Accident Database

Report ID# 89131

  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Hypothermia
  • Cold Water
  • Extreme Weather
  • One Boat Trip

Accident Description

"We were self-quarantining in an empty house owned by Maeve’s mother Kathleen on the Chesapeake Bay, hoping to give our kids more space than we have at home in DC to run around," he wrote. "Gideon and Maeve were playing kickball by the small, shallow cove behind the house, and one of them kicked the ball into the water. The cove is protected, with much calmer wind and water than in the greater Chesapeake. They got into a canoe, intending simply to retrieve the ball, and somehow got pushed by wind or tide into the open bay. About 30 minutes later they were spotted by an onlooker from land, who saw them far out from shore, and called the police. After that last sighting, they were not seen again. The Coast Guard recovered their canoe, which was capsized and miles away, at approximately 6:30 yesterday evening."

David McKean

‘A mortal threat to mariners’: Kennedy family canoe incident highlights danger of small boats, strong winds and cold water

By Jason Samenow 

Washington Post  April 4 

The tragic incident involving two members of the Kennedy family, who disappeared in a canoe late Thursday afternoon on the Chesapeake Bay, illustrates how serious strong winds and cold water are for boaters in the spring.

As reported Friday evening, the extensive search for Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean, 40, and her 8-yearold son, Gideon, “turned from rescue to recovery.” The pair had set out in a canoe in Shady Side on Thursday afternoon, about 15 miles south of Annapolis, to retrieve a lost ball.

A family spokesman said neither of the McKeans were wearing life jackets. The spokesman emphasized they got in the canoe thinking it would take just a minute to get the ball. The canoe was in a protected cove with calm water, but still got swept out with the wind and strong undertow.

At 4 p.m. Thursday, around the time the McKeans were on the water, Annapolis reported sustained winds at 22 mph with gusts to 36 mph. Waves on the water were reportedly two to three feet high.

Such conditions pose a particular, and occasionally unrecognized, threat to boaters.

An article on “coping with wind” at states that if large waves run up against the front, or bow, of a canoe, they can break over and swamp the vessel. Or if crosswinds slam waves up against a canoe’s side, the boat can take on water “very quickly.”

The canoe and a paddle were recovered Thursday night near Deale, Md., about six miles south of Shady Side, according to the Coast Guard.

Thursday’s winds were generated by a massive ocean storm east of New England, which had unleashed gusts up to 70 mph in the North Carolina Outer Banks on Wednesday and to around 55 mph in eastern New England on Friday.

The National Weather Service had issued a small craft advisory for the Chesapeake Bay and Tidal Potomac

Kennedy canoe incident highlights danger of small boats, strong Winds. 

starting Wednesday morning and continuing through Friday for winds up to 30 knots (35 mph) and “hazardous” conditions. “Inexperienced mariners, especially those operating smaller vessels, should avoid navigating in hazardous conditions,” the advisory stated.

But the winds were not the only hazard the McKeans faced. Following the winter months, water temperatures are slow to warm. A buoy near Annapolis reports recent water temperatures around 51 degrees.

The University of Minnesota’s online resource on hypothermia says exhaustion or unconsciousness can occur in one to two hours in water temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees. The expected time of survival is less than 6 hours.

“Boating on cold water is inherently very dangerous for the unprepared,” states a boating safety website from the National Weather Service serving the Washington-Baltimore region.

The website explains: “Due to the water being very cold in spring, hypothermia is a mortal threat to mariners. This serious condition can occur when boaters are sent into very cold waters due to a capsized boat that was overturned by a sudden change in weather conditions.”

To avoid this peril, the Weather Service recommends:

Knowing the forecast before venturing out on the water and having a way to receive updates Carrying a life jacket for every passenger Watching for signs of changing weather such as increasing clouds and winds, thunder, or sudden drops in temperature Heading to shore immediately if conditions deteriorate and/or special marine or other storm warnings are issued 

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