Know your skill level and do not exceed your limits. Kayakers should be capable of re-entering the kayak from deep water. If unable to re-enter boat, stay with capsized boat and don not attempt to swim long distances. Use the buddy system. Groups should stay together and paddle within the skill level of the group’s least experienced member.
The most important thing you can do while kayaking is to wear your Personal Floatation Device (PFD), also known as a life jacket. U.S. Coast Guard approved PFDs are required for each person. Before leaving on your trip, leave your trip plan with a friend or family member who can contact emergency personnel if you don’t return when planned.
Sea kayaks ride low in the water and are difficult for other boaters to see. Consider using a brightly colored kayak, PFD, and clothing to make yourself more visible to other boaters.
Most of the Lake Michigan shoreline in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has a wide sandy beach that paddlers can use to get off the water if wind and waves make paddling hazardous. There are sections of the Lakeshore where a safe-landing beach is not available in high wind and wave conditions: from Esch Road to Empire (Empire Bluffs) in a west wind, from North Bar Lake to Sleeping Bear Point (Sleeping Bear Bluffs) in a west wind, and around Pyramid Point in a north wind. These areas should be avoided in high wind conditions.
Hypothermia occurs when your body's core temperature is reduced below normal levels. Cold water conducts heat away from your body 25 times faster than cold air. Uncontrollable shaking, slurred speech and difficulty moving are all warning signs -- you must be warmed immediately. If submerged in Lake Michigan, it is important to conserve body heat to increase your chances for survival. Wear your flotation device, huddle with others or pull legs together and up to your chest to help conserve heat. Do not attempt to swim long distances. Wet or dry suits are recommended due to Lake Michigan’s cold water.
Stay within 400 feet of shore so if you have problems, you have a good chance of reaching shore safely. Cutting across the bays (Sleeping Bear Bay and Good Harbor Bay) may cut the length of your paddle, but it also takes you farther away from the safety of shore. Staying close to shore also provides better views of wildlife, the geological formations, and the historic U.S. Life-Saving Station and village of Glen Haven.
While paddling to one of the Manitou Islands might be enticing, it is also dangerous! It is approximately 8 miles from the mainland to the islands at the nearest point, which requires about a 3 hour paddle trip with no place to stop. You are also crossing a major shipping lane where freighters and other power boats frequent. We do not recommend paddling to the islands unless you are in a group of experienced paddlers who are able to perform deep water rescue and kayak re-entry. If you want to paddle around one of the islands, you can arrange to take your kayak to the island on the Manitou Island Transit ferry. Plan Your Trip to the Islands
For multi-day kayak trips, be prepared with provisions for at least one extra day. In your gear, include a Marine Band Radio (Ch. 16 for U.S. Coast Guard) or a cell phone stored in a water-proof container, first aid kit, emergency signal device (flare, strobe light or mirror), self-contained stove, an extra paddle, compass, maps, insect repellant, tow line, rain gear, waterproof matches, and dry storage containers.