start paddling directly across Patterson Lake.  I didn’t like this, I was worried about this, so I followed several hundred feet behind him, in case something happened.  He did O.K.

When we both arrived on the other side of Patterson Lake, near the south side boat ramp, I heard a very large splash behind me.  I couldn’t believe it, Mike had tipped his kayak canoe over.  At first, I thought that he must have been kidding around, but he wasn’t.

I asked him what had happened, and he said that his hat had blown off, and he tried to grab his hat.  I waited to make sure that he could get back in his kayak canoe.  He wasn’t swimming very well, the water was cold, and I think that he was in shock.

Mike grabbed the rear tip of the kayak canoe, and he pulled himself up onto the rear of the kayak canoe, which was good, this was a good way to get back in.  But when he got to the cockpit, he tipped over again.  This caused more water to go inside of the kayak canoe.

Mike was getting tired, and he was in shock.  He very erratically tried to enter the kayak canoe from the side, which only caused more water to enter the kayak canoe, and for him to become more tired.

I was upset, angry, and frightened, I believed that he only had enough strength for one more attempt.  I told him to wait, I paddled up beside his kayak canoe, and I held onto it very tightly.  I told him to get in while I held it.  I had to balance a lot of weight in different directions, while he was crawling in, like 50 lbs to 75 lbs, while I was sitting in a tippy kayak canoe myself.

When he sat down in the cockpit, he was way off balance, exhausted, and in shock.  I had to yell at him, again and again, Mike sit up!, Mike sit up!, and I was having to hold onto his kayak canoe very hard in order to keep him from tipping over.

I couldn’t believe it.  I was so angry.  I wanted to knock the shit out of Mike.  If this had happened out in the middle of Patterson Lake, he could have died.  He was so tired, so much in shock, so not thinking, that if he would have not made it back into the kayak canoe on the third attempt, he probably would have drowned by trying to swim to shore.

I also realized that Mike could have caused me to drown too.  If Mike would have tipped over my kayak canoe out in the middle of Patterson Lake, I probably could have dragged myself back into my kayak canoe once or twice, but with a drowning person trying desperately to get into my kayak canoe, I could have gotten tipped over again, and drowned by trying to swim to shore.

I was disgusted with Mike, and I am disgusted with Mike to this day.  What kind of idiot puts their life in danger by trying to grab for a $10 hat?  I now see Mike as an idiot and a fool.  Mike had not been doing well financially for the several years that I knew him, and I attributed this to him having bad luck, and bad circumstances.  Now, I just think of Mike as an idiot.

The point that I want to make is this, I had asked Mike if he could swim, and he said that he had been swimming a mile in the pool a couple of times each week.  I warned Mike about the cold water, and he said that last week he had been swimming in Patterson Lake.  I warned Mike to just stay near shore until he got used to the kayak canoe, but Mike headed straight across the 1/2 mile wide section of the Lake.  Mike tipped over by doing something really stupid, he was unable to get back into the kayak canoe by himself, he was in shock, he became disoriented, and he became exhausted.  Not only did Mike nearly drown, he could have caused me to drown too, by trying to help him, when he was in shock and irrational.

There was a drowning on Patterson Lake in April of 2014, when a man and his two children were in a canoe that tipped over.  The water was very cold, a boater picked up the two young children, but the father did not make it.

There was a drowning on a lake up near Williston in 2015 or 2016.  The man’s body was found first, and a short time later his kayak canoe was found.

What is happening, and what happened to me, is that people go to Menards, WalMart, Runnings, or Tractor Supply and they buy these inexpensive kayak canoes on a whim or the spur of the moment, just for something to do.  It is very easy for people to put one of these kayak canoes in the back of their truck and head to a lake and launch it.  The very first thing they do is start paddling across the middle of the lake, and they have no understanding of how cold the water is, that they will be in shock if they tip over, and that it will be very difficult or nearly impossible for them to get back in their kayak canoe if they are weak, out of shape, or inexperienced.

After what happened to me, I spent several hours watching videos of people tipping over in kayak canoes, and the difficulty that most people had in getting back into their kayak canoes.  Many people were only good for two or three tries, and after that, they were just too weak.

Please, please watch this video, because it shows how cold, weak, and disoriented this kayaker becomes after only two minutes in the water.

In this video, this kayaker is about the same age as my friend Mike.  Notice that in two instances this kayaker is able to get back into the cockpit and sit, but he immediately tips over because he is leaning so far to the right.  This is exactly what my friend Mike kept doing, and I had to hold onto the kayak canoe very hard, yelling at him again and again to sit up.

This kayaker was unable to get back into his kayak, and he had to call to the person standing on the dock to come get him.  Note that if this kayaker had been thinking rationally, he could have lain on the kayak on his belly, and just paddled like he was laying on a surfboard.

Please, I really need to emphasize this, if this man had been in the middle of even a small lake in North Dakota in any month other than June, July, or August, he would have likely died if someone didn’t rescue him within less than ten minutes.  He quickly became so weak, disoriented, irrational, that he couldn’t even drape his body across the kayak to save his life.


5 thoughts on “Near Drowning At Dickinson Dike And A Warning About Kayaks In North Dakota

  1. I didnt see any mention of a life jacket or p.f.d. This won’t protect against hypothermia but will keep one from drowning. Also, as an experienced kayaker myself, I understand the difficulty of re entry. Its something that must be practiced before venturing into deep cold water. I use a sit on top / fishing style kayak. It has an open cockpit with a foward hatch covered with a rubber lid. below that is the empty hull of the boat. if this lid comes off the boat in rough water or waves it leaves the boat vulnerable to being swamped with water and would probably sink, or at least just have minimum floatation and stay just below water surface. the boats you own and describe dont not have whats called bulkheads. these keep the water from flooding the entire hull causeing it to sink. these style kayaks need to be pumped out with a portable hand operated manual pump when it becomes flooded. re entry sometimes is not possible until the kayaker pumps out the water while himselfremaining in the water, outside of the he pumps it dry,not really practical in freezing water without proper dry suit . this level of kayaking is for advanced and trained people. thats the main reason I went with the open style sit on top kayak. it is a lot easier to re enter, operate and safer all the way around. Im surprised these novice operators are allowed to kayak with out the most basic thing, a life jacket. Yes you are so very correct about some people being idiots. You.specifically asked this guy about swimming and told him not to venture away from shore untill after he became aquainted with the boat. I deal with the same type of people , constantly it seems. Sometimes I spell out instructions and safety precautions in an elementary way, and STILL cant make certain people listen. Years ago while anchored in Chesapeake Bay fishing, we had a guest jump off rear of our boat going after a deck mop that went over board. 40 ft of Cold water, 3 to 4 mph currents. we had to start engine and back down while dragging our anchor to retrieve this guy. Not sure how we did, but we got him. That quick he could have been lost. A friend of mine did lose a man off his boat in InnerHarbor, Baltimore Md. The guy leaned over trying to catch his hat that blew off his head. He drowned. Took 2 days to find his body. We cant fix Stupid.


    1. Ray,

      Thank you for your comment. It is nice to know that at least one person read this article all the way through to the end, and understood the importance of what I was writing about.

      In North Dakota, due to the culture difference, many adults don’t even wear short pants, let alone go swimming. They don’t go swimming, they never learned how to swim. Out of stubbornness, embarrassment, pride, neglect, or ignorance, they don’t make sure that their children learn how to swim. So when someone begins drowning in North Dakota, probably much more than half of the bystanders can not swim.

      What is even worse, is when the parent can’t swim, and they jump in the water to save their children, the child survives, but their parent drowns. This happened several years ago in Dickinson on Patterson Lake when a canoe tipped over, the two children survived but the father who tried to save them drowned to death.

      There is a lot more that I wanted to write about. The Dickinson Dike and Patterson Lake needs to have an emergency “flotation ring” or “lifeguard buoy”. But beyond this not being practical due to vandalism, legally, there are so many more complications that emergency devices being present or not present would lead to. For instance, after a drowning in Dickinson, an “Accident Injury Attorney” hired by the victim’s family would be suing the City of Dickinson because the emergency “flotation ring” was missing from its post, or, if the lake was so dangerous that it needed an emergency “flotation ring”, why wasn’t there a lifeguard on duty?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I went kayaking with a friend on the Missouri river this weekend. While the air was over 80 degrees, the water was literally ice cold, too cold to dangle a foot in for more than 10 seconds or so before it was uncomfortable.

    He never wears his life jacket and leaves it bungied to the front of his boat. His logic is that he can just pull it from the Bungie if he goes over and hold on as a life preserver. To me that’s same logic as saying I can just put my seat belt on quick before I crash my car.

    I have tipped a kayak in 60 degree water which is warmer than this and I’m glad I was wearing a life jacket. It kept my head above water and gave my upper brain functions a chance to recover after the shock of going from 90 degrees to full body 60 degrees and get my bearings.

    If you go under in open water in current, there is a good chance that your boat may be 10 to 20 feet downstream before you even know what happened.

    I said if you go in, I’ll see you in hell…to quote Han Solo when goes into a blizzard in the middle of the night on planet Hoth.


    1. Rusty,

      Thank you for your comment. I was hoping that people would read this blog post article and take it seriously.

      I also wanted to point out, that these two Dickinson Police Officers who quickly swam out to the drowning person before it was too late to save him, these two Police Officers could have drowned too, mostly because of the cold water temperature, but everyone also needs to know that a drowning person will try to climb up on top of swimmer as if the swimmer is a life raft, push the swimmer under water, and drown the swimmer. Lifeguards are trained to shove their buoy or flotation device to the drowning person, to not let them get a hold of you because they will drown you.

      Lastly, the Kayak tutorials, instructions, and advice are Way Wrong! If a person tips over in a kayak to begin with, their balance is not good! Most people who tip over in a kayak have enough strength to pull themselves in a crawl, up over the top of the rear of the kayak ONE TIME! LAY ON THE TOP OF THE KAYAK ON YOUR BELLY AND PADDLE WITH YOUR HANDS AND ARMS TO SHORE! Whoever is telling people who tipped over, to try to get back into the cockpit and sit upright, is going to get them killed, people who fell out of their kayak already, they don’t have the balance to get back in the cockpit and sit up, just let them lay on their belly on the top of the kayak and paddle with their hands and arms until they get to shore.

      Liked by 1 person

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