Accident Database

Report ID# 520

  • Equipment Trap
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • Failed Rescue

Accident Description

The Lower Moose is one of upstate New York’s classic runs. On November 30, 1998 it was running 3.7 feet on the McKeever Gauge, a low level but plenty of water for hardshell boats to negotiate the rapids. While the run is Class IV-V at high spring flows, at this level it’s a technical Class III run with a few Class IV drops. Martin Parkinson, 45, was part of a group of four paddling the Lower Moose. The day was unseasonably warm, with temperatures in the 40’s.

One of the tricky elements of this run at any level is the entrance to Roostertail. The usual line requires a boater to negotiate several diagonal hydraulics extending from river left. While not particularly large or nasty, these holes can flip even experienced boaters. Some paddlers have been temporarily held in the holes or surfed into the left shore.

Parkinson encountered difficulty in these holes and exited his boat. He assumed the whitewater swim position with feet downstream and was swept down the shallow and rocky left side of the rapid. Sometime during this process, either while leaving his boat or during his swim, Parkinson broke his ankle. Nevertheless, he did not appear in any imminent danger. While it’s a long and uncomfortable swim, the remainder of Roostertail contains no known significant hazards. Boaters and commercial rafters who have experienced similar problems in the top holes have frequently swum the rapid without incident.

About fifty yards down from the large mid-river boulder at the top of the rapid, Parkinson flushed between two rocks. Before his PFD could return him to the surface, his sprayskirt snagged on a rock on the bottom of the river. The current prevented Parkinson from completely raising his head above the water. After a brief struggle he became exhausted, and slipped beneath the surface.

Realizing their friend was in trouble, the rest of the party returned upstream. They were unable to extract Parkinson or keep his head above water. After several attempts they called for help from a nearby camp. Local rescue squads responded and were on hand when a group of boaters from Rochester, NY came down the river. This second group of boaters was able to free his body.

SOURCE: by Chris Koll, Regional Coordinator, American Whitewater

ANALYSIS: 1. (Koll) Although I am active in the Central NY boating community, I did not know the victim. I therefore believe the party did not possess extensive experience in Class IV water. Nevertheless, the Lower Moose at that level would be appropriate for strong intermediates looking to improve their skills. Swims are not uncommon for groups with this level of experience, and a swim at this location has never been considered dangerous in the past. I believe that this is a case of luck gone horribly bad.

2. (Walbridge) Modern sprayskirts are much tougher than older models. They protrude from the body more, too, and can pose a significant snag hazard when swimming. Swimmers are advised to manage their sprayskirts carefully when swimming, especially in tight places, holding it close to their body.

3. (Walbridge) After consulting Jesse Whittemore at Mountain Surf in Friendsville, MD, I am convinced that even a Kevlar-reinforced sprayskirts can be cut easily. The key is to grab the skirt and cut it close to your hand, so it does not simply flex away from your blade. Trying to cut a floppy, stretchy piece of material in the water by slashing or stabbing at it won’t work, and may injure the person you are trying to help. The group may not have gotten close enough to the trapped paddler to use a knife effectively.


Note: Kevlar spray skirt may have contributed to this accident.

From: Northern Outfitters, Inc.
Subject: Death on Moose River, NY
Date: Monday, November 30, 1998 12:19 PM
This was reported in the Utica Observer Dispatch on Monday, Nov 30th;

"A Syracuse area man died Sunday when he fell out of his kayak in a rough section of the Moose River, Lewis County authorities said. Martin Parkinson Jr, 45, of Camillus was kayaking with three other people along the river about six miles out of Port Leyden in southern Lewis County, Undersheriff Tom Jaconski said.

Sometime before noon, the kayakers were crossing a section known as the "Rooster Tail" when Parkinson came out of the kayak, Jaconski said. The three others tried to save him, but were hindered because of the swift current and cold water. One kayaker went to a camp and called for help.

It took resuers about an hour to get Parkinson out of the water. He was taken to St Luke's Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival, Jaconski said. The investigation is continuing. Assisting were Lewis County Sherriff's deputies and search and rescue officials, state police and Department of Environmental Conservation officials, Town of Webb Police, and Port Leyden, Old Forge, and Lyons Falls ambulance personnel."

The drop known as Rooster Tail is located on the section commonly referred to as the Lower Moose, upstream of the Bottom section, and is commonly rated a Class IV section of the Moose River. I have no other details at this time. This is the second death on the Moose that I'm aware of, the first occcuring in a drop called Knife Edge on the Bottom section, in 1985, I believe.

Brad Vrooman
Northern Outfitters, Inc.
4520 Commercial Drive New Hartford, NY 13413

Here's what I know of the Moose River incident. It occurred above "Rooster Tail" proper in the section known as Dog's Leg. The level was about 3.6 feet. The section is marked by many ledges sending water in various directions and making for some strange and fun cross currents and holes.

Apparently Martin came out of his boat and was swimming this section. It appears to me that he might have been aggresively swimming for shore on his stomach, trying to avoid a large rock and tongue of water that pours down between it and several others. He was swept down this tongue and his sprayskirt got snagged on the boulder. He was pulled under by the current in a laid back position and was unable to cut himself free. The water was only about 35 (approx.) degrees, so he must have lost strength quickly.

We arrived at the scene about 30 minutes after the accident. We had already sent one member of our group back ot the cars due to the cold water. He had taken a swim at Iron Bridge and so wisely bowed out while the road was still close. We gave assistance to the other members of Martims party and working together got him free after about twenty or thirty more minutes. Resusitation efforts began immediately, but he was pronounced dead at the hospital. No autopsy report is available yet, but it's conclusions seem easy to predict.

I didn't know Martin my self, but feel great sadness at the loss of another boater. I send his wife and family my heartfelt condolences and I'm only sorry we arrived on the scene too late to do any good.


Long time AW director Chris Koll reported a bizarre accident that occurred on the Lower Moose River this past November 30th. The river was running 3.7', a low level at which the classic class IV-V rapids on this run turn into technical Class III+ drops. At this level, the tricky diagonal holes at the entrance to Roostertail are capable of flipping even the most experienced kayakers. Martin Parkinson, 45, flipped in this drop and was swimming between two boulders when his sprayskirt caught on a projecting rock. This held him under the 35 degree water so that he could not reach the surface easily. His group was unable to make the rescue, so they sent for help. Rescue squads arrived at about the same time as a second group from Rochester, N.Y. They were able to reach the Parkinson and free him, although one person noted that they could not cut the Kevlar composite sprayskirt.

When I started paddling in the 70's we used shock-corded sprayskirts which "pucker up" when they pop off the rim and stay close to your body. These do not attach securely to modern keyhole cockpits, so other designs were developed. Modern sprayskirts have a much broader profile in the water, and can catch the current. I've always felt this also posed some snag risk, but have no idea how to eliminate it. I'm sure this accident will help increase our awareness of this potential problem. CW

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