USCG Helicopter Rescue of 2 Female Kayakers
Safety Report By Moulton Avery of the National Center for Cold Water Safety
On August 11, 2020, two paddlers on sit-on-top kayaks got into deep trouble while paddling off the extremely rugged coast of Anacapa Island, CA. The island is located in the Pacific Ocean, roughly 13 miles west of Port Hueneme on the southern California coast. It's one of five offshore islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park.
News reports indicated that they capsized in breaking waves which washed them onto the rocks at the western tip of the island. One of them, a 22-year-old, was reportedly knocked unconscious but was revived by her companion, who may also have been injured. They were fortunately able to reach a tiny, rubble-strewn area where they made a 911 call that was relayed to USCG Watchstanders at 3:00 pm.
The Coast Guard launched a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium from Channel Islands Harbor and a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco. The Air Station is roughly 300 miles NW of Anacapa Island. Cruising time to Anacapa island for the 45-foot boat was 30 minutes, and flying time for the helo was 1h 45m. Despite difficult conditions, the helo was able to lower a rescue swimmer who hoisted them off the rocks.
Kayaking in the Channel Islands
Anacapa Island has an unforgiving shoreline which consists of very rocky areas and sheer cliffs. There are very few places where a kayak can safely land, especially when sea conditions are rough. These paddlers capsized at the base of a cliff and they were fortunate to find a tiny spot where they could stand out of the water and away from the crashing waves while awaiting rescue. They were also fortunate to get a cell signal at that location. It's likely that they launched their kayaks from the beach at Scorpion Ranch on Santa Cruz Island, which is about 7 miles west of the outer end of Anacapa Island.
This location is no place for inexperienced kayakers. Even though it's relatively close to Santa Cruz Island, the wind often increases in the afternoon, making paddling back a huge challenge. If weather or sea conditions get worse, there is nowhere nearby where a kayaker can take refuge. Those are the kind of circumstances that could easily have resulted in the death of both paddlers.
The National Park Service (NPS) has a Kayaking section for the Channel Islands which contains the following warnings for paddlers:
Sea kayaking is a high risk activity that has caused the death of park visitors and annually numerous near fatal incidents with sea kayakers occur in the park.
The challenging and quickly changing weather and at times extreme sea conditions and dangerous sea caves greatly add to the risks of sea kayaking in the park.
Sea kayaking on your own in any area of the park should not be attempted by novice or first time kayakers or anyone who is not properly experienced, trained, conditioned and equipped.
Due to challenging weather conditions, kayaking should not be attempted by the novice or anyone who is not properly trained, conditioned, and equipped.
NPS also recommends that less experienced paddlers use one of the kayak guide services that operate in the Channel Islands. Santa Cruz Island is the preferred location due to less hazardous terrain and generally milder sea conditions.